Smell the Berries

May 10, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Natural Reflections.

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.

Woodland Strawberry; image by H.Zell

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.


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6 Responses

  1. Lovely, Cat.

  2. Absolutely beautiful, and very apt. As a fellow blogger, ideas are springing from this post already – specifically I’ve always rebelled against the use of cutlery (staining your fingers is a small price for licking the juices from them!). This does need saying and sharing, thank you xx

  3. I actually posed a question once to a local and well-respected Druid group doing a presentation, who said that any food offering is acceptable. Yup, I went there and asked if McDonald’s would too be acceptable. The short answer I got was a yes, with a long depends on the situation. Wait, what???

    I was pretty surprised with the answer, even with the explanation that if we like it, the Gods and critters do, too, though something homemade from fresh, whole ingredients would be accepted more due to the amount of work (read: sacrifice) and love put into it.

    Now as someone who considers her altar to be her kitchen and her tools to be kitchen accessories, I admit I was feeling like a bit of a smartass for -going there-. And, everyone in the room, including myself, was surprised with the answer. While I luvz me the occasional yellow Zingers and Haribo gummi bears, it’s an occasional treat and not something I would really consider as an offering – except perhaps to a trickster-type Deity who would (hopefully!) see the humor in such things or perhaps a Child-God to help channel our own inner child (though a plate of warm and extra gooey chocolate chip cookies would be more my style).

    I’m with you about getting a giddy thrill over the produce section, but not quite to orgasmic levels. The supermarket is just for fulfilling a need, whereas the fruit market and especially the farmer’s market are more for getting that giddy thrill. The farmer’s market is always much more expensive than anyplace else, even Whole Foods for the most part, with their $5/dz eggs and whatnot. But, knowing where it all comes from and who grew it makes me want to do away with my penny-pinching and basic need fulfilling… even just a little bit. I can always find a way to balance the budget with a coupon/store card/store coupon/sale someplace else. ;)

  4. Thanks, Anna, Greycat, Lori!


    I actually think I agree with the answer you got, Lori–that the short answer is “no,” and the longer answer is “it depends.” Certainly, there are Pagans out there who are young enough, or poor enough, or whose “grown-up” skills in things like food prep are undeveloped enough, that McDonald’s take-out probably feels like something special, fit for a god.

    Though I’m guessing for more people, it’s either laziness or a willingness to put our money and time into fancy robes and jewelry to wear to a ritual, than it is to McDonald’s representing any culinary pinnacle. And I think we tend to undervalue the cultivation of ordinary, real-world skills, however archaic, in our training.

    It was a goddess who suggested to me I learn to spin. (Good advice, as it turned out.) But it was a Heathen, Lew Stead, about twenty years ago, whose comments on offerings convinced me to learn to brew beer, in large part in order to make offerings with something that had more of my sweat equity in it than even a fancy microbrew could have.

    I’m not saying everyone needs to learn to bake their own bread and brew their own beer–though those skills are of real value, I think, to our communities.

    But I am saying that since everything we eat or drink is, essentially, purchased on a credit card we’ve borrowed from the earth, we are irresponsible children to run up a huge credit card bill buying a lot of processed food–harsh to the ecosystem as its production tends to be–whether for offerings to our gods or simply to eat.

    If we remember the source of our food, and honor it in how we buy it and cook it and eat it, even an ordinary meal has the potential to become holy. Or perhaps what I mean is, unconscious and uncaring consumption is a form of desecration of what would otherwise bless everyone involved.

  5. Most rituals I don’t eat any of the food provided because it’s all processed: donuts, cakes, hot appetizers like cheese sticks, soda, chips, Dunkin Hynes cakes (it doesn’t matter if you made it, it’s still processed!), apples in February, Grapes in March, salad greens in December, etc.

    Recently I was at ritual for Ostara and I heard this comment “wow, real food!” I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed.

    • December is the season for salad greens here! It’s too hot the rest of the year for them to grow properly.

      But really, most people have no idea what’s in season where and when. The main way would be to either visit a reputable farmer’s market or grow it yourself. Or at least try to pay attention to how the strawberries taste good in May but awful in January.

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