Sacred Food

I’m in the process of being converted.

I don’t think that many people think of food as a religion in itself, but it’s not uncommon for people to use descriptive words like, divine and heavenly to describe their tastey food. Good food seems to inspire ecstasy in some people, and 20th century pop-psychology taught us that many people use food to satiate our desires for love and sexual fulfillment. The history of world religion shows us that all over the world, all through the ages, feasts (often including specific foods) are important sacraments. One of my professors in Religious Studies at DePaul (Dr. Gitomer) cleverly drew the students’ attention to the American celebration of national holidays through gathering around a pit of fire, roasting flesh on the grill, and sharing it as a meal with their friends and family. As many secularized events of modern times, it refers back to century and sometimes millenia old traditions that once had sacred meaning. Whether it’s a part of the collective unconscious or the fact that rituals just seem to happen spontaneously through the repeated behavior, it doesn’t really matter. As my husband has tried to point out to me, every day things such as sitting down to a meal can be a sacred experience.

And in my opinion, cooking is really a form of magick. Now, I know that modern science would call cooking a form of chemistry, and it is, but chemistry is also magick. I don’t understand all that goes on chemically with a port wine reduction, an oil, sugar, vinegar salad dressing or a devil’s food cake. I just know that the application of heat or agitation is applied, it changes it’s consistency and texture, sometimes morphing from a liquid to a solid. It’s magick, I tell you! Rising bread, oh man, that’s magick. Culturing milk that ends up with it not spoiling as quickly, magick! Marinading a big hunk of meat in vinegar, juice and lots of salt and a week later, it still not spoiling, magick! Sure, you can tell me that acetic acid and salt inhibit bacterial growth or that probiotic cultures inhibit harmful bacteria, but all those are things you can tell me that I can’t actually see or experience. I just know it works.

I’m in the process of being converted. There’s something sacred about buying food stuffs from small suppliers, getting fresh, in season ingredients, being assured that the people selling us ingredients for our food have pride, care and concern for the food and the land it comes from. It’s sort of a care and attention that makes cultivating an art. The same care and attention that makes cooking an art. So you’ve got art in the process of making a sacred experience. Add to that a sacred experience that is meant to be shared. There you have communion (as my husband has also pointed out.)

I’m loathe to elevate a meal, such as dinner, to the equivalency of a devoted Catholic attending church on a regular basis, but the attention to detail and the emphasis on ethically grown and produced foods along with home cooking (and hopefully only the very slightest convenience food used) make a better meal. When food is mass-produced, and meant to appeal to as many people as possible, the things that go by the wayside are flavor, freshness, quality of ingredients and the unique variance that home cooked meals provide. Homemade pasta sauce is perhaps one of the singularly most amazing things. I thought that premium jars of pasta sauce (small jar, $8) could at least equal my husband’s sauce, but it is not so!

I recently had a revelatory experience with chocolate cake. It was not a simple recipe, and took the better part of a lazy afternoon to make, but the outcome was delightful, decadent and divine ;). Boxed cake has a lot of things going for it. Just add 2-3 ingredients to the packet(s) of mix, blend it all together, pour in a pan and bake, and you have cake. I made devil’s food cake, 100% from scratch, put in two round cake pans, mixed up an orange buttercream frosting and finally, a dark chocolate orange glaze. What ended up was a cake that looked like something from a dessert or chocolate shop. It was the first cake I had made FROM SCRATCH in my entire adult life. People cheered. It was an incredible experience.

And one I couldn’t have had if I had gone with a box and jar of pre-made frosting.

And the plus side – I got to use real sugar, real (organic) butter, and real (organic) sour cream. No manufactured preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, or partially hydrogenated this-or-that.

It was hard work, but worth it. And it demanded sharing, which is a sacred thing unto itself.

I noticed on the TV at the gym the other day how nearly 90% of the advertising was for convenience foods that carried the message that cooking is too hard or too time consuming. I think that among TV’s many evils (there are some good things, but it’s mostly evil) is its persuasive power to convince us that we’re too poor and too busy, not skilled enough, not pretty enough, and ultimately that we are not happy enough, and that we need to buy their products to cure this manufactured deficiency.

Modernity has sterilized the essence of our humanity. We have become so removed from the food chain, and from using our own hands and bodies to shape our reality that we have become weak and complacent. We have become dulled to the magick (or essential spirituality) that surrounds us. We have become so disconnected from the things that we depend on, and accept the pre-formatted information that we’re given that we no longer seek our own conclusions. We’re even taught by both secular and religious sources that we’re not supposed to seek to know outside of whats delivered to us because it’s either too dangerous, too difficult or too damning.

And all that being said. Isn’t it time for lunch?