This blog originally appeared on www.whatisyourworth.com
A few years ago, Jamie Oliver decided to make chicken nuggets for a group of middle schoolers. He thought that if they saw what went into their food, they would change their food choices. He was wrong.
As Oliver threw chicken parts, breast meat, feet, and skin (lots of skin) along with salt (loads of salt), unnamed filler, and pink-colored binders into a grinder, the kids scrunched up their faces. They murmured, "yuck and "oh in unison. They looked disgusted, nearly nauseous, at the commercial break.
Then Oliver came back and he fried up the nuggets into bite-sized bits of golden brown. He asked the students if they wanted to try one of them. Every single one of the kids threw up a hand and said, "Yes! Those nuggets, that only moments before had disgusted them, now were appetizing kid-fare.
One handsome Sukkkah.
(Photo credit: Isabella Freedman)
Oliver's experiment famously failedbut what does this have to do with Sukkot?
Well, it turns out a lot. Oliver's experiment failed because those middle schoolers raised on hyper-industrial food, cooking in the microwave, and no more home economic classes at school couldn't imagine, and didn't imagine, a connection between what they ate, where it came from, and how it was manipulated into what sat on their plates. Those links had been erased over time.
Indeed, this is perhaps one of the more troubling things about our current food system and why this system is so intractable. It has turned so many of us into what Wendell Berry has called "industrial eaters," people who do not know that eating is an "agricultural act. As a result, we no longer know about or imagine the connections between eating and the land, between food and processing. This disconnect explains why we eat passively and uncritically. Those kids in Oliver's experiment don't really expect food to have any relation to its preparation and where it came from in the first place.
Sukkot, however, is about making the connection between the land and the table explicit. It is, of course, a harvest festival, and a time to celebrate plenty. But as a harvest festival it also calls Jews back to their agricultural roots. It asks Jews to think about what they eat, where it came from, and how it got to the table. It asks us to think about chicken nuggets and what goes into this and other "frankenstein foods.