Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Eating trash: putting the thingness back into food

Today, I want to share with you the beautiful writing of Farid Rener, an electrical engineer, musician, and bike mechanic from Montreal, Canada. Farid's paper at the Building Bridges conference, titled The apple has expired: The poetry is in the trash, is one of the most thoughtful and wonderful papers I have come across. Influenced by the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Bruce Foltz, Farid talks about how a trash receptacle can instantaneously take away all of the appleness in an apple, and how dumpster diving actually serves as a restoration of the appleness into the apple, giving the apple a fuller appreciation of its thingness. Farid writes (with a little bit of restructuring and editing for the purposes of this post),
The apple is only an apple if its essence is revealed, which can only be done if the apple is used in a proper manner: “only proper use brings the thing to its essence and keeps it there.” (Foltz, p.161) The apple, through use, is no longer simply an object, nor simply a resource–it is a thing. Allowing the apple to thing is a conserving act...: "Conserving is a looking after and a caring for that frees a thing into its essence and safeguards it there, precisely through a use that is in accord with its essence." (Foltz, p.162).

Our waste receptacles are given more power than most other things in our homes – somehow everything that we place in them is transformed from thing to waste no matter what it is. Treating the apple as garbage, challenges the apple out of its thingness, and draws out its very essence, its "whatness" (Foltz, p.128), removing from it any appleness, and instilling in it a complete uselessness [beautiful]. Through our action of discarding, we do not allow the apple to thing, and since "Thinging is the nearing of the world," (Heidegger, p.179) we put the apple at a distance, removing it from our world, contributing to the “worldlessness of [our] technological epoch.” (Foltz, p.118)

Dumpster-divers, however, bring the apple near again. Freeing the apple from the destiny of the landfill spares the apple and returns it to its own being: “To free really means to spare. The sparing itself consists not only in the fact that we do not harm the one whom we spare. Real sparing is something positive and takes place when we leave something beforehand in its own nature, when we return it specifically to its being, when we “free” it in the real sense of the word into a preserve of peace” (Heidegger, p.147). The reclaiming of the apple is thus poetic since, “to be a human being… means to dwell,” (Foltz, p.157) and “poetically man dwells upon the earth.” The fact that it was seen, and respected, for what it was, an apple, brings the apple back into appleness.

Divers are the resuscitators of these things that have not yet perished. Seeing past the veil that the technology of the trashcan places on these things, the freegan reveals the underlying nature of the thing, recognizing the life that still permeates many of those items that others deem waste. Reviving waste is a direct denial that the earth is a “stockpile or inventory that is constantly available”–gleaning resources from those things that no longer fit within our technological frameworks allows the nourishing character of the earth to reveal itself. This is in contrast to those things which technologically characterize nourishment: expiry dates, intactness and cleanliness—a bruised and dirty apple is still delicious.
Farid further writes about how consigning the apple to a landfill also prevents the apple from revealing itself, for an apple is not only an apple to us. Rather, it also serves as nourishment for the soil it decays into, which is not possible in landfills. In essence, Farid talks about how mindlessly we tend to discard things, objects, food, because of socially-constructed norms of what things "should be." In these acts of discarding we signify that the thing is not fit to exist in the intimacy of places dear to us, and that some other space, assigned a zero value in our minds, is where the object is fit for non-existence.

In conclusion, Farid writes, go eat trash.

Foltz, Bruce V. Inhabiting the Earth: Heidegger, Environmental Ethics, and the Metaphysics of Nature.
Atlantic Highlands, N.J: Humanities Press, 1995.

Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Perennical Classics, 2001.

1 comment: