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Don't take it for grunted… er, granted

In a popular joke, the pig complains that we take him for grunted.

In a popular joke, the pig complains that we take him for grunted. This couldn't have been further from the truth in my case, and it's just that although I have never been particularly religious, the power to act like a God was bestowed upon me at a very early age.

Most of the food we ate at home as I was growing up came from a country farm that we visited at weekends - our vegetables, our eggs and milk, even our meat. The four of us in the family participated in covering our needs; we would help pick our produce, collect the eggs, milk the cows slaughter the pigs!

It went without saying that the responsibility for what ended up on our plates belonged to us all in more or less equal shares. I was too young to handle the knife or the pig, so my role was to pick which one we were going to kill. Pure agony is the simplest way I can describe the process I went through every time, quietly and at length trying to reason with myself over the choice I was about to make.

Fast-forward to today and you'd think the experience belongs to the past, never to be repeated again. But I am in Cordova, Alaska, a town where access difficulties make things pricey and incomplete: at the store, you can buy a mop and a bucket, without the wringer; at the pool table, the rack is missing a ball (well, more like three or four), and on the menu at the bar, you won't find a burger, but mostly fish and clams. So the Cordovans take the matter into their own hands; they head to the hills in search of their own meat.

It's September, the right time for it. My friends prepare for a deer hunt - "surely I want to be part of that!?" I'm legally not allowed to shoot; in fact, I likely won't be much use, so once again, my role is to choose. The moment comes and the blood in my veins runs with anxiety; my chest fills with the all-too-familiar agony. But what to do? When I was little, just as today, I could enjoy a good steak, and I never pass on the opportunity to dine on wild game; I can't let shared responsibility scare me away. So I take my pick and, within a split second, the deer that took two days to be found lies dead on the ground. We gut it, skin it, quarter it, carry it, clean it, cook it finally eat it.

No beating the flavour, but it takes so much effort, it's no wonder we're now addicted to convenience and happy to give away the responsibility over our food chain. In this day and age, "food delivery" has acquired a whole new meaning, and when it comes to food spending, 80 cents of every buck go into making our groceries convenient and fast. Forget about the profit down at the farm; it's in the marketing jobs that pockets get fat.

Our food choices reflect who we are. Leaving them to urgency doesn't say much good about us. We vote with what we put in our shopping cart; we don't have to pick which pig we're going to kill, but our freedom to choose has a lot to do with how things are produced. Somewhere along the line, though, the satisfaction of eating has been lost. We don't know where our food comes from anymore, let alone what happens to it before it reaches our fork. Trying to save effort and time, we reduce the quality, and the length, of our lives.

It'd be impossible for each of us to go back to the farm so we can decide which pig should be turned into ham, but we need to reverse the process of going to the store and thoughtlessly picking a pork chop encased in Styrofoam. Surely you've noticed it too; food-borne diseases are the norm in the news. Let's pay more attention to what we consume. We've put a basic necessity in the hands of a few. Do we realize our health is in those hands as well?

The pig in our joke has got plenty of reasons to feel taken for grunted. Well, time to wake up - we are what we eat and our plate is looking pretty sad.

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