The Life of Food

photo Eating injera in Ethiopia [© Frederic Courbet/Panos Pictures]

Food is more than a biological necessity. It is cultural identity, religious observance, memory, romance, creativity--the shared flavors of friendship and community, the tastes and textures through which intimacies are experienced and enriched. It is the center of our sense of home and family; the thought that is given everywhere, day after day, to the preparation of meals; and the simple ritual of eating around which families form.

Nichiren, the 13th-century founder of the school of Buddhism practiced by members of the SGI, wrote in thanks to a disciple for a gift of food: "Rice is not simply rice, it is life itself." Food is life; and not only because it enables our bodies to continue functioning.

Trace backward the path of any item on the shelf of the grocery store, and you arrive almost inevitably at a patch of earth and a farmer. The way food is produced and what happens to it on its often complex journey to our plates has major effects on our social and biological systems.

In recent decades, industrial agriculture, which relies on huge inputs of energy, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, has been seen as the most effective way to boost food productivity. But the hidden costs of this approach--poisoning of the soil, the water and the air--are becoming increasingly apparent. Moreover, although the world now grows more than enough food to meet everyone's nutritional needs, millions continue to die each year from hunger, while increasing numbers of people suffer from illnesses related to overnutrition.

This issue of the SGI Quarterly explores alternatives to these unsustainable modes of food production and consumption and highlights the work of individuals dedicated to improving access to life-giving food in different situations around the world. It begins from the perspective that food, more than any other element of our daily lives, is the tangible thread of our interdependence with the world around us. Through the food we eat, we are connected with people near and far, with the systems of global trade and commerce, and with the Earth itself. Our food choices have far-reaching effects. Unsurprisingly, the most wholesome and delicious foods--those that best nourish our bodies and our senses--are also best for the planet.