Pleasures of Eating
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
"Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living in a mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend." - Wendell Berry, The Pleasures of Eating
Food. “Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are,” famously spoke the French lawyer, politician and gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. We spoke recently of the great questions we face in life which must be “lived into”. It is no overstatement to say that how and what one should eat in today’s society is one of the great questions of our times. And with an endless array of dietary recommendations and trends, not to mention buzz-words and advertising tactics, it is a murky question, indeed. We also discussed the root chakra and its role in laying the foundation for our lives. Also known as the “Tribal Chakra”, the root chakra is shaped by the tribes we are born into -- our families, communities, and cultures. Music, religion, stories, poetry, values, beliefs, and yes, food, are all wonderfully present here as they inform us about the world and help us to make sense of our lives. America is not a country of strong roots. It is a society built upon the act of uprooting, by those facing such difficult circumstances in their homelands that they must instead relocate to a strange and unknown land. In the cases of our Native citizens and the enslaved whose lives and cultures were greatly altered so that this society could be made possible, sometimes the uprooting has been involuntary and terribly painful. Because of this shaky foundation upon which our communities and nation has been built, we remain in a fairly unstable state, with great division, fear and, despite our riches, a lack of happiness. So when discussing food, we must start here, because of the medicinal nature of food. What we physically nourish and sustain our bodies with will either continue this trend of poor health or it will provide the means of healing the roots we have established, allowing us to grow in a more holistic, rather than divided, way. Meat or vegetarian? Paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? Low-carb? Dairy-free? Sustainable? Organic? Biodynamic? Factory-farmed? Cage-free? Fast? Slow? To cook or takeout? Local? GMO? Pesticide-free? Integrated Pest Management? Preservative-free? High-fructose corn syrup? Fruit sugar versus refined sugar? Healthy fats versus unhealthy fats? I think you get the idea… To eat mindfully and with care for the impacts of our eating choices, both personally and collectively, is a tad bit complicated. But we can try. We can live with and into this uncertainty, rather than choosing ignorance, which merely passes on the responsibility to future generations. I am young and certain of very little. Still, I have come to some beliefs which I hope you do not mind me expressing here. I believe that my eating choices matter. They matter in terms of my personal health, the health of my family, my community, and they matter in terms of the lives of all other humans, plants and creatures on this planet. They also matter in terms of my connection to the collective spirit to which I belong. “To yoke”, is the literal translation of “yoga”, meaning to come together with the world around us. I believe eating is one of the beautiful ways that we are able to commune every day. With each bite of food we are connected to all that helped our food live, grow and come to be on our plates. In the recipes and preparation of the meal, we are connected to each other as well as the traditions and ways of our ancestors. And by eating with others, we become intimately connected to those we share each meal with. Yes, eating is a wonderful aspect of our yoga practice. It is the means by which we can foster a fair deal of good in the world or we can encourage a fair deal of harm and suffering. There is a Buddhist proverb which goes loosely like this: “Pursuing a life of generosity, kindness and compassion without concern or care for how and what you eat is like meditating while screaming at the top of your lungs.” It is like listening for the voice of God, or birdsong (is there any difference, I wonder), while wearing earplugs. To some degree we all must explore this question on our own, as we all must learn to eat in a way that aligns with our core values, purposes and life principles. That being said, I believe we would be wise to explore this question more intentionally in a collective manner, as well. As families, communities and as a society. Transitioning our food culture to a healthier state of being requires a great deal of work and sacrifice, but I believe this work is the sort worth doing. It is the kind of work which requires a collective effort and cooperation rather than competition. It is the kind of work which is slow, arduous and not always fruitful, but it encourages contributions to be made by each and every one of us. Ultimately, it is the kind of work capable of bringing us all closer together, helping to heal the wounds which pervade across our society and manifest in countless different shapes and forms. If there is one thing I would ask others to do in learning to eat better, it would be this: let the act of eating be a source of curiosity and care for the world and let it be a source of relationships. Allow wonder and questioning for how what you eat impacts others and the earth and build relationships with those responsible for making your meals possible. Farmers, butchers, chefs, delivery men, dishwashers, servers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, grandparents, friends, marketers, accountants, writers, nurses, doctors, so on and so forth. For we quickly realize that we all play a part in each and every meal of every person. Yes, food is a great connector. And when we begin to explore and talk about how our food choices impact others -- as respectfully and non-judgmentally as we are able -- we can begin to eat with more care and understanding. Thus, we can begin to truly take advantage of “The Pleasures of Eating”.