To quote Monsanto’s 1970s propaganda: “Without chemicals, life itself is impossible.” The multinational agrochemical/biotech corporation is ostensibly in the business of helping farmers grow food. So, let’s just say, “Without food, human existence goes kaput.”
Okay, we need water, too. Oh, and oxygen. We gotta breathe, right? Food, water, and oxygen are three legs supporting the stool of life for us hunter-gatherers. Yes, we are hunter-gatherers. Although we do sport better clothes and haircuts thanks to the domestication of sheep and the invention of scissors, don’t let it fool you. In the geological sense, mankind has barely stepped from the Paleolithic Age.
You see, in the old days, we humans clumped together in small bands and clans as we wandered from one unmapped rock to another uncharted ravine. Oxygen was plentiful since most of the super-volcano eruptions were distant memories, and thanks to a few hundred-thousand comet strikes, the planet was positively soaked in water. We’d be on the move all day, always on the lookout for a bite to eat. Turn over a mossy rock and, by golly, some tasty bugs were revealed. Perhaps a bit tart, but with a satisfying crunch, they were proto-chips with dip included.
Pull up this scraggly plant and we are rewarded with a high-fiber edible root. Munch on this glistening leaf, add an odd berry and bean, and we’re good to go. Some scaly lizard sunning on a ledge might offer a good target for a well-thrown stone, and meat is on the menu. A scraggly prehistoric chicken could be snared and consumed. “Tastes like snake,” said Ug.
Nowadays, we hunter-gatherers have automobiles, so we can range farther than before, but nothing has fundamentally changed. We breathe—the air occasionally laced with hints of Febreze. We drink water—mostly now from plastic bottles—easier to carry than a tanned animal bladder but harder on our whale friends in the ocean. We eat.
We are no longer wandering blindly. Google Maps can guide us from the now-precise coordinates of the old rock visited by our furry ancestors to that ancient ravine, converted to a food court. Instead of turning over an old rock, we ask our electronic clan-mate Siri, “Where’s the nearest restaurant?” and a long list of eateries scrolls out on the screen.
Some of these locations even have salad bars, so we’re back to foraging leaves (this time from behind a sneeze-guard). More than a few places serve bugs. Well, OK, they serve shrimp. Did you ever look at a shrimp? It’s an underwater bug. There’s no denying it. If you spotted a few shrimp crawling around in your garage you’d call Terminix right away. Me, I’d be thinking, “Where’s the garlic?”
Yes, we modern hunter-gatherers now have a global reach. Thanks to technology, trade, and transportation, my clan and I have eaten bugs (shrimp) from Thailand, roots (carrots) from Canada, leaves (lettuce) from Mexico, and beans (chocolate) from Africa. We’re still on the same daily trek from waterhole to waterhole, only now we read Yelp reviews online. We watch Anthony Bourdain downing a bowl of soba on Okinawa. We are so connected to virtual experience that we are disconnected from real experience.
Here in America, we are in the Land of Plenty. Food is taken for granted by most. We have lost something in the bargain. We no longer experience the simple pleasure of putting something strange in our mouths, chewing, and hoping against hope that it doesn’t kill us. Food has lost a bit of its old sense of adventure.
It’s lonely at the top of the food chain.
This column was printed in the July/August 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.