Conference considers the 'sacredness of food'

 The themes of spirituality and sacredness in food was discussed in the last in the series of the Terra Madre-Salone del Gusto conferences in Turin this week, Moderated by Carlo Petrini, the meeting brought together Enzo Bianchi, Prior of the Bose community, and Satish Kumar, a friend and disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. A Hindu monk since the age of nine, he once spent three years walking 15,000 km around Asia to discover 'the chemistry of hospitality.'

The two speakers are linked by a friendship with Ivan Illich, the Austrian theologian, philosopher and anarchist social critic, who brought together spirituality and social commitment, creating the idea of "conviviality" opposed to productivity.

Bianchi immediately launched into a clarification of the concept of 'sacred,' seen as 'something to respect.' As a result, he said, even food can be sacred: "In the history of the Church it plays a central role, with a chapter in The Rule of Saint Benedict dedicated entirely to the quality and quantity of food." He then analyzed some practices that linked the Church to food: "Why do monks pray before meals? Not so much to give thanks, but to underline the sacredness of the moment. For modern humans food has become just fuel, to be consumed whenever and however one wants. Food is certainly a necessity, represented by bread, but it is also joy, such as wine, a drink that is not essential but which brings happiness."

Kumar then recounted the link between food and Indian philosophy. "Krishna, the most important aspect of God, was a herder who dedicated his whole life to goats, becoming the divinity of farmers." Today, said Kumar, food is just an object of consumption. He then recalled the relationship Gandhi had with food: "He taught that loving food was an expression of gratitude."

Both speakers dwelled on the problem of malnutrition. Asked Kumar rhetorically, "Have you ever seen an apple deny fruit to someone, or ask for a credit card? Try and go into a supermarket and take an apple without paying. They'll chase you out, and then throw it out as waste. Food in nature is not discrimination nor waste, but today that's how things are. Economists have created a 'fear of scarcity' but in nature it doesn't exist. The seed is the symbol of abundance par excellence, because it has the potential to become fruit and feed us."

Bianchi continued this reasoning: "Food is today assigned to the individual and no longer to the community. People at the table are selfish, they don't know how to share. We have to rediscover the sacredness of being at the table, together!"

Michael O'Callaghan
GM Free Ireland Network

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