Peach pies are wonderful things to create from scratch at home. Living in the real “Peach State”, I have spent the summers of my life in the overflowing presence of peaches. In lots of ways, a peach pie says a lot about the world we live in, in a real, hard, concrete, non-abstract way.

The phrase that is often used to describe our world, our present, at least Western, culture is post-modernism. This can mean lots of folks to lots of different people, not surprising since the end of the modern age has meant a loss of certainty and confidence. Big words and big concepts are used to describe how we relate to each other and understand the world around us. The small things though, that we take for granted, define our daily life, most of all how we eat.

Bear with me for a moment, as I dig back in time to bring us back to a point. In ancient Greece, cooking was reserved for slaves, even worse, lavish meals were not considered virtuous. Even the enjoyment of varied foods, even pies, was considered a sign of moral weakness. The acknowledgement of the body’s material needs was an acknowledgement of weakness. Further south from Plato and his compatriots, the ancient Hebrews built an entire culture around ritualistic cycles of feasting and fasting. Food, and its enjoyment, were central to the Hebrew experience that we read of in the Old Testament, largely because they lived in expectation of divine revelation, in the midst of a real, material world.

Fast forward a few thousand years, to, well, now. Modernity has given us cheap, plentiful and standardized forms of food, and in the process is eliminating lots of variation in the types of food, food preparation and food culture that have been the norm for most of the history of the West since Rome. With the availability of plentiful and cheap food, perhaps the #1 technological problems in history, a post-modern world has given us a less human experience with our food, our most basic material, daily need.

It seems as if urban and suburban life has more or less cut off people from the experience and reality of where their food comes from. With eating more of a process and consumption, it would seem that it also has cut off the communal aspects of eating as well, cutting us off from each other, and making us less fully human. While we may not live or even be aware of Plato’s views on food, a post-modern life more or less agrees with his assessment on how eating and feasting is to be approached.

So what should we do? Or what should we eat? Or maybe the question is how should we live? First things, first principles should tell us to live a life of gratitude and respect, with an appreciation of our dual role as being a spirit and a body. Eating can be an appreciative, grateful thing, in a community, even if its a simple meal. Wendell Berry says this:

On the contrary, I think it means that you eat with understanding and with gratitude. A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes. The pleasure of eating, then, may be the best available standard of our health. And this pleasure, I think, is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.

Family recipe books are treasured by us. They represent, partly, a real wisdom of past ages that simply cannot be replicated. Stephen Shapin says, to emphasis the extent to which cooking skills are scarce and how the world getting smaller is not necesarily a good thing:

Urbanisation and industrialisation disrupted the traditional chains by which indigenous skills had been transmitted from hand to hand, largely from mother to daughter, and what everyone knew how to do eventually became what very few people knew how to do. In the main, the skills just disappeared or are on their way to disappearing: for many households, the cooked-from-scratch sit-down meal is a rarity, and few people will now be at all familiar with the look and taste of a genuine free-range egg.

The danger is totally embracing a consumerist approach to eating, food and community is not a loss of nostalgia in the past, but that it makes us, in the end, less human, more of the worst of post-modernism, and less able to relate to the real, living world around us and real, living people who we are in relationship with.

Oh, and peach pies, made from fresh, end of season, South Carolina peaches, filo layers making up a crust and a family recipe make a great thing to share with friends and co-workers.

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