Breaking bread with someone is a form of intimacy. But eating can also alienate. As Lucille Schulberg wrote in Historic India, “A primary impulse behind the caste system was probably the fear of spiritual pollution through food” (1968, 140):
[The Indians believed that] the mana, or ‘soul-stuff’ of human beings was the same as the soul-stuff of food, especially vegeta- ble food. Unbroken cereal food—grasses growing in a field, seeds waiting to be gathered—retained their soul-stuff when they were handled; anyone could touch and eat them safely. But once grain was softened in cooking or seeds were pressed for their oil, their soul-stuff mixed with the soul-stuff of the person who prepared the food… A taboo on sharing food with an outsider—that is, with anyone not in [one’s] own caste—was a protective measure against such spiritual pollution… The higher a caste, the more restricted its menu.
A couple of questions for you.
- Do you believe that the “soul-stuff” of food is the same as your “soul-stuff”? If you do, how does this inform your eating? If you don’t, how does that influence your eating practices?
- Also, in what ways are you an eating outcast?
- How does your eating style isolate you?
Ponder how what you eat might have stratified you socially. Ponder how connecting to something existential or spiritual through eating can also lead to some degree of social disconnecting.
Adapted from Reinventing the Meal (Somov, 2013)