By Concepta Cassar, published on Litro Magazine‘s website 23rd April 2015.
The wisdom of Michel de Montaigne extends to most spheres of human life, not excepting agriculture and matters of the palate. In his 1580 essay Des Cannibales(Of Cannibals), in which he lambasts Europe’s hypocrisy in its perception and treatment of the people of the New World (in particular the Tupinambá people), Montaigne also draws some striking comparisons between cultivated and wild food. These comparisons not only strike a chord with the forager within me (who delights in the taste of what is to be found growing in the most unlikely of places), but also to the grower, who notes the difference in flavour when food is cultivated with a little care.
According to Montaigne, it should not be wild fruit that we call “sauvage” (carrying the implication of “savage”), but “[those] fruit which we have artificially perverted and misled from the common order”. He affirms that “living”, “vigorous”, “natural” fruit has been “bastardized …by merely adapting them to our corrupt tastes”. This last thought has particular resonance when we consider it in light of the mass-produced and ultraprocessed food that has come to dominate so much of people’s diets around the world today. In high-income countries, ultraprocessed foods can make up more than 60 per cent of total energy intake . This would not be a problem if these foods provided people with adequate nutrition, but according to recent studies, ultraprocessed foods are currently responsible for more than 18 million deaths each year through non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, high bodymass index, high fasting blood glucose and high total cholesterol . More troubling still is that these multinational companies, that have become so adept at manipulating the fats, sugar content and textures of foods, market these products aggressively to the poorest societies, where they will make most of their profit in the next five years . Just as the eating of meat has become a marker of prosperity in many societies, so the giants of the processed food industry have come to embody the capitalist dream across the world.