Friday, March 11, 2011
Live to Eat or Eat to Live?
Actually, his question was inspired by two prominent ways of seeing food. One asks do we "live to eat?" and the other asks do we "eat to live?" The former position is the one often taken up by "foodies," neo-epicureans (though they do not truly support the real views of Epicurus) and people in various versions of the slow food movement. That latter position is often found among those in the diet and fitness industry. So what, my brother-in-law asked me is (MY OPINION) the proper way to view food!? I am thrilled that he asked me for two reasons:
1.) I love to share my opinions!
2.) He and my sister are Chef's and have a cool foodie blog called Garden Fresh Chefs. Check it out.
To answer this question, I will begin by rejecting my two choices: "eat to live" and "live to eat." For me, they both miss the point by committing the fallacy of the "law of the excluded middle." Instead, I offer this viewpoint, "I live to live." I know, it does not sound as poetic as the other two options, but I am afraid it is a far better motto to live by.
We must, first, affirm that the world is created. That is to say that it is a divine gift. Everyone, stop and think for a moment...do things NEED to exist at all? Why should this world be at all, let alone be beautiful, good or true? The world is not necessary and yet it does exist. This means that everything is pregnant with meaning; all life is a gift. The radical "givenness" of life demands that I begin with gratitude in all my relationships including my relationship to food.
Each time I pause in gratitude before I enjoy a meal, I acknowledge three things:
1.) That something had to die for me to eat.
2.) That the world (or life) is a gift created by God in freedom and not of necessity.
3.) That I rely on this food to live. I am a very contingent being.
My acknowledgment of these three things is accomplished in a prayer to the giver of the good gift. Immediately I am connected more closely to food that I am eating and thus, I am connected a bit closer to the ultimate source of life.
I do not simply eat to live, because food is good. It is something to delight in. It is a gift. Because of all this, there must be more joy and gratitude when we eat; indeed, God has given people an abundance of food and kinds of food to be enjoyed (it is a shame that we horde it and destroy it the way we do). If we eat only to live we devalue food as a tool for: delight, community, celebration, joy, and creativity.
Also, I do not live to eat. I fear this view would make me a slave to food, because it seems to make it into an idol. No, I live to live. I live to participate in the glory of all life, by this, I mean that I do not elevate food to heights that it should not attain or diminish it to mere triviality. To live for food is to diminish human relationships, proper bodily health, ignore the poor, and miss the goodness of other parts of creation.
Simply put, both views are far too narrow. When people stop in gratitude and really think about what food is, where it comes from, what it takes to make it, the kind of care put into preparing it, and the limits of it, they will not eat too much or deny themselves the joy of eating it. Instead, they will recognize its true place in our lives as:
1.) A gift
2.) A delight
3.) A pointer to our reliance upon non-human world
4.) A community builder
5.) A cause for celebration
6.) A radical reminder of our contingence