Food connects us all. It connects us to each other, to our own pasts and identities/memories, and to the larger world around us. We can think of these connections as going both inwards and outwards, so that food can take us into exploring our selves as well as the impact that we as individuals might have on other people, economies, ecologies, and society.
The image of a tree helps clarify this idea. The roots of a tree are grounded (literally) in our past and all the experiences, relationships, interpretations, and external conditions that shaped that past. Our individual foodways make up the trunk of the tree growing out of that past, rooted in it but also reaching into the present (and future) with branches that extend outwards. Each branch can then be seen as a different aspect of life, distinct but also connected. Leaves represent experiences in each of those domains, and just as with living trees, they grow out of the tree itself but also bring nutrients back to the tree. Leaves here are anecdotes that we tell–sometimes just to ourselves–about food experiences. They can be memories from the past as well as musings about the present and even possible futures. Some of these leaves may bring nutrients to the tree; others seem irrelevant and may even wither and day, but without any leaves, the tree itself cannot survive.
We each have our unique individual foodways tree but we also can be part of a woods or forest. For example, we might share a lot of similarities with other family members, yet we still are individuals–in the same way that a grove of maple trees share the same soil, climate, and nutrients, and have their root systems intertwined but are still distinct and separate trees. Each culture–and communities and groups within cultures–offers a forest of related foodways trees.
As we fill in the leaves to our own trees, we begin to see how we are interconnected. We also see how our motivations for eating can vary, but the impacts of our food choices affect all aspects of the food system. We should also keep in mind that we need the traditions that tie us to the past. If a tree is cut off fro its roots, it dies. While that sounds too drastic for people, we do need to recognize where we come from in order to understand how and why we eat the way we do today. People and cultures need grounding in their histories.