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What is food for-part 2

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Spoiler alert: to give pleasure!

Introducing solid foods to my babies was one of the most enchanting mothering experiences for me.

The first thing I gave them (more to play with than to eat!) was a quarter of an apple. By scraping it across their two little teeth, they managed to release a bit of the juice into their mouth. Now remember, for a small baby, the only thing they have had to taste up till this moment is milk.

The look on their little faces, I will never forget.

It seemed to be saying: Mommy! What is this! This is something completely extraordinary. You wonderful being full of surprises, how you must love me to give me such a good thing! It was gratitude and fascination mixed with adoration.

The purpose of pleasure?

In a brilliant piece by C. S. Lewis from his book “Letters to Malcom”, he explains how everyday pleasures, like biting into an apple, are little shafts of glory. Each experience of pleasure has the smell of Deity hanging about it.

He writes "We can't hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message comes with it inevitably. The sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. Gratitude exclaims, very properly "how good of God to give me this”. Adoration says "what must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” ones mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.” (Coruscate means to glitter, to give off flashes of bright light or to be brilliant to show brilliance or virtuosity)

There is a two-fold purpose to pleasure in this: firstly, it prompts the mind to contemplate thesource, serving as a pointer to the divine, revealing something of God’s nature. Secondly, it communicates. Imbedded in each pleasure we can experience, from the first breath of fresh of the air in the morning down to one’s soft slippers at bedtime, is the whispered message “I love you enough to give you this.”

A heavenly gift

Food with all its exciting colours and tastes and textures must be meant as a great expression of love by our Creator. Why else are figs beautiful to look at and red, ripe strawberries so full of heavenly flavour? Why do we have cinnamon and basil and lemongrass and garlic? Juicy oranges, luscious pears and cherry-cheeked apples? Food appeals in every possible way. Aromatic, colourful and textured - and on top of that, full of nutrients in just the right form for the human body to use.

The design could have been far more utilitarian than it is. Why all the bother if not out of love for those who eat?

Upside down

This makes me see from yet another perspective how enormous and terrible the loss is, that is suffered by chronic dieters and disordered eaters. For them, food and eating is associated with misery, self-loathing and failure. The enjoyment of food evokes feelings of shame.

They are missing all the love messages - turning them instead into judgments and accusations.

It is all upside down!

Turning this around is a process. It requires reprogramming. A good place to start is perhaps by making a habit of saying a prayer of thanks before eating. Try eating a meal per week in total silence, concentrating on each mouthful. See if you can make out a whispered message somewhere between the juice and the crunch and the tang and the bite.

According to Lewis, this attention is “a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour, for in so far as it succeeds, almost every day furnishes us with, so to speak, “bearings” on the Bright blur. It becomes brighter but less blurry”

Sound Bite

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony." Fernand Point (1897-1955)
“For me, a plain baked potato is the most delicious one. It is soothing and enough.” M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992)
“Talking of pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my mouth a nectarine… how good how fine. It went down all pulpy, slushy, oozy, all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large, beatified strawberry.” John Keats (1795-1821)

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