We share our food

This week there are reports that the parent company of a newspaper had made record profits with its four directors sharing £18.3m in pay, while the journalists have not had a pay rise in eight years.

If people have become just company units, resources, commodities, then what is the point? To make ever-more money for ever-fewer people? While two life-chances pull further and further apart: the drudge on 50 hours a week, long commutes, tiny holidays, their little income lost on rent and utilities; the lucky few in cosy gated communities with lawyers and accountants to guard their off-shore treasure island.

What defines us as human, as distinctive from other primates or mammals? What was it that put us on a different path, leaving the wilderness to be fully human, to create agriculture, cities and culture? I would suggest it is our social nature that made us different – crudely, we are different because we share our food. Eating together defines and completes us. It encircles the family. It seals a deal. It marks a transition in life. Even when we could perfectly well eat alone, we are drawn to share.

The journalist Kate Adie in her autobiography The Kindness of Strangers (2002) tells the story of when she and a TV crew were filming in a town after an earthquake. They had found a woman stranded in the street with her small children, who in turn had found a few eggs and had started a fire under a flat stone to make an omelette. She had a small piece of cardboard which she used as a spatula. The crew started filming for the evening news. As they finished the woman looked up and divided the meal into two, half for her and the children, half for the TV crew. All the crew were mortified.

Today’s level of unchecked greed by a few powerful interests, with the inequality that has resulted, is basically the enemy of civilisation.

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