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Holy Eating

Food ceremonies, fasting, sacrifice, and ritual meals are all part of the foodways that define cultures across the globe.

Many food and cultural traditions are rooted in religious practices that date back thousands of years; these practices are governed by religious laws that define what foods are “unclean”, what foods can be worshipped, how they are to be processed and the times of year when they can be eaten.

Whether it's grown or caught, all indigenous tribes worship foraged foods. They feel kinship with the plants and animals they eat, because like all things in nature, their food is interconnected to their being.

The late anthropologist Marvin Harris wrote in his controversial book Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture, "The fashionable premise is that foodways are accidents of history which express or convey messages derived from essentially arbitrary values or inexplicable religious beliefs. For my part, I do not wish to deny that foods convey messages and have symbolic meanings. But which come first, the messages and meanings or the preferences and aversions?" Harris argued that societal needs and geographical limitations--and not religious law--determined what foods were holy. "Food must nourish the collective stomach before it can feed the collective mind," he added.

Whatever your beliefs, whether you celebrate religious holidays like Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, or choose instead to celebrate no religion at all, we all have the opportunity to be mindful and aware of the food on our plate, and how it affects our body and all that is around us.

Rev. Daniel Currie Green writes, “Human beings practice ritual eating as a way of honoring and celebrating their connectedness with the community, its ancestors, the earth and its plant and animal life, the cosmos, and what lies beyond it.”

Read on to learn more about how holy eating, though practiced differently by people around the globe, can honor our beliefs, our community and the environment around us.

This week's terms

Holy Eating

The sharing of a meal may be the fundamental sacred act. From the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Christian churches, to the placing of food in the begging bowl of the Buddhist monk, and in countless other expressions in cultures around the world, human beings practice ritual eating as a way of honoring and celebrating their connectedness with the community, its ancestors, the earth and its plant and animal life, the cosmos, and what lies beyond it. At the same time, these acts of heightened reverence give resonance to the everyday meal around the family table. Simple prayers of thankfulness and practices of mindfulness at mealtime reinforce the awareness that all life is holy and that we exist in interdependent relation with that which is not us. This awareness transforms eating, from a mere act of material consumption to participation in a vast, mysterious, and ultimately trustworthy order of existence, and nourishes the soul and spirit as well as the body. - Rev. Daniel Currie Green


Foodways, generally speaking, is the study of what, how, and why we eat with emphasis on food events as much as the food itself. The study of foodways is important to cultural studies, and encompasses issues of race, class, gender, economy, environment, geography, and history, among others. - Southern Foodways Alliance

Mindful Eating

"Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating an open-minded awareness of how the food we choose to eat affects one’s body, feelings, mind, and all that is around us. The practice enhances our understanding of what to eat, how to eat, how much to eat, and why we eat what we eat. When eating mindfully, we are fully present and savor every bite--engaging all our senses to truly appreciate the food. Beyond just taste, we notice the appearance, sounds, smells, and textures of our food, as well as our mind’s response to these observations. When we eat with this understanding and insight, gratitude and compassion will arise within us. Thus mindful eating is essential to ensure food sustainability for future generations, as we are motivated to choose foods that are not only good for our health, but also good for our planet." - Dr. Lilian Cheung

Road To Damascus Moment

A revelation, especially about oneself, denoting a change in attitude, perspective or belief.

Food Culture

"Food culture refers to the practices, attitudes, and beliefs as well as the networks and institutions surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food. It encompasses the concepts of foodways, cuisine, and food system and includes the fundamental understandings a group has about food, historical and current conditions shaping that group’s relationship to food, and the ways in which the group uses food to express identity, community, values, status, power, artistry and creativity. It also includes a groups’ definitions of what items can be food, what is tasty, healthy, and socially appropriate for specific subgroups or individuals and when, how, why, and with whom those items can or should be consumed." - Dr. Lucy M. Long

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