Religion and Food

This is a response to the book Meaning of Food which was the companion to the PBS series of the same name. The series explored culture through food. In most faiths all meals have a sacred character and accompanied by blessings symbolizes fellowship. Our first meal is a communal meal from our mother and from these precious meals of mother’s milk our taste preferences for the rest of our lives is dictated. This situates us in food and religion very quickly. This simple communal meal between a mother and a child is our first experience of nourishment in this world. The solid foods that we soon come to love become the foods of home, for me these consist of Salerno butter cookies, iced spice cookies, and Lipton’s chicken noodle soup with oyster crackers. Those were the foods of my childhood and eating some of them now especially Lipton soup can bring me back to my grandmother kitchen instantly. These are the homey foods in my life. Religiously when you are preparing for First Communion in the Catholic Church it’s around this time, second grade and Communion becomes part of the homey foods that are a part of your life.

Communion is also a Sacramental food. All important occasions are marked with large feasts, be it a Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage and death. The large feasts are some of the best times in people’s lives. “From beginning to end, food is life.” Stretching through your entire life you get big religious based feasts to celebrate your life. I found the fact about the origin of word bridal to be interesting, the bride ale feast. There are several facts that I learned while reading. From the bride ale feast to wedding traditions, the wedding cake thrown at the bride in Ancient Rome to the cans at the back of the car to throwing rice at the bride and groom. All of these are done to bless the married couple with fertility. When reading about the Twi language of the Asante people it makes sense that they use di for both “to eat” and “to copulate”.

I found it odd while reading the section on food denied that the fasting practices of the church during Lent were stricter prior to 1962. Also that in traditional Hawaiian religious customs each food represented a specific deity, so to fast would be offensive. Fasting has been a common practice for as long as the world has been here. This is why Pancake Day is a day of feasting before the fasting during Lent. I think it’s humorous that currently the Church allows you to eat a modest meal and two smaller meals on a day of fast. It seems bizarre to eat that much on a day that you are fasting.

As Laura Esquivel said “There is not really much difference between talking about food and talking about religion. In most religions access to the divine occurs through the consumption of food – eating or drinking of, with, or for the deity is a common basic ritual. The profound significance of food in our daily lives has a great deal to do with our thirst for eternal life.” This is a deep and profound statement about the food that we eat and religion that we practice, they are the same. This is why when eating with a group of people you wait till everyone has food before beginning to eat. Eating is a religious experience and varies from person to person.

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