I am what I ate. I’ll be what eats me.
“Even kings are eaten by worms.” – Zach Morris
It started, innocuously enough, with my wife and I lying in bed discussing “Saved By the Bell.” I was impressing her with my encyclopedic knowledge of the Zach Attack catalog (a routine that I like to call “foreplay”) when it dawned on us that the episodes in question had originally aired roughly 20 years ago. TWENTY YEARS!!! If the Guinness Book has a record for “the fastest segue between light-hearted nostalgia and existential dread,” we would have broken it that night.
As I began to slip into unconscious, my mind, heavy with thoughts of mortality and pregnant with images from a day working in my garden, produced a strangely upsetting image. I envisioned a spear of asparagus shooting up from the ground, time-lapse style. Something about it struck me as sinister and, like a shot of adrenaline, a wave of panic ran through my body. Then, as quick as it came on, the panic subsided and in its place was a visceral understanding of the nature of life and food.
The living feed off the dead and the dead feed the living. Period. This is the story of food. Regardless of our dietary habits, everything we consume was once alive and possessing of some form of consciousness. Plants turn their faces toward the sun and respond to music…and, once they’ve reached their physical peak, we mow them down and eat them. Yeast spend their short lives eating sugar, defecating and expelling gas (basically enacting the plot to every Eddie Murphy movie post 1996) and, through their sacrifice, give us wine, beer and bread. That murky mess at the bottom of your Hefeweizen? The scattered bodies of those who served.
As much as we’d like to think that vegetables sit around waiting to be eaten and that happy little pigs magically transform themselves into succulent BBQ by wearing sunglasses and playing blues guitar, that’s not the template we’ve been given. However regrettable, killing is essential to living, and presents us with a continuum where we as individuals and societies decide where to draw the line — vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, cannibal, whatever. (Of course, even from this broad perspective, the philosophy that justifies the rearing and killing of animals en masse in squalid factory farm conditions just to furnish each citizen with three to five servings of dirt-cheap meat per day seems, at best, unsustainable. Like some rickety new addition sloppily built onto the natural food chain.)
This all seems rather violent and inharmonious until you consider one factor: that those of us sitting at the top of the food chain will eventually nourish those on the bottom. Indeed, my remains will one day be feasted upon by worms and other insects, who will fertilize the soil with living bacteria who, in turn, will provide sustenance to that jerk of an asparagus spear.
Man, all this talk of mortality is making me hungry. Lets remedy that with some terrible food porn, shall we?