Meals in the age of toxic environments

Authored by: Yuki Masami

The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138786745
eBook ISBN: 9781315766355
Adobe ISBN: 9781317660194


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Originating in the Latin word “domus,” which means “house,” domestication is related to the act of making one’s home. Meals are one of the indispensable and most distinctive elements of home. You are what you eat—or, as Michael Pollan aptly says, it is more like “you are what what you eat eats” these days due to the longer and more complicated food chain from farm to table (Pollan 84)—and meals shape you not only physically but also mentally. There is an important difference between a meal and food: food refers to what we eat, whereas a meal involves not only the food we eat but also the occasion on which we eat, what we usually call breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whether it is special or ordinary, having a meal involves a certain degree of privacy. It is rare to have a stranger at a meal unless we are willing to accept the person; as John Steinbeck’s short story “Breakfast” illustrates, inviting the other to join in a meal implies an acceptance. Thus meals play no small role in a discourse of domestication (which is related to the alteration and exploitation of the environment in which one’s home is made) and a domestic discourse (which is concerned with the ideas, values, and concepts of home and family). Among the number of conceivable topics regarding meals and domestication, I will pay attention to meals made from and consumed in environments which, while perceived as home, have nonetheless been damaged, contaminated, and polluted with toxic substances from anthropogenic sources. I will particularly focus on literary representations of such meals, because literary works demonstrate different degrees of consciousness, awareness, and values regarding human relationships with the environment and thereby provide a multilayered picture in which different values come into contact, conflict, and possibly negotiate with each other.

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