My lifelong relationship with food could be called dysfunctional at best; we just never seem to understand and support one another; we bicker a lot. I am probably the most typical of typical 21st century American eaters, yet I have the same body image whether I weigh 125 or 150 pounds, and it isn’t good; whenever I am stressed, those oreos go straight down the gullet; I think of myself as being in constant battle with food either because I am too tired to make it when I am hungry, or I eat too much and feel bloated afterwards, or I feel guilty that some foods call to me and I have no power not to answer. Oh, tiramisu, thou beast!
Yet, food and eating should be one of the truest ways to come to an understanding of our own sacredness and bond to Divinity. In ancient times, Goddess and food, especially grain, were intimately connected. Thousands of statues of goddesses have been found in grain bins and near bread ovens. Goddess and Her altars were kept near the kitchen, near the heart of the family where, indeed, She belonged. When some goddesses were angry, the crops would not grow and the people would starve. We still, in many religions, sanctify our relationship with Divinity through ceremonies featuring bread.
However, once I enter into our kitchen or the nearest fast food restaurant, any sense of food as a sacred entity disappears for me. Food becomes an object, something that we need, but yet we really wish we could do without because it can be so much trouble to make and to eat. Then we have to deal with the effects of it on our bodies. Even when I determined that I was going to be better to my body and eat only whole grains, keep sugar, caffeine, and salt to a minimum, and make meals of tofu and vegetables over brown rice – oh yum — it was still an adversarial relationship. Food was a means to an end — that of better health — not a gift.
Part of this comes, no doubt, from the moment of life I am in. I work, I raise a family, I have obligations to my community and others. Dinner is something to be made in 20 minutes or I will miss the opportunity to have my family eat together and serve them something relatively healthy before they rush out the door or to homework. Breakfast gets five minutes and lunch is whatever I put into the freezer at work, to be eaten in between a constant stream of people coming into my office apologizing for interrupting my lunch as they sit down and start talking. When I was young and single and had a job with little responsibility, I would buy fresh produce from stands along my way home and then cook and eat dinner slowly during the evening. That must have been nice, but it was so long ago I don’t remember what it was really like.
But, perhaps the answer is to change my perspective, to see the divine not only within myself, but also within food, to see it as Mother Earth’s way of nourishing me, of welcoming me as an embodied being on this planet. If I see food as divine, as an emanation of Goddess, then it makes sense to cherish every bit of it, to eat only what is closest to its divine state of being fresh and unprocessed and to eat only what I need to be as healthy as possible. This is, I’m sure, how those ancient people viewed their food which had to be sown, grown, harvested, milled, and then baked by their own hands into bread. They knew that food was life-giving because they had seen life end when it was not abundant. If the grain they had stored over the winter gave out before the next harvest, they would starve, they could not go to Kroger’s for more.
If I view each meal with this same sacredness, then I will eat what is best for my body, and just enough, so that my body will end up being just the right size, which is no doubt larger than our culture’s ideal. I would eat higher quality food, but only when I was hungry and never from stress or emotional need. I would, in fact, say grace before each meal, something that I’m sure my great-grandparents, who were farmers, did, and they meant it. If food is sacred, I can still eat it quickly if I have to. I can still find ways to prepare it fast in order to share it with my family, but what I make will be more deliberately prepared and served with love and patience. I will eat for pleasure, but only just enough, and not worry whether it will make me fat because my body image will be who I am when I am happy with myself, not what I wish to be.
If I had one wish for you who are reading this blog, it would be that sometime this week you would get to indulge in some homemade, whole grain bread with honey or jam or whatever you like on top. Being the Nature Girl that I am, I will admit that I always think it’s a good idea to act in accordance with the seasons and this, if course, harvest time. But, more than that, there is something elemental about fresh, homemade bread that nourishes us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that reminds how deeply loved we are just for existing. If I actually … well… you know… lived nearby you… I would fire up my bread machine and make you an apple cinnamon loaf. Since I can’t, maybe sometime in the next few days you’ll come across some bread and have a slice and know that bread is the earth’s love song to us. Whenever you are sung a love song, listen to it for it is the staff of life.