Food Again

After publishing my review on The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I realized that I wanted to add some more personal insight. As I travel, procuring food is without a doubt my most time consuming activity. Every region of every country has different cuisines, customs around eating and food delivery. It can be taxing at times when you just want that quick meal (today I walked around for an hour trying to find breakfast), but overall I am gaining an appreciation for where my food comes from and who cooks it. I watched a woman cook my dumplings, bought apples directly from the farmer and had tea likely grown within a few miles of here. I really enjoy walking around the markets in each little town I visit. It really allows you to put your finger on the pulse of a place – especially with regard to the food and the people who bring it to you. Today was a little disgusting as I watched the butchers hack off the heads of a couple of Yaks, but for the most part its vendors selling fruit and vegetables, locals getting what they need for the day and random tourists like me asking if I can take photographs of dead Yaks and ducks.

I have been traveling for 4 months in Asia and over countless hours staring out the window of a bus, I have been able to watch the entire life-cycle of rice. In Japan in June, the rice was just being planted. I progressively I watched it grow in Thailand and Laos, ultimately seeing signs of the harvest in Indonesia and then China as the rains came to an end. The one thing in common despite the phase of growth was the hard work of the farmers. Driving or walking past rice-fields, you see people bent over, working the fields with their sickles or bare hands, carrying ungodly amounts on their backs, from dawn to dusk. Rice has been the most visible, but I have no doubt that all the other crops that end up on my plate take just as much work. So they are farmers and this is their job, big deal, right?

Actually it is a big deal. When I see the work that goes into delivering a cup of rice to my table, that rice does not look or taste the same. Not to mention when its complimented with a variety of vegetables, tofu, sauces, etc. Its a reminder of the interconnectedness of the world, and an appreciation for the work others do to allow me to pursue other things in life, not spending the majority of my time cultivating food.

I began thinking about this at my Zen Buddhist meditation retreat back in April. Each meal during the retreat is cooked, served and eaten very ritualistically, and part of the meal chant directly before eating contains this:

Innumerable labors brought us this food,
know how it comes to us.

Receiving this offering, consider
whether our virtue and practice deserve it.

Desiring the natural order of mind, be
free from greed, hate and delusion.

We eat to support life and to practice the way of
Buddha.

This very simple, but powerful paragraph acknowledges what I said earlier. Over the past several months, I’ve committed to a small mantra before each meal, putting my hands together and saying at least the first sentence of the above to myself, recognizing the pains and labors that ultimately ended in the plate of food before me. I often forget, usually when very hungry or distracted in thought, but slowly over time it is becoming more and more a part of every meal. This allows me to feel more connected with what I am eating, the people who bring it to me whether the farmer, shopkeeper or chef. Its really about awareness – and why not be aware of what you are putting in your body?

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