Recently I found myself shopping in a large grocery store, admittedly not the type that I tend to frequent. At first I was amused at my own reaction to finding no sprouted grain bread, no peanut butter without palm oil, no jam without high fructose corn syrup. It felt like play somehow, coming into this "other" world, and finding my own cultural frame about food suddenly thrown into relief. I felt connected to my fellow shoppers as I mused about how we were all subject to the corporate interests of food distributors, even if we were reached through different marketing tactics.

Yet as I wandered the aisles, watching the other shoppers unconcernedly filling their carts with what I consider to be processed junk, barely food even, the playfulness of my psychic frame seemed to melt away. The differences between myself and those around me seemed to negate the connectedness I had felt just moments before. My skin color, the clothes I wore, even my invisible education (revealed no doubt in the way that I comport myself and speak) all seemed to hang upon me with the weight of generations of an American Dream built on the backs of otherized working-class minorities. When faced with the complexities of the dialectic between privilege and deprivation, the potential space I had experienced around food and culture collapsed.

Recent revisions of nutritional pyramid guidelines, as well as policy changes concerning school lunch programs and labeling, all speak to the importance of making relevant health information available to all people. But how do we keep open the potential space that exists in the dialectics about cultural difference? How to keep that space from collapsing when faced with the emotional realities of prejudice, discrimination, and lack of access to resources?

Perhaps it is through finding those places of connection, even when they are not readily apparent. For instance, junk food. Our collective love of the sweet, the salty, the crunchy, the cheap and easy, is a commonality that can be explored with humor, with enough breathing room to be playful. In fact, junk food seems to have become a commodified form of play, marketed to us with bright colors and snappy, energetic tag lines. Potential space is too rich and important a concept to be confined to the consulting room. It has greatly enriched my navigation of the infinitely nuanced cultural milieu in which we coexist.

Suzanne Stambaugh, M.A.
Impulse Staff Writer