Monday, October 08, 2007

Soul Food

We eat good food because we understand the nutrition it provides. We protect our bodies. We seek the maximum energy benefit from the things we eat. When we cook food we allow the ingredients to take full force and we skillfully release the properties of each ingredient at the right time and temperature. This is similar to the way a painter uses paint, or a poet words. An overcooked steak is rendered tasteless and neutered, ravaged by flame, destroyed by heat. This is akin to an overly sentimental poem, ravaged by conceit, destroyed by cliché. We are careful about how we eat and cook in the same way that we are purposeful and deliberate about how we write. We are artists after all.

We know that as certain foods are digested, the properties they release into our bodies affect our physical well being in many ways. This is so basic that it need not be said. I only say it to make a point. One of the mantras of our generation is: I’m spiritual, but not religious.

Fair enough. I applaud this sentiment because it takes courage to say it.

We live in an age of fallen idols; we're tired of the hypocrisy and downright criminal lunacy we seen in many of our clergy and organized religions. While we want no part of it, we still seek meaning. We believe whole heartedly that there is something higher than ourselves, even physical reality. We may even believe in something called a soul.

Does food then have a soul?

I say yes.

If we believe that certain foods nourish us physically, then doesn’t it make sense that certain foods would also be spiritually nourishing? Just as some foods enhance our physical strength, doesn’t it make sense that some foods would also enhance our ability to perceive spirituality? To sense it? To become more spiritually attuned? This is the idea behind the kosher laws, or kashrut. Kosher food is soul food.

Some people say that kashrut is outdated; they say it was merely a way to keep people healthy in an age that was unaware of microbes, refrigeration, and micro-pathology. To me, these people are missing the point entirely. Kashrut maintains not only the physical health of a people, but the spiritual health. Like protein for muscle tissue, kashrut works the same way for the soul, our spiritual antenna, that part of us that is entirely essence.

Everyone knows that pigs are unkosher. Everyone also knows that the flesh of most pigs is teeming with trichina worms, which when ingested, also plague the eater. This, however, is not why they are unkosher.

There are thousands of other animals that are also unkosher: horses, rabbits, bears, rodents, felines, canines, most species of birds, most of what lives in the sea, almost every insect, reptiles. The list goes on. These food sources have sustained and continue to sustain entire civilizations. These foods are not unkosher because they are unhealthy. Ancient peoples knew how to cook food. They had thousands of years of oral tradition that taught them what to eat and how to cook. In a way, they knew more than we do. They didn’t need a religious edict to tell them what to avoid.

Like everything else in the cosmos our food has a physical and spiritual nature. Some foods build up the body, while others break it down. Similarly, some foods dull our spiritual sensibilities while others are catalysts that enhance them. Some foods, as opposed to others, facilitate within us a greater ability to achieve higher consciousness.

Pigs are unkosher because there is something about their essence that is spiritually profane. When eaten, it forms a blockage within us, clogging the soul the way cholesterol clogs the arteries. The essence of pig is so spiritually degraded that even while pigs are alive their flesh is being eaten by worms—like a common corpse, they are spiritually lifeless.

This is not an endorsement for kashrut, nor do I think everyone should follow it. I’m not like that. Those who know me know that about me. However, I will ask a question: If we are spiritual people, how can we eat in ways that enhance this part of us?

How can we, our bodies and souls, all get high together?


Karen said...

While many things—perhaps everything—has the potential to impact one’s ability to achieve a higher level of consciousness, food is very unique. I certainly appreciate the notion that food can both enhance and dull our physical and spiritual selves. The energy within food seems to be invoked by the name of your blog, FoodVibe.

I found this to be an interesting and thought-provoking piece. I now have many questions to ponder (and later discuss with you and others) about kashrut and—in a more general sense—the role of food and physical health in consciousness, spirituality and religion. My favorite kind of blog post is one that inspires further reflection. Thanks Steve.

Steve said...

Yeah, our blog name definitely conjures up a wide variety of interpretations. I lke that the name is purposefully vague, but I also like your interpretation.

The school I teach at is called Bronx Lab. When people ask our principal what "lab" is supposd to mean, he says "what does it mean to you?" I always liked that.

Seth said...

To me FoodVibe is down and out and stuffed with chicken and wine. For some reason, that's it...

Steve said...

chicken and swine?

Suzanne said...

I love this. It ties in very well with Seth’s last blog on food as an attitude. Both bring to mind Anthelem Brillat-Savarin’s famous aphorism “Tell me what kind of food you eat and I’ll tell you what kind of man you are”. It is something that Andrés and I are more and more conscious of. Andrés says that what he has for lunch affects his ability to write. I find myself judging people in the line at the supermarket based on what they are buying, and wondering what the products going into my shopping cart say about me or, perhaps even more so, what I would like them to say about me.

And I love Karen’s interpretation of the name of the blog. It does seem to invoke the energy – both physical and spiritual – in food. I always associated it with music for some reason. Perhaps thanks to the Beach Boys. For me, there is always music in food. The music we listen to while we eat, for music must always accompany a meal. And the music we make while prepare – the clanking of pots and pans, the scraping of knifes, the rattle of dishes and the hum of the gas burners; it’s quite the percussion section.

Steve said...

I think you just figured the next piece you are going to post: something that explores the ralationship btw food and music. Brilliant!

Steve said... least if you don't write about music and food, then one of us should. It's screaming out "write me!"

Seth said...


I can relate to your supermarket attitude. I do the same thing. I certainly judge others when I look at their carts. I look at my own cart, usually full of fresh produce, organic poultry, a bottle of olive oil, a few packages of tempeh, and I say: This is a beautiful cart!

Then I find someone who happens to be buying a few frozen packages, a few cans of this or that, and I whisper: Dead, dead, dead--all of that food is dead!

I'm not proud of this attitude.

Actually, fuck it, it pains me to admit it, but I am proud of it.

I'm sticking with the brash posture of my last post. The more colorful the cart, the more indicative of the earth and of the season of the earth (people who buy strawberries right now kill me; it's apple time baby, apples baby!), the less cardboardy and tinny and processed, the better. Food should be life-giving. How much life can one receive froma cardboard box?

Seth said...


Which brings me to the "issue" I've always had with what I perceive as the kosher dietary system.

In the food industry the kosher label is not neccessarily a designation of quality, but rather a symbol of processing. The label means simply: this product was produced using kosher practices with kosher ingredients.

I've met many kosher Jews who still eat bad food (FoodCrack even, as you admitted below) along as it is "kosher".

Which is to say: kosher, in my opinion, is not enough.

A life-giving, soul-giving diet, to me, includes the best foods: local foods, food made with compassion, foods grown and raised with compassion and consciousness, the type of foods you get at the local farm stand, or from the guy down the street who raises his own chickens and will talk your head off all day about his love for his chickens.

Not all of these foods are kosher.
But kosher foods include: Oreos and Ritz-Bits, and, in Israel, McDonald's.

Kosher eateries in NYC had been using trans-fats until the recent ban.

Kashrut, as you state it, is an ideal, but the reality seems to be different. Kosher, to me, seems like a beautiful system, worthy of study and practice, but it's not perfect, and certainly not enough.

I guess it's up to the kosher Jew himself to live the ideal behind the ideal of kashrut.

Steve said...

Of course. I agree. Kosher is not enough. Jewish cooking (especially eastern european) is notoriously greasy and loaded with fat. Kugel? kishka? chopped liver? Are kidding me? Even the kasha varnishke is soaked in grease.

Most of the foodcrack out there has a kosher certification.

You can keep 100% kosher and still clog the f*ck out your arteries.

Funny, but the two are not mutally exclusive.

dsc said...