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Whether we eat to live or live to eat, we need to keep food in perspective

By Muriel Duncan

So what will it be tonight: smoked caribou loin with butternut squash risotto or just a nice green salad again? And for dessert: warm blueberry friandise with sour cream lemon ice or are you picking up a box of Timbits?

In a world where some countries struggle desperately against starvation, you'd think we would feel content with our good fortune. Instead our bounty seems to have left us food-confused.

As a society, we treat food as an art form, sucking up magazines that show us chocolate on the cover and promise hot sauce secrets inside. For the truly addicted, television provides a food channel. Internet chat rooms trade restaurant tips and recipes for dishes your mother never - not for one minute - considered making.

Confess, haven't you ever wondered if you shouldn't have some coriander in the house? Lingered wistfully over truffle oil bottles? Considered asking a close friend what a coulis is? Food, after all, can be fun, and a jar of homemade jam is a loving gift. But these days it is very easy to worship in the temple of food and lose all sight of what food is for. Hunger slides into greed. Restaurants beckon the wealthy with yellowfin tuna tartare and discreet lighting. The rest of us head for an all-you-can-eat buffet where too many crab legs are never enough.

Then, in the midst of our eating frenzy, we get the bad news from our doctors. Obesity has been declared a national health problem. Fat is called the new tobacco. Our favourite food may be our enemy. We've enjoyed way too many french fries, it seems, and must cut down on fats, cut down on carbs, cut down on bad cholesterol.

We lie to ourselves and buy low-fat ice cream and a couple of diet books. But just when we feel ready to "eat smart," a new study debunks the old study and headlines warn about dangers at the fish counter. Put up your hands and move away from the table.

In the face of plenty, we've lost our perspective. Of course, what we eat is linked to what others in the world eat. Food is a global issue, used by some governments as a weapon, by others as an economic engine without regard to the environment. We need to question the power we've given the food industry.

Big box supermarkets lure us into a food-as-recreation mind-set. And throw in an ego-booster: all this abundance is for the privileged.

Taking the corners carefully with our over-filled, over-sized carts, we feel somehow worthy of strawberries in mid-winter.

It's an experience that further separates us from other peoples of the world, those who are hungry more often than satisfied.

We've already lost touch with the farmers, the producers who could help us to make connections.

But no matter what goes on around us, we do have answers to food confusion. Food is central to us as Christians. We still say prayers of thanks for food on our plates. We know about the community that grows around a pot-luck dinner. More important, the symbols of wine and bread bring our hearts close to God's, at a table for all.

With bread and fish, Jesus showed us that when simple food is shared, all may eat. We know that, but we have a long way yet to go.

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