By Annice Jacoby
(my chef Isa’s sister)
Morning Has Broken – Cat Stevens
Everything I know about food and eating I learned in Kindergarten. Say grace, be kind, share, eat all the food on your plate (starving children in China and India) and boycott grapes. Okay, the UFW grape boycott came later, around the time of lessons on Communism and Democracy.
Communism = all day bread lines.
Democracy = stuffed supermarket shelves with freedom of choice to buy different brands of bread.
In my family democracy meant progressive engagement with the issues of the day. My parents took a leftist, socially conscious slant on humanitarian, global and local issues. Though we lived in a California town distinctly lacking in Negroes, we knew all about the South’s lunch counter sit-ins and how poor white trash and the establishment were treating, beating and arresting downtrodden Negroes and their white advocates.
We learned about the plight of the more local Hispanic (largely Mexican-American) farmworkers whose work in fields, orchards and canning factories as migrant laborers supported the farm economy, but also the nation’s produce basket. We drove out to the labor camps in our VW microbus to see their living conditions – thin-walled shacks, communal outhouses, a spigot in the common area for all water needs.
We learned about global hunger, starvation, food distribution, crop failures and OXFAM’s and the United Nations’ food distribution programs. We ate all the food on our plates for starving children, but also collected bottles from public places to turn into money to send for food relief. We learned about other people’s food and cultural differences and were taught to be courteous to folks of all races. “Prejudiced” was a four-letter word – something we’d never want to be called!
A recent video of the lunch counter sit-ins sparked visceral memory in me, though we probably got the news by radio, not on television. (1)
By the age of five I was deeply immersed in the topic and practices of ethical eating.
Because I was often hungry, I imagined the hunger lasting not only for hours or days, but for weeks, months, a lifetime. Empathy was encouraged and awarded at home. Compassion literally means “suffering with”. My hunger can teach me about others’ hunger. My appetite about others’ appetites.
Later, the Buddhist notion of hungry ghosts spoke to me. Imagine a hole in your center that can never be filled – not by things, praise, accomplishment, food or other addictive substances. Imagine a black hole sucking in everything and everybody. Imagine mindlessly seeking fulfillment and never finding it. Looking for love in all the wrong places.
Recently I picked up the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh, thinking I might find an antidote to the hungry ghost phenomenon of mindless eating in the Buddhist practices of mindful eating. Unfortunately, it focused on weight loss and wasn’t the right book for me now. I’m an under eater as well as underweight in a land of over eaters and overweight folks. (2)
If anyone in my daily life would like Savor, please let me know and I’ll set it aside for you, email@example.com
Which isn’t to say I escaped the hungry ghost phenomenon, just that it took the form of rigidity and righteousness about what I ate – an adherence to the diet of the period that promised belonging and healthy well-being. There’s a name for that – Orthorexia. (3)
This hungry ghost doesn’t stuff itself with addictive substances but gains righteousness through consuming only what’s deemed “good” and abstaining from all that’s labeled “bad”.
It might not be as obvious to the naked eye as an overweight, over eater, but it’s no less obsessed with filling an internal void with food.
Years ago I heard or read the psychic Caroline Myss reflecting on the current Western subculture that makes food, diets and eating into spiritual and moral practices. “I was good today, because I ate only the foods on my list of good foods.” Rather than do anything to engage or change the world, spirituality and morality are measured by conformity and adherence to strict dietary guidelines that can be set by others or oneself. There’s still a measuring taking place, but it focuses on less rather than more.
But, what if the hole we seek to make whole is really longing for something else? What if it’s compassionate communion we’re seeking? Union with other human beings of all places and times, union with all sentient beings including ecosystems, union with the spiritual worlds and union with our true selves.
Yesterday, while writing about being an Under in the Land of Over, I thought of living in the overdeveloped world. What happens when development, innovation, industry, competition and consumerism spin out of control and we become their tools, rather than they ours? Are we only consumers to be valued only for our labor and consumption of products that cost the lives and well being of many sentient beings?
There can certainly be too much of a good thing.
The Skeptical Economist writes in a blog post, Living in the Overdeveloped World:
In the overdeveloped world people already are relatively well fed, healthy, have a shelter – our absolute needs are fulfilled. But instead of holding and enjoying this, instead of deepening our social networks, learning what we value and so on, we keep on working long, producing short-lived consumer products that require further work because they wear out so fast. We seek happiness in consumption – thus consuming and producing ever more things we don’t necessarily need (consider, e.g., the pharma industry that is producing mainly cosmetics, since we seem not to need many more life-saving drugs). At the same time, as I already have discussed elsewhere, we concentrate on “more” instead of “better”. For instance, we eat cheap food and suddenly our health is suffering from diseases that should actually be overcome due to our wealth. Consumption for its own sake not only does not make us happier, it even may make us unhappy (ill).
Most things one objectively (i.e., according to empirical studies) need to be happy cannot be bought: love, life-long partnerships, social networks, a feeling of safety… So maybe we should start thinking about whether the world we are living in is not an over-developed one. Maybe it would be better for us to slow down. This would require a huge change of paradigms – in everyday life as well as in economics and other social sciences. But I believe it would be worthwhile. (5)
What if we began to act as friends with our body-beings, our communities, our food, our unseen yet vital spiritual worlds? What if we were friendly with agriculture, food, eating, other cultures, history and all beings? What if we practiced compassionate communion?
I think that first off, we’d have to admit that all beings, including human beings, suffer and die to keep human beings alive. Humans are the top, top predator in the food chain – trying to command and control the entire world to meet insatiable needs for growth, security, fulfillment of appetites. Maybe we could consume a little less. Maybe we could think about the complex connections between the foods we love to love – tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, bananas? Maybe we can reconsider “Fair Trade” food and realize it’s a type of green-washing meant to make us in the overdeveloped world feel better about undermining economies and stripping food from people in places that really need it to live. Think about quinoa from South America that leads to “malnutrition, commodity markets, land degradation, and globalisation.”! (6, 7)
Think about soybean farming that relies not only on conventional, often toxic, factory farm conditions but also genetically modified soybeans. Surely, this isn’t in balance. Surely this leads to suffering. The clearing of land for soybeans that will be exported is every bit as detrimental to the people in South America as the clearing of land for cattle for the fast food industry.
The way I see it this morning (and it will change), there is no bite we eat, no breath we take, no move we make that isn’t connected to every other being – living, non-living and not-yet-living being. We are all connected, in endless communion, in eternal compassion. Suffering and praise. Pain and joy. Interbeing are we.
Yes, everything I know about food and eating I learned in Kindergarten. Say grace, be kind, share, eat all the food on you’re plate and boycott what harms other beings.
Friends, my hour is up and I’ve only just begun. Again.
I wish you a mindful and easeful day. May you en-joy every bite, breath, move and interbeing that we all are every moment.
Big love, Stephanie
Every being is an abode of God, worthy of respect and reverence. ~ Hindu scripture
(1) '60s Video of Blacks Being Beaten at Lunch Counters With 'Narration' From Trump Speeches Goes Viral
(2) Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
By Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh
(4) Sacred Contracts – Gallery of Archetypes
By Caroline Myss
(5) Living in the Overdeveloped World
The Skeptical Economist
(6) Kitchen Counter Culture – fair trade posts
(7) Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?
Ethical consumers should be aware poor Bolivians can no longer afford their staple grain, due to western demand raising prices
By Joanna Blythman