Throughout the world and throughout time, food has been viewed as sacred. It is offered up in ceremonies, placed on altars, given to Gods and Goddesses as a sacrifice. We pray over it and create temples in honor of it. The story of the Last Supper, the seder dinners of Passover, the sugar skulls and pan de muetros of Dia de los Muertos are just a few holidays in which food has a sacred role.
Next to breath, food is our most necessary and intimate connection. When we eat, we take into our bodies something foreign and separate, and in the process of being nourished by that food, it becomes a part of us.
But eating is also a wonderfully mundane event. It happens somewhere around three times a day, every day of our lives. For some, its just a necessity, purely fuel, even an inconvenience to get over with as soon as possible. There's nothing more ordinary or universal than breakfast. (Or as delicious, I may add.)When Sara Kate recently wrote about her concern that 'local food' proponent Mark Bittman was offering a recipe for asparagus in December, many people commented with 'so what's the problem?" One person even went so far as to say eating food out of season was a choice we should enjoy as a part of our wealth and privilege. Asparagus in December is indeed a privilege, but on a more basic level so is all food; all eating is sacred. If you don't agree, talk to someone who has known prolonged hunger.
Here's a powerful and inspiring story from World War II: In the early 1940s in St. Petersburg, the Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov was imprisoned by Stalin as a traitor. Vavilov had run a seed bank which had in its vaults almost 400,000 seeds gathered from all over the world. While the city starved under siege from the Nazis, Vavilov's staff barricaded themselves in the seed bank, protecting this precious resource from both the starving citizens of St Petersburg and their invaders. Over the 28 month period of the siege, twelve of those scientists starved to death while literally surrounded by food. Why? Because they believed that saving those seeds for future generations, that helping the world recover from the devastation of the war, was more important than their own lives.
I sincerely hope that what lies ahead for us doesn't include starvation and insecure food sources. But perhaps if we have to tighten in enough, we will once again discover the sacredness of food, that our eyes will be open to the small and mighty miracle it is to be sustained. Maybe we will remember that it is a blessing indeed to both have a full belly and the next meal safe in the larder.
Is there a time in your life when you understood the sacredness of food, a moment in which eating was more than just an imperative to fill your belly or excite your taste buds? Tell us your story...
(Image: Flickr member Editor B licensed under Creative Commons)