So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

19 July, 2010

A Theology of Lunch

So, while I was writing "Ka", I was also catching up on blogs, and Raising My Boychick had a link to this post at the Fat Nutritionist.

I think a lot about motherlove and connection and the ka, and about sex and the ka, and all that stuff, but the thing is: food too. And this is a part that's actually kind of subversive. For the reasons noted in that post.

When you break it down to fundamentals, the ka is a repository of life energy, creative power, all that stuff. Where does our energy come, in a deterministic biological sense? From what we eat. "May your ka be fed", that offering liturgy, applies to us here largely in the material world, consuming material things. While my ka is fed by gifts of love and caring, my ka is also fed by lunch, and denying that goes into weird, unpleasant places.

Especially since much of the attempting to bind food up with virtue gets entirely entangled with an aescetic attitude in which there is Good Food and Bad Food - which Food is Good and which Bad changed depending on the latest fad science, of course - and the appropriate way of managing the concept of Soul Food is to only eat the Good or at least feel appropriately contrite when partaking of the Bad. And people get bound up in the lure of the forbidden, and detached from their own body's signals about what food they want to eat, when to start, when to stop. And people cast it in moral terms, referring to their food decisions as "I've been good" or "I've been bad", and even find it harder to make those decisions in the way they would prefer if they have recently been 'bad'.

What we feed ourselves, how we feed ourselves, is a spiritual process; as we offer ma'at to the gods that their ka be fed, when we feed our kau we ought feed them in keeping with ma'at. But what this means in practice is a fiddly sort of thing.

We eat according to our natures: each person has a palate with its quirks, somewhat different nutritional needs, different digestive capacities. We add to this filters for what we feel we can ethically consume, what we can afford, what those in our lives are comfortable with eating. I am not so much a believer in what gets called "intuitive eating" as I am a disbeliever in pretty much anything else I have heard of, honestly, but there's the thing, isn't it? Eat food, it's a good idea.

And there's a lot invested in control mechanisms around food, even if people were free to choose - which we aren't, really. Not by a long shot. I certainly can't afford, y'know, artisinally farmed pastured organic non-GMO pesticide-free antibiotic-free free-range hand-raised grass-fed dry-aged locally-grown ethically butchered non-pasteurised heirloom cruelty-free cageless durians. Certainly not all the damn time.

But that doesn't actually answer the question of how to recognise connective justice at lunchtime.

There are layers and layers.

As a rule, I like my food reasonably unprocessed. And I have the privilege of having the knowledge, time, and facilities to prepare such food rather than having to depend on pre-packaged stuff that contains a fair amount of filler. (Which is one of my little "If I could fix the world" social justice things. Feeding people is one thing. But making sure people have access to ingredients, facilities, and the basic training in order to cook? That's a whole other thing. And getting there, too, that requires making it possible for people to live without having to take several ill-paying jobs - making sure that they have the time and resources to acquire, develop, and actually use those skills. That part would take an overthrow of the current economic system.)

(I still think it's probably a good idea.)

The whole "eat real food! Also organic, locally grown, etc.!" thing is ... okay, it's a nice idea, and I'm not going to knock it. But it needs to be done in a way that isn't catastrophically tone deaf on issues of class. Exhorting people to eat in a particular way has been a growth industry my entire life; making the parts of that that are actually reasonable possible, on the other hand, is evidence of creeping communism and narsty narsty subversiveness. We can't be having with that.

And - like the Fat Nutritionist blogger says - a Twinkie is not the end of the world. (I drink a fair amount of soda. I try to get the kosher for Passover stuff in quantity each year when I can find it, because it's made with sugar rather than liquefied corn subsidies and also tastes better. But even HFCS soda is not a moral failing; I still like it, so I still drink it.)

And yeah. There are ethical questions in where food comes from and how it's prepared, and that's part of eating ma'at. Those questions do not start at the condition of the animals, and they do not stop there either. Those questions include concern about the status of farm workers. (And if you look at that carefully you will notice that that set of questions makes a beeline for immigration without regard for whether or not you wanted to go there.) Those questions include concern about environmental monocultures created by large farms, too. Animal death as a result of farming. Sustainability. Creeping corporatism. Small farmers losing seed crops because of cross-pollination from deliberately sterilised genetically modified corporate grain breeds. Genetic diversity in our food sources. Environmental costs of shipping. Feeding animals inappropriately rather than according to their natures (if you want to eat corn, eat some fucking corn; cows-that-ate-corn is both not as healthy and abusive to the cattle). There's a lot more of that stuff.


Here's a thing, beyond all of that:

Food is one of our social bonds. Exchange of food is considered sacred in a lot of cultures; it's a standard peace offering even in some of our near primate ancestors. This is probably instinctual.

Yet, there is a thread of Western culture that wants to make food divisive. Are you eating too much. Are you sufficiently grateful (there are starving children in Fill-In-The-Blankia, you know). Are you eating the right things. Are the things you're eating of sufficient ethical purity. Have you performed sufficient abasements to apologise to the world for eating that cookie.

These things are all ways of keeping us from feeding our souls. And, perhaps more importantly, from feeding each other. Because offering food to each other is one of the ways that we can connect, ka to ka, recognising this fundamental bond that we share as members of the cosmos, and as long as there is the reflexive response of "I can't eat the food you offer, it would make me a bad person", we have this fundamental hostility that sabotages our interactivity.

I mean. I'm not saying "Don't be an ethical vegetarian", if that's the way you roll; roll that way. I'm not saying "Totally ignore food preferences and intolerance because what I make for you is totally an expression of soul connection!" I consider it my obligation, when I'm feeding people, to offer them food that will sustain their souls - which means having vegetarian or vegan options as necessary, which means making sure that I manage to offer things that won't risk killing my guests or causing them health distress, which means making sure there is food that I, also, can eat. But it's my obligation as the recipient of food to accept or decline with grace, because I recognise that this is a medium of feeding my ka. This is one way that we can express caring for each other.

When we can feed each other, we can have peace in our halls and sustain each other in community.

13 comments:

mamacrow said...

oh wow. Loved this. 'peace in our halls'.

Yes.. I've leaned towards Celtic reconstructionism before, and this is a big thing, along with hospitality....

I think hospitality - the offering of food to another being a sacred act - pretty much still exsists (think of workman. it's a social faux pas not to offer tea or coffee) and is instinctual.

The latest theory as to why homo sapians survived and neanderthal (better adapted, stronger, better technitians) didn't, is because homo sapians developed a cultural identity as a whole, irespective of tribial devisions - there was shared music, art, religious concepts... people helped each other out, rather than just competing for resources or ignoring each other.

I think the hospitality urge must come from that...

Dw3t-Hthr said...

You have CR leanings? My liege is kinda CR. :)

Hall peace isn't native to my religion but I think that way, so I figure my ancestors won't mind my nicking it.

Kristin said...

I love this piece. It's a pretty good description of the way I feel about food as well. And, YES, by all means, a Twinkie is not the end of the world. I still lean in favor of less processed foods, but there was a time (not all that long ago) when I went a little overboard thinking 100 % from-scratch food could stop me from being sick. That wasn't healthy for me, and I spent all my time cooking, and anyway... I try to keep to anti-inflammatory foods as much as possible, but I'm also not willing to make huge lifestyle changes for something that didn't even help my health. I don't like soda very much, but recently, I needed some quick caffeine in the middle of the day, so, yeah, I had a soda. As you say, not the end of the world. But I do like sweet tea the way we have it in the South, and I have that fairly often.

And this just made me laugh out loud:

"I certainly can't afford, y'know, artisinally farmed pastured organic non-GMO pesticide-free antibiotic-free free-range hand-raised grass-fed dry-aged locally-grown ethically butchered non-pasteurised heirloom cruelty-free cageless durians. Certainly not all the damn time."

Rootietoot said...

I see food as a connection between cultures. You can come to understand a culture through their food, their social customs when eating...ok not understand them entirely, but at least come to a common ground with them. The Laotian man who owns the Asian market in Savannah barely speaks english, but when I start asking about this vegetable or that sauce, he lights up and we have a conversation that ends with a shared handful of sesame candies and a sack full of brand new culinary experiences. When I visit Elelta, she always has a brewed cup of spiced tea for me, and when she's here I fix her a glass of minted iced tea. When there's food involved, disagreements become discussions. It's hard to fight over a platter of fried chicken or a bowl of tibs.

Anonymous said...

You know where I stand on local / organic type food things, so I won't go into that specifically - plus it's not really the point of what you wrote. I did have a few comments, though:

1) The connection of ma'at to what you eat does resonate with me. For me, supporting local farmers is not just about eating food that's tastier (to me) or travelled less distance, or might be healthier - it's also about feeling like I'm supporting things that are important to me. It's a personal way of tying my internal environmentalism and other values to things that are actual and real and, well, nourishing. :)


2) From the class perspective - I know that at least some farmer's markets around here accept food stamps, which can be helpful, although of course you need to be able to have the time to get to the farmer's market, which may not be close by or at a time you can get off of work.

One of the things that really bothers me is the assumption (not by you, but by our culture) that healthy, locally grown food is something that is unrealistic for poorer people. And this is not just farmer's markets or going berry picking and such, but also the ability to grow vegetables yourself. I think there's been somewhat of a resurgence of home food gardens, but I'm not sure how much of that is confined to more middle classes that were shocked by food prices during the recession.

(I'll digress for a moment and wish that useful practical skills such as how to grow your own food would be included in standard public education. I was exposed to some gardening when growing up, but not in school and not enough to feel confident on my own.)

Also, one of the reasons I push my parents to eat more locally produced food is because they -can- afford it (and my dad at least is fairly environmentally focused, so it does line up with his values), and this is a way for them
to support their local community as well.


3) From reading the link you posted - um, yeah. I've been working on switching my brain from "eat this stuff so that I'll lose weight / won't gain weight" to "eat / don't eat this stuff so that my health will improve", which is a -huge- difference for someone who once did Weight Watchers. And it's really hard to explain to people that I don't want a cookie or something else with sugar in it (or wheat, or whatever) not because I'm afraid that carbs will make me fat, but because it's one way I'm trying to help my body heal, or not get anxious, or whatever.

But even with that, there can be a little voice that says "Are you sure you want to use that much olive oil? It makes the asparagus taste great, but it might make you fat...", even though I say I no longer care. (For me, the worst little voices are about fat and salt.) Or tasty crispy chicken skin. :)

-gelfling

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Dw3t-Hthr said...

(Comments entidified as per your request, gelfling.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

One of the things that drives me nuts re: the class issues around food is that in many places it's far more access-driven than cost - there are places in cities where there just aren't decent grocery stores without an epic bus trip.

One of the things that I found interesting about Reclaiming the Commons when I read it (damnit, the draft of this post that I lost had a reference to this book and I forgot that until just now) was that they sent large piles of the community farm food into Boston.

Aqua, of the Questioners said...

Now I want to bake cookies.

Rosemary Cottage said...

The whole "eat real food! Also organic, locally grown, etc.!" thing is ... okay, it's a nice idea, and I'm not going to knock it. But it needs to be done in a way that isn't catastrophically tone deaf on issues of class.

Oh, hell yes! (And the number of people who don't seem to grasp that my "local" farmers' market is two unreliable bus rides away and taking a small child who is toilet training on two unreliable buses is really not easy and no, I can't afford to run a car and even if I could I never passed my test because of anxiety issues so put that in your pipe and smoke it okay?)

So much policing goes on though doesn't it.

I mean, at the same time as I love the idea of hospitality and offering of food etc, sometimes it also seems to boil down to "you should all eat together as a family and never snack in front of the telly" which, well, that's nice, if you have a big family and there aren't just two of you and one of you is three and you are tearing your hair out trying to get them to enjoy a yummy stew and sit and discuss the day when really the smaller one wants to watch Ben 10 and snack on some fruit and chocolate buttons ... and that sometimes, that's okay too, because isn't motherlove sometimes actually letting the smaller one do the things that make them happy?

But making sure people have access to ingredients, facilities, and the basic training in order to cook?

And the time, don't forget the time, because sometimes the only way I get to cook a "proper" meal is to sit small child in front of the telly (zomg using the telly as a babysitter!) and I think people forget this too. Including me, I mean, I used to feel so awful if I gave B processed food from a packet (even though I grew up on that, lol) but then I realised, it's not just about the food, it's about something more, isn't it better for both of you to sit on the settee together eating pot noodles or some toast because that takes five minutes to make, rather than one of you cooking a meal while the other is in front of the telly, which the smaller one turns their nose up at anyway...

*sigh*

I digress. But I love this post. :-)

Rosemary Cottage said...

Oh and forgot to say, as a fat person, when I turned my perspective from losing weight to "staying as reasonably healthy as possibly in the circumstances" it really was a huge weight (geddit!?) off my mind.

Stina said...

When you break it down to fundamentals, the ka is a repository of life energy, creative power, all that stuff. Where does our energy come, in a deterministic biological sense? From what we eat. "May your ka be fed", that offering liturgy, applies to us here largely in the material world, consuming material things. While my ka is fed by gifts of love and caring, my ka is also fed by lunch, and denying that goes into weird, unpleasant places.

Kay, I'm really loving the synchronicity here, and I think Bast is looking out for me, because I literally found this just yesterday. It goes over conceptions of purity in Kemet. Namely, this part comes to mind:

"The purification of the offerings possessed the same significance as the other purificatory rites As already seen V 3 the water used in lustrations and libations incense smoke and food and drink offerings were endowed with mysterious reconstructive powers. The soaking in the liquid therefore and the fumigation added to the already existing virtue of the food and when the formula of presentation was recited the combined qualities were imparted simultaneously to the god's or dead person's soul."

Now, of course there are actions taken to purify things, but one point that is raised is that the food itself is pure because of its nutritive properties. That is to say, feeding the ka is accomplished by literally feeding it with food. Same goes for purity; the Egyptians believed physical cleanliness helped to make one pure. I kind of think of it as being able to shine a bit brighter once the dirt has been scrubbed off. Nobody likes a stinky guest.