Food and our relationship with it often mimics religion. We bow our heads over a plate 3-4 times a day. Gather around those who are like-minded and rejoice in the presence of good food. We fight over it. In fact, the very consumption of it can be political and surrounded in controversy. Ghandi said that the most powerful weapon on the earth is the table fork. Though food has powerful socio-economic implications, food also marks our traditions and family histories. My experience as an executive chef has shown me that faith heavily dictates people’s attitudes and food decisions.
Crack open any book of faith and the discussion of accountability and guilt is always there. Assignment of guilt is one of its most powerful weapons against those whose flesh is weak. Curiously enough, in ancient times a person showed contrition by offering what has always been most valuable — food. Your first harvest or the best of the herd was to be sacrificed to show God just how much you cared or felt sorry for your actions. Although times have changed, religion still shapes that way that we relate to others and our faith. We still “are what we eat.”
There are a few major religions in the world rooted in mysticism. These religions usually have strict edicts surrounding food. The Orthodox church, for instance mandates regular fasting throughout the year, every Wednesday and Friday as well as the Lenten period. During these fasts the faithful go completely vegan. Orthodox monks already abstain from meat, so this directive is for the everyday practitioner. Even though the fasting is not widely followed today, it seems to be rooted in combating the gluttony which was prevalent during earlier times.
My friend is Jain. This a strict religion with deep roots that extend back to back to 6th century B.C. A main tenet of the Jain religion is Ahimsa. This tenet focuses on non-violence — not killing animals or even root vegetables for food. My Jain friend and I often share stories about how veganism shaped our lives. Though Jainism states that the modern man may use Himsa (violence) where necessary, that does not stop the guilt. My friend said she had tried fish, liked it, but always felt guilty about it. Ultimately she felt she found a nice compromise between the way she was raised and the world in which she lived.
I have another friend of the Jewish faith. Though practitioners do not follow a strict vegan diet, there are clear parameters about food, especially maintaining a Kosher diet. Kosher involves the proper killing of animals including strict rules about cleaning food and removal of blood. Blood is considered a life force. I can hear my friend’s food guilt: “I used to keep strict Kosher, but I let it slip.” My friend still talks about convincing his parents that he (a grown man) is being good and true to his faith. There is still guilt that leaks through the cracks in his voice when he talks about this.
I was raised with a version of Rastafarianism by my parents ( an ex-Catholic and an ex–southern Baptist). Though the version we practiced had remnants of their past Sunday rituals, my parents were clear on Rastafarianism’s main tenet, which is a verse from the book of Genesis:
“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’”
So Rastas eat Ital food. The word is taken from the word vital. The food the Rasta eats must be free of pesticides and be plant-based. Rasta are not supposed to drink wine grape juice or anything of “the vine.”
And yes, every time I get wasted a little part of me is being shamed in a corner… I then pee in that corner and stumble off.
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