We eat from the earth
We drink from the rain
We breathe from the air
We live in all things
All things live in us
We are grateful.
I love food. I am greedy for food. I am one of those people who live to eat, not just to live. I would be content to cook and eat and read books about food all day long. But I find that when my family gets busier with work and school and activities, the quality of our food goes down. We cook quickly or not at all, buy more packaged food, eat more junk because we no longer have the time. Food loses its value so quickly. But I want more. I want to eat in knowledge and in gratitude. I want to eat with grace and honour. I want to eat according to the principles I agreed to when I became a Unitarian.
Our religion is a living religion – still developing our common connections. We do not share beliefs about divinity but principles about how we should be in the world – how we should be in relationship with other people and beings. But principles are meaningless unless we express them in our daily lives. As James MacKinnon, author of the 100 Mile Diet, says, “When we act in ways that honour our principles we feel fulfillment and a sense of aliveness, of being true to ourselves”. I feel better when we cook from scratch and in season, not because the food tastes better – it doesn’t always as I’m not a great cook – but because I am connecting to my principles. I like knowing that my veggies are grown nearby – I like knowing the names of the farmers and the bakers and the shopkeepers. I want to be embedded – connected – to this place I call home.
As members of a living, growing, forming religion, we are called to pay attention. To pay attention to all that we do in our daily lives: to keep our daily tasks in line with our principles, to keep ourselves connected to the larger whole by honouring that which we profess to believe. This can be hard to do with so much of our lives attached to computers and machines and meetings and stuff. But every day we bring the world within us with the food we eat. Food connects us – biologically, politically, emotionally and spiritually.
How do we eat? How does what we eat reflect our Unitarian Universalist principles? How about how we eat? If we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and work for justice, equity and compassion in human relations, how can we eat tropical fruits when the farm workers are displaced peasants sick with pesticide exposure? If we respect the interdependent web of existence, how can we eat the misery of caged animals who live their lives standing in their own manure?
With unfortunate ease, of course. Because we don’t see it. We don’t live it. We get our bright and shiny food from our bright and shiny supermarkets. Not only do we not have to know, we can’t know. How can we possibly know what the cow’s name was? A single hamburger could be made from the meat of a thousand cows. How can we possibly know the name of the person who picked the apple on the other side of the world in New Zealand? It was probably a mechanical picker anyway.
We have to choose – choose to live our principles.
Good food is everywhere. We can make good food choices that honour the principles of our faith. Not necessarily every meal or every day – the time goes quickly. But we can make choices that connect our food lives to our spiritual lives. That brings us to a sense of aliveness and fulfillment by honouring the inherent worth of every person, by seeking justice in our global food system, by respecting the animals that we depend on.
Wendell Berry, the great essayist and farmer, notes that “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, destructively, it is a desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”
Writer Gary Paul Nabhan says that “eating is perhaps the most direct way we acknowledge or deny the sacredness of the earth.”
Buy local, eat less meat, eat with gratitude. Any of these acts – and so many more – bring our principles to life. They help us remember that our culture, our community, our religion, is stronger and deeper than that of this fast food nation. Let us let our principles guide our lives so that we may cherish all people and all beings.
2 thoughts on “Eating with Honour”
Thank you, this is beautiful! Your observation that difficult moments in life cut the quality of what and how we eat is exactly what my partner and I are going through after the recent death of her mother. As the caregiver, cook, gardener, housekeeper — everything — I have made my cutbacks in the kitchen. As much as it hurts me, I have made a hierarchy of ways to restore the spiritual integrity you describe so well. First step: accept using paper dishes on busy or Sabbath days. Second step: shop for things that can be made or eaten quickly. We’ll get back to slow cooking later! Third step: slow cook now and then, try to get something in the freezer. Fourth step: forgive myself for these compromises, so long as I am pushing to get back to integrity.
Thanks for understanding how food takes a hit in pastoral moments. I now understand completely why good congregations and neighbors immediately set up food donation schedules when people are bereaved.
My condolences to you and your partner. What a tough time! Thanks for your insightful comments. With such easy access to food in North America, it really is hard to eat well, especially in times of crises and transition. Sounds like you have a wise plan for getting through. And yes, power to the tuna casseroles of kindness brought by neighbours!