Week 1, Part 2: The Food Appreciation Society
Continued from Week 1, Part 1…
Apologies for the long delay. I believe I’ve sorted out my technical difficulties and should be catching up now.
Eating Like an Animal
Consider this quote from Emunat Tzadikim, a 19th-century Hasidic text:
The essential advice on how to deal with food lust is that when you eat, you should be aware of what you are doing; then it ceases to be just an animal action. The lust for food is intact if you allow your mind and all your senses to be immersed in eating until you forget what you are doing. Then eating is like an animal’s action.
Sounds like Homer Simpson from my last post, right?
Eating Like a Human Being
But does that mean we’re supposed to eat boring, tasteless food to avoid being like animals? Not at all:
Ma’or Eynayim, Parashat Matot, adapted from a translation by R. Joel Hecker:
..For there is nothing in this world that does not have a spark of holiness [in it], emanated from the speech of the Blessed Holy One. This is the taste that is within the thing that is sweet to the palate, as it is written, “Taste and see that G-d is good.” (Psalms 34:9)
That is to say, [when] you taste and see that it is good, it is God who is the holy spark that is in the thing, garbed in it. …After a person has eaten a certain food, the life-force remains within him and the waste is cast out, without any life-force [in it], and it (the waste) is useless and foul. For the essence of food, from which a person is nourished and that gives him added energy, is the holy spark that is in that particular food item, and [that holy spark] is the good taste that a person tastes in food and drink.
This is clearly not biology as we know it – but what a startling idea, that the pleasure we take in food is not just chemistry or calories, but literally a taste of God’s goodness! What a powerful image to hold in mind while eating and appreciating our food.
Freeing the Sparks
But how do we eat while paying attention? So many of us eat in the car, while watching TV, while reading… it’s pretty unusual to actually eat while giving full attention to the food itself, let alone visualizing it as holy sparks nourishing our souls! I leave you with the idea of saying blessings – berachot – before eating. (It’s not just for oneg!)
Let me leave you with a few final short texts, showing that:
Mumbling Hebrew words on autopilot is not the point, at least according to one major thinker.
Using the “right” blessings is less important than being in the right frame of mind.
Remembering to be mindful of our food and its source even once a week is a great beginning, not a failure.
Tosefta, Berakhot 4:4-5
Rabbi Meir said: Even if one merely sees a loaf of bread and says, “Blessed be the One who created this bread; how beautiful is this bread!” – that is the same as a blessing over it. (But Rabbi Yose said: A person who changes the formula the sages have fixed for blessings has not discharged his or her duty. )
Rabbi Tzakok Ha-Cohen, P’ri Tzaddik
Through eating one dish of one meal a week (or a Shabbat meal) with true kavanah (mindful intention) for the sake of heaven, lifting up the animal powers of your soul to God, you raise up spiritually all the food and meals you ate that week.
Samuel Weintraub in Reconstructionist 77(2), Winter 1991, pp. 12-14
Sadly – with pre-cooked foods, microwaves, takeout and home delivery – many of us hardly touch our food before consuming it, let alone physically prepare it or reflect on its origin in divine love and wisdom.
- Do you usually eat with consciousness and attention, or on autopilot?
- Can you imagine setting aside at least one meal a week to treat differently?
- What is attractive about that idea? What stands in your way?