Like many Americans, I’m a little weird about food. I’d like to think, however, that I’m at least weird about food in a…well, in a weird way.
Food… obtaining it, preparing it, serving it, and eating it… is, for me, sacred stuff. I have been known to move through the produce aisle of a grocery store in a kind of trance, caressing melons with a fondness usually reserved for adorable children who are blood relations of the person in question. I sigh over the smell of chicken stock bubbling, coo over the mis-matched eggs of my hen-keeping, egg-selling friends, and all but sing over the first fresh asparagus shoots of the year.
Many years ago, like many Pagans, I received Reiki attunements. I don’t do much with my Reiki, though I have trained a handful of students over the years, and used it every now and then on my own or my family’s ailments. But if it is true, as the Reiki Masters say, that what we are handling when we give or receive Reiki is life-energy, then it may be significant that my hands become hot, as if I were performing an attunement or deep in a healing, whenever I knead a loaf of home-made bread.
Bread is, all food is of course, the staff of life.
Beyond that, however, it strikes me that the act of eating is second only to making love when it comes to the intimate manner in which we relate as living beings to the physical world. When we eat, we savor the physicality of our food; we take it into ourselves; we break it down, encompass it, and rebuild ourselves from it.
It’s hard to think of a relationship more direct and intimate, more powerful and intense, than that. Eating is sacred, then, and food is a sacrament. (It is not for nothing that so many ancient pagan rituals were essentially meals we shared with our ancestors or with our gods.)
And yet, like all sacraments, food is capable of abuse, and the lack of consciousness with which many of us eat has approximately the same relationship to the sacrament and communion of eating in reverence that dialing up a 900 number for phone sex has to the Wiccan Great Rite. We eat in haste, in private, in our moving cars. We eat substances not found in nature, and we eat the bodies of animals who have been forced to live up to their hocks in their own excrement.
I will spare you–for now–the news about what all this processed, packaged, convenience, out-of-season, long-distance food supply is doing to the earth, or to your body. You already know this. (Though, probably, like me, you could stand to know more. We all need to know more, and to care a bit more, if we are to preserve a sustainable agriculture for our grandchildren.
The point, however, is this: we eat uncaringly, unfeelingly, ignobly.
I don’t mean to go all diet-nazi on anyone. I am no fast-food virgin, and I dearly love the taste of those chemically enriched soft serve “creemee” cones they sell by the side of the road all summer. I’m not trying to tell you to abandon blue Jello for all time, to become a vegan, or to take on a macrobiotic diet.
But if we are children of the land, people of the earth, and if we really believe that the holy is present in all things, always, why are we eating as if food were pornography rather than joy and communion?
(Would you really share those BerryBurst Ice Cream Oreos with a god or a goddess? One you actually cared about?)
If the last time you saw a vegetable, it was a Funyon, do yourself a favor. (Hell, do this even if you’re a total organic food fanatic and locavore; you deserve it!) It’s spring, here in the northern hemisphere. Good, fresh fruits and vegetables are just coming into season. Find out where there’s a farm stand near you, and figure out what’s local and seasonal. Just for a change of pace, skip the strawberries shipped up from Mexico inside little plastic coffins (never mind the artificially-flavored strawberry bits in those BerryBurst Oreos) and wait for the ones that will–eventually–show up in your neighborhood. Take them home. Wash them. (That’s right–with your hands and plain cold water–nothing high tech about it.) Hull them yourself, with the tip of a grapefruit spoon or a butter knife, or with your fingers.
Smell your fingers. Smell the berries.
Eat some. Outside, if you can, someplace beautiful.
And leave some there. With thanks… for those who have birthed you, fed you, and sustained your life: spirits, plants, animals, and other humans with whom we are privileged to share this world.
Remember who you are. Give thanks. Wake up.