Food, Meaning and Spirituality

Food, Meaning and Spirituality
If you arrive early…
Please fill out the back page of the syllabus.
Then look over the quotations on the front page.
M.F.K. Fisher
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and
mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. . .
There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.”
A Natural History of Transformation
Making Meaning While Making Dinner
• Pollan’s Introduction to Cooked
Several “late middle life” questions: personal,
political, philosophical
One answer: “Cook. Go back to the kitchen.”
The Cooking Paradox
The average
amount of time
spent “cooking”
today is 27 minutes.
“Cooking retains emotional and psychological power we can’t quite shake…
and don’t want to.”
Going Back to Cooking
Memory of Magical Transformations
• His mom’s “magic” in the kitchen.
– Mageiros: same word in ancient Greek for priest,
butcher, cook
– “Even the most ordinary dish follows a satisfying
arch of transformation, magically becoming
something of the sum of its ordinary parts.”
– “And in almost every dish you can find, besides
culinary ingredients, the ingredients of a story.”
• The Hindu Blessing: sacred story (myth),
sacred time, place, ritual.
• The Soul of a Chef
• Cooking: where culture began: from “raw to
• The Cooking Hypothesis
– “First we cooked our food and then our food
cooked us.”
Why Go Back?
What We’ve “Lost”
- We’ve ended up trying to nurture ourselves on
- Cooks get to put their hands on real stuff, not just
keyboards and screens but fundamental things
like plants and animals and fungi. They get to
work with primal elements too, fire and water,
earth and air… to perform their tasty alchemy.
-If this isn’t making a living, I don’t know what is.
and Wendell Berry
“The environmental crisis is a crisis of character.”
The industrial eater is… one who does not know that eating is an agricultural
act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and
the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical—in short,
a victim. …The eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is
misleading and dangerous. The current version of the “dream home” …
involves “effortless” shopping…on a television monitor and heating
precooked food by remote control. Of course, this depends on a perfect
ignorance of the history of the food consumed.
Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on
ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of connection with the
world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and
our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not
make and power we cannot comprehend. When I think of the meaning of
food, I always remember these lines by the poet William Carlos-Williams,
which seem to me merely honest:
There is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but the body of the Lord.
The Blessed plant
and the sea, yield it
To the imagination intact.
Fast Food
Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (2001)
“What we eat has changed more in the past
40 years than in the past 40,000.”
“a distinctly American way of viewing the world”
Our century…first invented the machine and
then took it as its life model. We are enslaved
by speed … Fast Life… forces us to eat Fast
Foods…. Our defense should begin at the table
with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors
and savors of regional cooking and banish the
degrading effects of Fast Food.
– Carlo Petrini, Founder, Slow Food International
Food, Meaning, and Spirituality:
The Real Stuff and the Really Real
Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”
• Worldview (cosmology, values, etc)
• Ethos (ethics, action, behavior)
• Symbols, symbol systems (models of
worldview, models for ethos)
• In ritual: Moods and Motivations
• Uniquely realistic: really real
• Religion: making meaning
Pollan and Transformations of Cooking
Cooking with the Primal (and symbolic) Elements
(fire, water, air, earth) involves for each…
A set of techniques (rituals) for transforming nature
A stance toward the world (worldview)
A kind of work (ethos)
A “mood”
Results in “making a living” and making dinner
Foodie Faith?
• “Spiritual not religious”
• Religious language and ritual “transformed” or
reconnected to food
• Food Renaissance (gourmet to foodie)
• Environmental Movement
• Food Movement
Food for Thought…
• Take a look at your definitions of religion and
spirituality again after this evening. Think about
revising them in light of what we’ve discussed
and done.
• Or respond to any of the quotations we’ve
discussed or another in Pollan’s Introduction.
• Or think about your food memory in light of our
• Students taking the course for credit should do
this in a paragraph and send to Dr. Norman by
3pm on Thursday.
Coming Up Thursday
• Pollan, Part II “Water”
--Onions, braising, pot dishes, grandma cooking
• Making Meaning with Grandma (yours or somebody else’s,
especially if she’s Italian)
-- Prof. Grazia Menechella and Dr. Norman, (see schedule
for supplemental readings)
• In the Crossing: Sugo e sacramento
• Food for Thought Options: Reflect on a food model– a
grandmother or other model– maybe your own, maybe you
or someone you know, or a public model. Or, reflect on one
passage in Pollan’s Part II that you find meaningful.
Undergrads: Send the reflection (paragraph) to Dr. Norman
by 3pm Thursday.
In the Crossing Tonight
• We’ll begin where Pollan began: paying attention to an
• Is there anyone alive who actually enjoys chopping
onions? There may be some Buddhists…on the
principle that “when chopping onions, just chop
onions”—just be there in the moment, doing it. But
most of us are not so Zen.
• Not everything “zen” is Zen:
• A real master: