Saturday, July 12, 2008

Word of the Day

My fellow farmers like to tease me about my eclectic vocabulary. I collect words the way my older brother used to collect Star Wars figures: greedily, giddily, and very, very geekishly. (ok, so maybe he wasn't giddy. But geekish? You decide.) For example, when the Oxford English Dictionary crowned "locavore" the word of the year in 2007, I was among those who not only noticed, but also became rather excited.

I may have found a new favorite, however, one which could give "locavore" a run for its money: "eth•i•cu•re•an n. (also adj.) Someone who seeks out tasty things that are also sustainable, organic, local, and/or ethical — SOLE food, for short." Be still, my heart, there's a whole blog devoted to this wonderful new word!

In writing about the psychological and cultural roots of totemic animals in many tribal cultures, anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss* noted that human beings found animals "good to think" as well as "good to eat." By that, he meant that tribal society used individual and tribal totems as metaphors for the internal differences within human culture. Animals were more than just dinner--the idea of a bear or an otter could represent something abstract and, in fact, intrinsically human. In a way, ethicurianism (If we can go ahead and make this word an -ism already) is our new totemism. It makes our food "good to think" on a number of levels. At its simplest, it is a statement of values served up with a sides of raw milk cheese and fair trade organic coffee. More than that, however, ethicurianism is a metaphor for how we want to live our lives: consciously engaging with the wider ramifications of our most fundamental decisions, from "what shall I have for dinner?" to "what should I do with my life?" I can usually figure out the first one; I'm mulling over the second.

Sometimes, when it's 1 in the morning and I'm still poring over cookbooks or fishing the last jar of jam out of the water bath, I worry that I might be taking this whole food business too far. What value am I adding, really, in following a process from start to finish when I could easily pick up in the middle? But then I realize that I do it because it gives me joy to present a ratatouille the contents of which I have nurtured from seed to table. And I realize that the food I consume represents the values I have come to cherish (the listing of which I borrow from Barbara Kingsolver): honesty, cooperativeness, thrift, mental curiosity, and physical competence. Make my totem an onion.

*Levi Strauss is also remembered for his (perhaps familiar sounding?) volume, The Raw and the Cooked. When I finally get hold of a copy, rest assured that I'll blog it...

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