My dream existence

Monday, March 05, 2007


I recently ran across a great little piece in a charming book about food: "The meal is the essential act of life. It is the habitual ceremony, the long record of marriage, the school for behavior, the prelude to love. Among all peoples and in all times, every significant event in life--be it wedding, triumph, or birth--is marked by a meal or the sharing of food or drink. The meal is the emblem of civilization. What would one know of life as it should be lived or nights as they should be spent apart from meals?"--James and Kay Salter's Life Is Meals

What a lovely thought! A ceremony, something special, that happens again and again. The accompaniment and companion of a loving and faithful marriage. The place where manners are learned, traditions passed down, and culture reborn. The place where all the best ideas about life, beauty, religion, truth, etc. are discussed and renewed.

Food does always seem to be at the heart of everything. We can't in fact live for very long without eating, so of necessity, meals happen regularly. But so much has happened around food. The Old Testament is full of warfare and strife, much of which was started because someone didn't have enough food. The New Testament is full of miracles that have to do with the multiplication and provision of food, both physical and spiritual. Many of these miracles occurred within a ritual or ceremonial setting, and the greatest of these miracles (Christ's gift of His own Body and Blood) continues without ceasing to this day.

What history may have been made over the dinner table, when heads of state gather to discuss matters of international consequence? What great novels, poetry, and music may have been written on the inspiration of an idea tossed out in dinner conversation? What strange philosophies and new sciences may have germinated from vigorous interchange carried out over a hearty meal?

Meals are the natural occasions of all such phenomena, for they are the times when people are together long enough to relax and to be able to think and to share ideas with one another. "The meal is the emblem of civilization" because it fosters the components of culture, without which there is no civilization. The Greeks, for instance, made a huge issue of hospitality--of making sure that guests and sojourners were fed well and with proper ceremony. They were one of the greatest civilizations this earth has ever known.

Think of the old black and white films. Certainly society was not perfect at the time; nor were the movies. But there was always something so satisfying about their portrayal of meals. In the movies, people made time for meals. They "dressed for dinner," made a point of eating together, presented the food in an appealing way, and took time to enjoy the food and each other at table. Those scenes always seemed so right, so just, so proper--all was right in the world so long as people dressed for a good dinner.

Well, we don't live in the movies, but perhaps they aren't so far wrong in this sense. After all, where is America now with its T.V. dinners, fast food, and eating disorders? Most of society is unhappy; families don't know each other anymore, and very little of true beauty and lasting value is being produced to enhance our culture. In fact, culture is dead in America, and society is crumbling.

So, while meals may not solve every problem in the land, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to reintroduce some of the old customs and ideas about meals. Maybe we should make time to prepare good meals with our own hands, and to serve them with artistry. Maybe we should bring back the tradition of dressing for dinner, and spending an hour at table in conversation. If we perhaps stepped outside of our normal lives just long enough to do this, we might find our spirits calmed, and our hearts uplifted. Maybe families would learn to appreciate each other again, and maybe ideas of value would have time to generate.

Meals aren't just about existing; meals are about living. Bon Appetit!

No comments: