Food, the Nutritional Product that Fuels the Passing of Time: How Time and Nutrition Transformed Eating into Refuelling

Diarmuid Cawley

Document Type Conference Paper

Submitted as a contribution to the 2014 Dublin Gastronomy Symposium


Food is in front of us everywhere we go; marketed and ready to eat. The easier it is to consume food ‘on the go’ the more socially accepted it becomes. The private elements of food consumption have unwittingly become the public elements of food consumption, sometimes excruciatingly public, with food reconnaissance for most of us now a redundant act. The exogenic nature of passing time and our ever increasing need to partake in complex travel systems to and from our daily destinations has engaged us with a process of ‘nutritional refuelling’, that begins with large scale industrial farming and ends with us consuming a ‘ready-meal’ of our choice during our commute or while working in the office. Food and drink are “highly charged symbolic media”, because we must consume them in order to survive. But why do we crave honesty, uniqueness and terroir from our food yet we continue to ‘eat on the hoof’, anywhere and at anytime?

While our lives have become busy, fast paced and structured, so food manufacturing has become an essential part of daily life. We appear spoiled for choice in this contemporary setting but much of the real choice and decision making has already been performed for us on our behalf. Food manufacturers know we struggle to be on time, that we have a desire to feel individual in our choices, live healthily and that we need to eat.

Humans first discovered food through a process of trial and error; what was safe and good to eat and what was not. Then the scientific breakdown of food evolved, opening a vast world of nutritional components and elements. By stripping back these layers of food we unwittingly removed simplicity and replaced it once again with the complex questions of what is good to eat and what is not. As a consequence of this elements of uncertainty have entered the food chain and have undone much of our traditional knowledge about food.

Now that we know food can slowly kill us or prolong our lives, the dichotomy of ill health or the anxious landscape of so called health food can be daunting and is often symbolic of how others view us. But how can we be healthy when we have made the food system so complicated and eating has become a process we squeeze into our busy transient existence? In essence perhaps what humans crave more than the symbolism of certain foods is to have the time to be healthy.