I grew up in a pretty wild, outspoken household. I was considered the wallflower because I didn’t yell (still don’t). My Italian and Irish clan was politically diverse and loved to give their opinions. They fought and debated. Then they kissed, laughed and went on with their lives until the next round.
I do not often venture into political discussions and this isn’t one either, so take a breath. I am writing today about kindness…or lack of it.
My father was politically conservative and my mother was a liberal hippie. They disagreed with gusto but I never remember my father calling my mother a traitor or her calling him a fascist.
What has become of us and our ability to talk, debate and agree to disagree?
We have put a moratorium on all but the most necessary news in our house because we were becoming despondent. From gun violence to politicians who care only about their power and holding onto it (and nothing for the people for whom they work), we are feeling traumatized by what is happening to this gorgeous country we call home.
What makes people turn cruel and indifferent to the plight of others? What makes us hate anyone not like us? I’m obsessed with a French series called “A French Village” about the plight of a Nazi occupied small French village during WWII and I am haunted by the similarities I see to our current times.
It’s so easy now to target someone different than us or someone with whom we disagree, especially on social media. Having been a target myself, I know how it feels to be set upon by people who know nothing about you except what might be public or what they perceive or think they know about you. I know how it feels to wonder what you did, besides give an opinion (in a country where we cherish free speech). I know how it feels as someone tries to silence you with “Just shut up and cook.” I am in no way comparing the horrific events of the Holocaust to social media nonsense. I am saying it's a new form of cruelty. We have to pay attention.
Our modern culture loves nothing more than to be outraged over some real or imagined infraction and going all out to ruin someone’s personal life or career.
As I watch this series about good people in a small village, who know each other and each other’s families, I am forced to confront our modern times. To watch the occupiers (in this case, Nazis) strip good people of their humanity. To see what people will compromise in order to survive the horrors going on around them brings into focus our own marginalized populations, right here in the US. We march and protest to bring attention to their plight, but what are we doing? Really doing to make life better for us all?
It has made me think a lot about my teacher, Michio Kushi and what he said to me years ago about people’s behavior and the food they choose to eat. At the time, I was very young and naïve; I guess we could say naïve because I rolled my eyes at his simplistic attitude toward world political problems and people’s sometimes hateful behaviors.
He said people behaved hatefully because they “didn’t eat enough vegetables and the chemicals in processed foods were altering their brain chemistry.”
Fast-forward to now, 25 years later and let’s just say that I have seen some things that make me think Michio was not so simplistic after all.
Now, with what I know about food and its impact on our physical, mental and spiritual wellness, I see things differently.
Am I saying that if everyone had access to fresh food, we would all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya?” Not at all…but wait…am I saying that?
My many years in macrobiotics and Traditional Chinese Medicine have taught me that giving food power in our wellness isn’t crazy. It is, in fact the foundation upon which we build our wellness. And without wellness, we can’t build a healthy society.
Again, thinking of this French series that has taken over my consciousness, I began to really understand what rationed food could do to people; not having enough; watching your children suffer malnutrition. It would make you indifferent to the needs of your neighbors.
The Nazis knew that keeping people on edge, in fear and without enough food to feed their families, they would become compliant and submissive. They might even betray a neighbor.
In a country like our own that has so much, but still has such disparity of people who have and people who don’t is unacceptable. Am I comparing our modern life to the horrors of the Holocaust? I am not, but do I worry that we could slide down a similar slippery slope if we don’t pay attention to what’s important? I am.
For me, as with almost everything in life, it begins with food. Natural, seasonal, whole foods are our birthright along with clean air and water. We owe it to each other to take care of each other and make sure that each of us has enough. It’s imperative on those of us who have more than we need to give voice to and take care of those who do not have enough, whether that lack is food and water or access to good jobs and education.
You might be wondering how I propose we do that? It’s a big thing to confront. For me, it’s about making a lighter step on the planet and not taking more than my fair share of resources. It’s also about giving a voice to those without one and fighting for justice for every sentient being. I try to live my life in that way. I’m not always perfect.
I do believe that if we all just paid attention; if we all really saw each other and realized we are all human, regardless of color, creed, beliefs, politics, religion, sexual orientation, we would see past all the surface stuff and realize that we are in this together. We would see that we need each other and life is better when we realize that, at its best, it’s one big collaborative art form.
Instead of focusing on whether or not someone should be “cancelled” for something they said or wore or did in the past, perhaps we can focus the power of social media on important things so that we see reality; see solutions and feel empowered to work for change.
I am not ready to give up; there’s hope for us…for humanity. We must begin to realize that we are all one tribe and that lifting each other up, not tearing each other down is the only way to live life to its fullest. It begins, as does most of the good in the world, with food and how we cook it, eat it and most importantly…share it.
John Lennon famously said, “All you need is love.” I would add…and good food shared together. Let’s work to make the world a kinder, gentler place post-pandemic. We can do it. We just have to want love more than hate and intolerance.