Satisfaction of material needs is preferable to want/deprivation.
- When a man’s stomach is full it makes no difference whether he is rich or poor. [Euripides]
- God comes to the hungry in the form of food. [Mahandas Gandhi]
- May the roof over your head always be strong. [Irish blessing]
- I’ve always regarded nature as the clothing of God. [Alan Hovhaness]
The point seems obvious: adequate nutrition and hydration – food and water – are essential to sustain life. The most familiar list of our material needs and wants cites food, clothing and shelter. We can consider these both through satisfaction and through its opposite, want. Satisfaction of each of these basic desires also brings pleasure, which we will consider in the next section.
Most fundamental is hydration. Without enough water, a human being will die within a few days. Fatal dehydration can result from fever, exertional heat illness, gastroenteritis, norovirus illnesses and other pathologies.
Adequate nutrition from food is essential to brain development, physical growth., health and happiness. An entire field of science has grown up around the subjects of nutrition, nutritional epidemiology (on the relationship between nutrition and disease), government policy and nutrition research. Criteria have been developed for adequate nutrition in children. Malnutrition causes heart disease, cognitive deficits, stunted physical growth, protein deficiency, anemia, hypertension, diabetes, childhood tuberculosis, and dementia and other geriatric syndromes in Alzheimer’s patients. Malnutrition in childhood appears to cause obesity in adulthood. A refeeding syndrome can develop when previously malnourished individuals resume nutrition. Displaced peoples are especially susceptible to malnutrition. Nutrition science ranges in scope “From Molecules to Populations”.
Shelter from nature’s harsh elements can be essential to survival. For many people, an igloo, a hut or a log cabin was essential to survival. In more developed environments, homelessness is associated with poor health, though adverse health effects may be due to factors besides lack of shelter itself. Lack of shelter can lead to injuries due to exposure to cold, and exposure to heat. Public health and housing is a public policy concern. Particular attention is devoted to housing for children. Home foreclosure appears to have numerous adverse health consequences.
We humans – naked apes – are the only species to make and wear clothes. Lacking fur, we use clothing to protect the skin and prevent skin cancer, quite apart from the widespread taboos associated in with nudity. Clothing serves as an interactive barrier during exercise. Protective clothing is essential for healthcare workers, firefighters, military personnel and police officers, industrial workers, astronauts, and athletes such as football players. Of course, a vast fashion industry has grown up around clothing, and professions such as teaching, law and clergy rely on clothing for status and authority. But then, the culinary arts go far beyond nutrition.
Because we humans are social creatures, the company of others is also a basic need for most of us. Companionship with other people buffers against illness, and promotes mental health. Loneliness can contribute to early death. Many people find satisfactory companionship with non-human animals. I will discuss this more fully in a later section on companionship.
Satisfaction of our basic needs and wants nurtures us, making health possible, and facilitating pleasure, happiness, fulfillment and longevity. Because it is essential to life itself, it is not amenable to analysis along the domains of Being.
Narratives about food as a life necessity:
- Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (The Penguin Press, 2012): an account of what happens when a life necessity is hard to come by.
- Mark Bittman, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021): “. . . a comprehensive treatise on humanity’s relationship to food . . .”
- Vincent van Gogh, An Old Man Putting Dry Rice on the Hearth (1881)
- Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners (1857)
Wherever you fall, maize, / whether into the / splendid pot of partridge, or among / country beans, you light up / the meal and lend it / your virginal flavor.
Oh, to bite into / the steaming ear beside the sea / of distant song and deepest waltz. / To boil you / as your aroma / spreads through / blue sierras.
But is there / no end / to your treasure?
In chalky, barren lands / bordered / by the sea, along / the rocky Chilean coast, / at times
only your radiance / reaches the empty / table of the miner.
Your light, your cornmeal, your hope / pervades America's solitudes, / and to hunger
your lances / are enemy legions.
Within your husks, / like gentle kernels, / our sober provincial / children's hearts were nurtured, / until life began / to shuck us from the ear.
[Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to Maize”]
- Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Salt”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Kurt Weill, Der Silbersee (The Silver Lake): Ein Wintermarchen (A Winter's Tale) (1933) (approx. 105-120’), is a musical drama about two hungry gravediggers who rob a grocery store.