First published in Franklin Journal
It’s easy for me to be connected with nature in general, and my food, specifically. When I’m out tending my flowers or weeding the vegetables, I am silently, and sometimes not so silently, thanking them for gracing my day with their beauty and growing heartily to provide sustenance for my body. I think this is because of the combination of times when it was uncertain from where the next meal would come and my mother’s mantra “you are nearer God’s heart in a garden”. I would extend that to mom’s dinner table, as well.
Here in America, while food insecurity is definitely an issue, particularly, access to nutritious food; most of the time, thanks to the work of many, food can be had even if it’s only a can of ravioli or the seventh day of chicken soup. I have never been hungry, from food scarcity. I have been hungry, because the food available wasn’t food I could safely eat. I’m honestly grateful for each situation. Each has taught me appreciation, love, and joy. In either situation, I feel a spiritual connection.
There is a synchronicity between human beings and food which causes us to acknowledge we are not alone. For a period of time, it was difficult to find someone who understood this connection and that food does more than quell tummy rumblings. I am however, finding more people who share my gratitude and understanding of the miracle of food. I attribute this to our lack of growing at least some of our food; saying grace before eating; and our food being processed and distributed by companies, rather than those closely taking care of us.
Hunter-gatherers were our earliest example of understanding food scarcity and that food carries an element of responsibility. If they didn’t go out and hunt it, they would starve. Now, if you are one who just gasped over the idea of eating meat, I present to you the idea that all eating involves killing. Even vegans and vegetarians are guilty of killing plants to keep themselves alive. It’s a sacrifice willingly given on the part of the universe, but it’s still a sacrifice, one for which we should be grateful.
Eventually, hunter-gatherers became settled enough that they learned the art of plant eating. With this knowledge, they learned their food was weather dependent. They developed prayers and rituals associated with particular gods who controlled agriculture and the weather. Osiris comes to mind. This Egyptian god was known as “the great god of the dead”, but he was also the infertile god of agriculture. Strange, right? I mean, on the one hand, you’re talking about death and on the other, you’re talking about life. A paradox? Actually, not so much when you consider the cycle of life. Osiris was symbolically killed each harvest and discarded on the threshing room floor, symbolizing abundance harvested and returning when the crops grew again. Today, you may think of taking discarded food and composting it into soil that can be used to grow new crops.
Involvement with our food through prayer and ritual sustains the idea that we should be grateful. A prayer can be as short as “thank you”. A ritual can be as involved as connecting with children to plant a garden and seeing it through to harvest. It’s incredibly satisfying to grow, pick and eat a tomato. As Lewis Grizzard quipped, “It’s hard to think anything but pleasant thoughts when eating a tomato.” It’s in the pleasure of eating that we experience great joy and enjoyment of life. This joy brings acceptance of ourselves, because we are happy. And “happy” is contagious.
I’ve mentioned in previous columns that peaceful preparation of our food creates an atmosphere of positive energy that is held in our food. We then take that energy in when we eat. Positive energy is love, joy and caring. Think of a time when you shared the preparation of a meal. No doubt you shared conversation, maybe some laughs and hugs or comfort.
Growing a backyard garden, flowers and herbs on the windowsill, or raising goats for milk are all ways we can connect with our food and are all examples of rituals. Buying local and organic is a ritual that takes us closer to our community where food is about more than miles; it’s about justice, environment, sustainability and retreat. It creates a shift in our view of food and community. Even if we don’t consciously recognize it as such, these rituals instill a sacred experience.