Seeing as how I’m not quite sure when I’ll get a zap of inspiration to write on this topic, I thought I would start now.
Eating is sacred. Something, whether plant or animal, is consumed by me so that I can continue to live. There are different debates we could have on whether this is a ‘sacrifice’ the animal or plant gives willingly. For now, I’m going to sidestep that. We consume life in some variety or another so that we live.
I, and many Pagans, do not separate the holy from the body. So, that, to me, follows that eating is a sacred act. You are taking in the body of something that once lived, whose spirit may still be in the food you are eating. Think about that: if I am eating a chicken, I am taking the outward representation of its Being into me. The same goes for broccoli or carrots.
This is not some abstract concept; something lived, was killed, and is becoming part of me, so that I may live. So how do I honor that life, whether it is a chicken, a cow, broccoli, or a carrot?
I would say the first thing is mindfulness. Understanding that you are eating another Being, where it comes from; how it got from a field, farm, or crate to your plate. Understanding how much suffering that animal or plant may have gone through to come from the farmer, rancher, or producer, and the journey the food made to get to you from those people. Understanding that your food may or may not be grown or made in an ethical, humane way for either the food or the producer. Many people suffer indignities and trials just to be able to grow many of the foods we eat, not to mention endure working conditions that many of us could or would not endure. As the recent post here exposes, people in logistics, getting the food from the farmer/rancher/producer to your table, can be treated quite poorly.
The next would be thankfulness. Acknowledging that, willingly or no, the sacrifice of their life allows you to live. That they may have undergone suffering and travel to arrive at your plate. To be thankful not just for their sacrifice, but for the hard work of all those, from the farmer, rancher, or producer, through the logistics that allow you to pick up that bag of chicken or carrots at your local market. To be thankful that others killed an animal or plant in your place. To be thankful that you have food at all. To be thankful that the Gods are in your life, that They, your Ancestors, spirit allies, and the spirits of these animals and/or plants would share in this meal with you.
Finally, it is showing appreciation. This, to me, differs from thankfulness in that thankfulness can be “Thank you” or a prayer, something that says we have gratitude. Showing appreciation, to me, is doing things to show that gratitude. It can be an offering to the spirits. I think that the offering can be more than an offered prayer or some mead poured out. While I find expressing appreciation like this holy and good, an offering can be something that is more concrete, affecting change on a lot of levels such as a change in attitude towards your food, a change in eating habits (i.e. eating locally sourced foods or humanely-killed animals), or even growing/raising your own food.
I first got turned onto this whole notion by Lupa. Sometimes I pray to the overarching spirit of whichever food animal I am eating, but I try to make a special point of thanking the specific animal whose body I am consuming. Now that I think about it, I should do the same for the other Beings that make up my plate. Mushrooms have sacrificed no less than pigs for being on my pizza; they’ve both given their lives. Will the pig suffer less for being on the pizza? No, but I can reduce inhumane treatment to hir brethren by being mindful of where I get my food, how much I eat, and so on. Just to be clear, I am not in any way, shape, or form starving myself nor would I expect this post to be taken as espousing that. There are other ways to being mindful and making choices about eating habits. Some may simply not be able to make the choices we would like because of our economic situation. So, make change where you can and don’t bury yourself in guilt. I’m not a purist; I don’t have this all down pat. I do what I can where I can, and honor the spirits whose bodies I consume as best I can.
I think, though, that by having a better relationship with our food, how we eat, we encourage better relationships over all. As a diabetic, I have to be especially careful of the foods I let into my life. My relationship with sugary foods, for instance, was bad for me, and if I indulge too much may ruin my kidneys or screw me up in other ways. So by having a healthier relationship with food, I have a healthier relationship with my body. This ripples out into my life at large. By letting in more fruits and especially vegetables into my food relationships, I gained a better body balance, and my sugars calmed the down.
Our relationships with eating can be very positive for our lives. We might have the one special recipe that reminds us of home, or loved ones. Eating a family recipe may be just one more link back to our Ancestors. Eating cakes and ale during a Wiccan ritual may be another way of connecting to the Goddess and God. Sharing a meal with the Gods may be the most intimate way we can thank Them for the blessings in our lives, or invite Them in deeper. For me, nothing quite brings the Ancestors and I together like sharing a meal. I don’t think there’s anything quite like eating a meal with good friends, especially when they’ve made it themselves.
Eating can bring us to a place of receptivity. Eating can bring us joy, comfort, even ecstasy. Eating can bring us blessings, contentment, and balance. Eating can be just one more way we can connect to ourselves, our Ancestors, our spirits, and our Gods.
So eat, drink, be merry, and be blessed.