Food as Metaphor

By | September 15, 2011

For 40 years I have been living with people in extended family and community environments. There have been many differences in configuration and philosophy, yet there was one thing they all shared—a preoccupation with food. It wasn’t the food itself, but what it represented. For some, it was a political issue; for others, it had spiritual significance; and for still others it was about environmental consciousness. And then there were the very personal issues that governed food choices, such as comfort, escape, and even addiction. Groups would come together and break up around food, and between the two extremes there were endless discussions seeking some resolution around the topic. Sometimes I got involved, and at other times I sat back and listened. But I listened with my heart rather than my head, so I could hear what people were saying beneath their defensiveness and rationalizations. Their impassioned statements show how real their world of endless variety and abundance, of beliefs and causes is to them.

While I listen, a memory will sometimes come back of me paddling into a beaver pond and a hundred Ducks exploding out of the sedges in front of me. One stayed behind, floating lifeless on the surface. I gave thanks to the Duck People for remembering my hunger, and I feasted. Another day on the same wilderness stream, the Trout People gifted me similarly, and another day it was the Muskrat People. I didn’t think about politics or preferences, I only gave thanks and ate.

I remember eating at my grandparents’ farm 55 years ago. They raised 12 children on 39 hardscrabble acres. It was down-home, wholesome fare, but not the variety I was accustomed to in the city, and it changed from one visit to the next, depending on the season. Yet from what I saw, there was always enough to pass around the great dining room table a couple of times. And it tasted so good after a hard day in the field—and especially after watching my rosy-cheeked grandma pull it out of the woodstove oven with those stained potholders that told of the many meals they helped serve. We all ate heartily, enjoying the meal and each other’s company. Like my wilderness feasts, there were no issues around the food, only gratefulness and camaraderie.

It seems as though the more we have, the more confused we become. A peasant family with two or three nourishing foods is happy, whereas those of us with choices infuse our foods with the burdens of our minds and the ramblings of our souls.

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