Written by Priya Chhaya
Right now, at the very beginning, I’ll make my first admission; in the past, my list of New Year’s resolutions has been pretty typical – work out more, catch up with old friends, and watch less television (which, if you know me, is a tough one). Not this year. I’m going to do something different. I'm going to make a ground-breaking discovery that will…
Okay, perhaps I need to try to be a bit more realistic. Seriously.
That’s the great thing about New Year’s resolutions. You can be as grandiose as you would like, or you can make the goals achievable. You can also have a set of personal resolutions that works in tandem with your set of professional ones. In the end, they all ask you to look into the future and to see yourself on December 31, 2010.
I think I have three major resolutions for the year 2010 so far:
- 1. Finish writing my novel. (I participated in National Novel Writing Month in November.)
- 2. Travel more, whether it be through books or actual traveling.
- 3. Live healthier (exercise, food, etc.).
The third resolution involves making a decision to change my eating habits. It is influenced in part by a chapter in Bill McKibben’s "Deep Economy," which I finally finished over Thanksgiving, and in part by a lecture I attended by author Jonathan Safran Foer. Both seemed to answer the question – what happens when you make a decision that involves dramatically changing your eating habits? How do these decisions impact not only your own health, but also your sense of community and place?
As one of the keynote speakers at this year’s National Preservation Conference, Bill McKibben spoke about climate change and its impact on the historic built environment. To learn more, I picked up "Deep Economy." I found myself drawn to one particular chapter that describes his year of eating locally. During this year, McKibben freezes, brines, and Cryovac’s food to make it last longer, and in the end, points out that he had to 'think about every meal, instead of wandering through the world on autopilot, ingesting random calories." Furthermore, he’d "gotten to eat with [his] brain as well as [his] tongue: every meal comes with a story."
This leads me to the idea of (not) eating animals and Jonathan Safran Foer. In a recent talk about his latest book, "Eating Animals" (a book that describes his path to vegetarianism), he states that our eating habits are always connected to "stories we are told, tell ourselves, and stories that are impressed on us." That the food we are trained to eat at a very young age is connected to what our parents fed us. I know that the Indian food my mother has made me since birth invokes a sense of homecoming, just like how every time I eat Italian food, I think of the best tiramisu I’ve ever had, which brings back memories of the summer I lived in Italy and traveled around Great Britain.
In Foer’s case, it was his grandmother who spent all of his childhood feeding him and impressing on him the importance of having food. He describes a moment when his grandmother was scavenging for food during the Holocaust. She came upon a Russian farmer who offered her some ham. She made a decision that I don’t know if I could have made. She said no. When Foer asked his grandmother why she chose continued starvation over some sustenance (because the meat was not kosher), she said the following, "If nothing matters, there is nothing to save."
"If nothing matters, there is nothing to save." As a historian and preservationist, these are words I took to heart.
In a recent issue of Forum Journal, Anthony Veerkamp describes the slow food movement and its connections to rural preservation. He uses this to assert that we, as preservationists, "still struggle with the notion that a community’s ongoing relationship with a place can form the basis of its historical significance." Food serves as the material culture of daily life, and it stands in as actors in the stories of our pasts and in our larger sense of place. Consequently, if food connects us to both the past and the present living community, then living healthier and making those connections will help me be a better historian and preservationist, right?
That's my resolution. What's yours?
Priya Chhaya is a program assistant in the Center for Preservation Leadership. This blog posting was adapted from her personal blog, ThisIsWhatComesNext.wordpress.com.