7/29/2012

Food


'Laborers in the Red Vineyard,' the only painting Van Gogh ever sold

We need to forgive each other for what we eat, just as what we eat forgives us. Everyone has a food story. Here's mine....

When I was five years old, I had a theory that the earth was food. We could eat the ground. We could just spoon dirt right into our mouths, and it would taste like fresh baked bread.

Intuitively I sensed how this would end human sorrow, my parents' economic woes, and all world conflicts, which are essentially over the economics of food.

People had somehow overlooked what was right in front of them: the abundant sweetness of the earth. But I would tell them about it, bringing a golden age of fulfillment. I didn't have the words to express these feelings, but I definitely felt them.

First, I had to prove it to myself. Then I could share the secret. So I waited until my mother went upstairs with the laundry, then sneaked into the kitchen to steal a large tablespoon out of the top drawer. I ran outside into the clear summer day, afraid that I might be about to commit a transgression against all the principalities and powers that would keep mankind affixed to its cross of suffering, yet ecstatic about my rebellion, and my discovery of limitless supply.

Venturing out beyond the woodpile, to the edge of the wheat field, I sat down in the middle of a dirt road, where old farmer John had just driven by in his green Allis Chalmers tractor. With a deep breath, I plunged the spoon into the cindery soil. Then I closed my eyes and gently deposited the spoonful of dirt in my mouth. I had done it: I had eaten the ground. No one had ever tried this before!

Something was terribly wrong. My heart awoke as from a dream, shocked into a new awareness, a sense of the Tragic, by the cold metallic taste of the Inedible, and the revelation of the Alien, the Otherness of the world, so incommensurable with the Bliss of my inner paradise.

My heart broke. I became Man in Exile. A sense of grief overwhelmed me as I realized how humans must toil and till for every morsel on this earth, through seasons of slow planting, harvesting, vying for property, spending and selling, raising beets and cabbage, corn and wheat, lambs for the Passover, turkeys for the slaughter of Thanksgiving!

Yet I also understood how, in the burden of all our labor, we would need compassion for each other. We would need to forgive each other for what we eat. Above all, we would have to share it. Life would be hard. And over all our food there must ever be both sorrow and celebration.

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