Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Over the past seven years or so the prefix "Eco" has been popping up everywhere, from oil company advertisements to toilet paper packaging. "Eco," that aesthetically pleasing little prefix has really made quite a name for itself. Eco living, Eco friendly, Eco design, Eco tourism, Eco building, Eco furniture, Eco products, Eco sensitive, Eco fashion...the list goes on and on. The question is what does the prefix "Eco" really mean? I asked Chef when he hears the word "Eco" what first comes to mind, and he responded "For me, I think of the woods." Most of us associate something"Eco" as having something to do with the environment, or being earth-friendly, which is an essential part of its meaning, but the word ecology, from which "Eco" is derived has a much broader definition.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the word ecology has two main definitions.

Ecology: 1. a branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments. 2. the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environment

Both have the common thread of relationship with environment, so let's take this a step further and define environment, because it means much more than Nature.

Environment: 1. the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded 2. a. the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine the survival. b. the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community

So now, let's combine the two definitions to come up with a savvy understanding of ecology that we can apply to daily life.

Ecology: The pattern of relations between organisms and the circumstances, objects, or conditions that surround them and influence their lives.

With this new grasp on the word "Eco," it is safe to say that its meaning goes way beyond a trendy way to brand something as earth-friendly. In reality, it is the way we relate to pretty much everything.

Food is something we all relate to in one way or another...our survival depends greatly on that relation. In exploring our relationship with the food in our life, we can learn a lot about ourselves and how we relate to the world as a whole.

For example, our daughter's relationship with food is all inclusive, much like her relationship with the world. She takes everything in all the time. At 11 months old she considers pretty much anything she can get her grubby little hands on as a possible food item, ranging from a lizard carcass left as a gift by Pork Chop, our chubby Tabby, to a grocery store receipt that slipped from my purse onto the floor. Most of us do not remember exploring the world with our mouths as infants, for which I am thankful because according to my mom I ate a cockroach once. But we all did explore the world in that way, and learned a great deal from that exploration. When was the last time you bought something to eat that you have never tasted before? When along the way did we stop exploring the world with our sense of taste?

Behind every piece of food there is a story. We don't usually think about food in that way. We go to the store, buy something based on what we know it to taste like...or perhaps the calorie content, and then we eat it. Many of us don't want to know the story behind that ripe pineapple sitting on the shelf in December, or the frozen dinner that was packaged eight months ago, because the story behind most of our groceries is a long sordid tale.

Let's face it, most of us have a pretty shallow relationship with our food, and regardless of whether you eat organic, local, industrial, or fast food one thing is for certain...we are all guilty of taking our relationship with food for granted. The ecology of food is particular to each human, but there is one common way for each of us to get to know our food a little better. Just to make our relationship with it a little more personal, a little more intimate.

That singular way is to grow a little food for yourself. It could be nothing more than a small pot of herbs in a window, or a little tomato plant on your patio...or it could be something grand like a full blown summer vegetable garden, or you could even raise a pig! When you start a plant from seed, or raise an animal from birth, you develop an appreciation for the life and ecology behind the shelves of plastic wrapped food in the produce and deli sections of the grocery store. You gain awareness of their life stories. It is a small, but important step to nourish a really fundamental aspect of your own ecology...and a delicious one at that.

Good Life Quest #1: Next time you are at the grocery store buy a piece of food you have never tasted before, or if you are feeling really adventurous a piece of food you have never heard of before. Google that food, learn its life story, then eat it!


jdw said...

Hurray for connecting the dots that describe how our personal ecosystems are composed, as well as their dependence and inter-related forms with all things around us. This kind of thought, and the challenges of GL Quest #1 should make most of us contemplate our well being in terms of our environmental health, which can be as simple as the ancient Chinese notions of how we get 'chi,' air we breathe, food we eat, and the innate time-released energies we are born with, to a more selective consideration of our personal space and choices as they relate to our collective interests in 'eco.'

Raegan said...

You are an incredible writer, and I found this to be very interesting and worth while. Thanks for a great read, and I am excited about my next trip to Publix.

Candice said...

Hey Nan! Love this! I like to keep in mind that the Greek root or meaning of eco is oikos (oi is one of many ways to make the ee sound in Greek, so for all those wondering how to pronounce it, it's a long ee). Oikos is Greek for home! I like that so much because it is helpful to remind ourselves that we are earthlings! We evolved here, this is our home and we should keep it in good order. Economy also comes from the same root, and could stand a similar wake-up call to its root word, as the global economy continues to operate as if it were not bound by the ecological limits of our home planet. I think you are totally right on that the best answer to this silly illogical blind faith in a failing system is to plant a garden! I look forward to moving out of grad housing so that I can have chickens and goats :D