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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Department of Food Psychology, Philosophy & Sociology

 There is nothing new under the sun.  Or is there?

For a while, I have seen my food writing - or at least a part of my food writing - moving in the direction of some sort of mysticism. Allow me to explain.

For many of us, the world is a mundane place.  We wake up, we go to the bathroom, we eat, we go to school or work, we watch television, hang out with friends, get married, have kids, do this, do that, and eventually die.  Sure, depending on our religious beliefs, some of us might think we can have access to some sort of spiritual world through prayer, or eventually someday when we die we will permanently pass into a spiritual realm.  And of course, our lives may be filled with moments of joy and significance.  But still, there is unquestionably a feeling of normalcy when it comes to the everyday world, a feeling of plainness, a feeling that anything spiritual beyond the brute physical world is indeed beyond it.

Various mystical systems, however, seek to connect humans to the divine, or spiritual, or whatever, in a more immediate way.  The mystical traditions of the monotheistic religions seek to connect humans, in our seemingly mundane world, with god.  Eastern religions have their own mystical strands, although the meditation of Buddhism, for instance, strives to relieve the individual of personal suffering and foster enlightenment, and does not promote the idea of connecting to a spiritual dimension which is otherworldly in the monotheistic sense.

Running through these various traditions is the idea that the very world we inhabit is sacred and mystical and we are only blinded by this fact.  Some schools of thought even believe that the entire universe, and our particular planet within it, are actually a part of or identical with god himself.  This idea, that the physical universe we inhabit is the body of god, is called pantheism.  Pantheism need not be taken completely literally.  It should also be mentioned that the god of the mystics can seem very different than the god known in popular religion.  Sometimes, the god of the mystics or of pantheism is not personal, is not a "being" in the usual sense.  For instance, in some forms of Jewish mysticism, the god in the bible who delivers the ten commandments is not really god, for god is too ineffable and transcendent to be able to lower him/itself enough to communicate with lowly humans.  Some Jewish mystics, therefore, posited that the "god" who speaks to Moses is actually a "watered down" pseudo-god that has the ability to bridge the gap between the human world and the  completely unknowable world of god in-himself.

So, how does this relate to my food writing that I was speaking of?

Well, briefly, if our everyday world can somehow be related to certain mystical realms, then food, being a very primary human experience, should probably have some sort of connection to these aforementioned mystical realms.  For instance, perhaps various dishes or ethnic cuisines are symbols of something spiritual?  Or considering that food is what sustains us, there might be something mystical about the power of food to keep us alive as thinking, feeling beings.

Possible fun ideas that could spin out of this:

-The idea that certain foods or dishes, prepared in a certain way, could lead to foundational spiritual events. For instance, I could write a story about a Jewish rabbi who believes that if he makes the perfect brisket, he will usher in the age of the messiah (this actually just reminded me of the Christian idea of eating the body and drinking the blood of christ).
- The idea that certain foods or dishes, prepared in a certain way, could lead to enlightenment or being able to ascertain certain metaphysical truths.  For instance, in a previous blog post, I computed the possible combinations of concretes at Shake Shack, which I related to the quest for the perfect concrete.  Although not explicitly stated, this did have mystical undertones. 
- The idea that certain foods or dishes, prepared in a certain way, might be used for good or evil.  For instance, I could write a story about some sort of religious civil war that is prosecuted using gastronomic warfare.

At the beginning of this entry, I quoted the bible and said there is nothing new under the sun.  That was because today I came across a book entitled, "The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy."  At first I was horrified, because, in my mind, I am the first human in history to explore the relationship between food and mysticism.  The subtitle of this book, though, would lead me to believe that some stupid Frenchman wrote about it hundreds of years ago.  A cursory reading of the book alleviated my fears and led me to believe that there's nothing really spiritual or metaphysical discussed, at least not explicitly or in great detail. 

Which means, for now, I am an original genius.*

*However, I only scanned the book, so I could be wrong. ("Tell me what you eat and I shall tell you what you are”is perhaps the most famous food quote in history, and it comes from this book.  Although not overt, this could be taken to have mystical undertones).