Food changes the way I think about things.
A simple fact, but one that’s hard for me to face sometimes. I like to think that I can choose how I feel and how I think about things, and that something so piddling as food can’t have a greater sway than my willpower. In a sense, I’m right. In another, I’m wrong. If I had to break it down, I would say that I’m right so long as I actively focus all of my concentration on not changing my mood when I’m hungry. This requires me to divert attention from other, more pressing matters (such as my current activities), focus unwaveringly on combating the depressive effects of hunger, and know exactly when I’m hungry and when I’m not.
Hunger is obviously the desire for food while suffering from the lack thereof. It doesn’t really matter what the food is when I’m hungry, I just want “food”, the category. I crave sustenance, something that I can consume that is in some way necessary to my continued existence. It is this aspect of hunger that makes me want to reject the notion that food changes how I think about things.
Carried to its fullest extent, admitting that I need to eat is admitting my mortality in a very real and very present capacity. I’m conceding that yes, if I don’t eat for long enough I can and will die. Denying that food affects the way I think about things is denying that I can die, suggesting instead that my willpower can save me. This is simply not the case; I will die regardless of how I feel about it, or how strongly I wish it not to happen.
How, then, do I resolve my dilemma about needing food and not wanting to die?
In “The Song of Meditation”, Zen Master Hakuin writes:
O young folk
if you fear death,
Having died once
you won’t die again.
The command to die now is not a suicidal imperative. Instead, it is a suggestion to shed oneself of the ego, that sense of self or self-importance from whence we derive suffering. It is my attachment to my living self that makes me afraid of losing it, but should I shed my sense of self-importance it would not be any greater loss for me to die completely.
I must become food.
Food, as unspecified sustenance, is not alive, neither does it care whom it feeds nor how. The purpose of food is to be consumed for the sake of sustaining life. This will happen to me in a very physical way once I die (literally) as micro-organisms and possibly even larger organisms will feed on my body. From an optimistic perspective, to die is to become food.
How can I die now, be food now?
To become food, I must give of myself completely to others, that they may consume what resources I have to offer. This is not to say that I should kill myself now and give my body to be devoured. I will die eventually anyway. Sustenance, however, comes in many different forms and I can offer it in many different ways. My talents, my perspectives, my possessions and my characteristics are all things that I can give freely to whomever would eat them.
Food asks nothing in return. It has no desire, no volition, and no other purpose but to feed. When food “goes bad”, it simply serves to feed other things than the subject contemplating it. If I am to be “good to eat”, I should be open, courteous and humble towards other people and offer them what I have that can be considered nourishing.
Different people have different tastes, offer different nutrients. I think the source of a lot of my anxiety is the worry that I cannot feed the people whom I would, that I will not be considered “good to eat” by the people I care about and that they will leave me in favor of finding something tastier and more filling. Food does not share my concern. Food can be dressed and decorated to appear tastier than it is, but, upon sampling the dish, the diner will not be fooled.
So I must offer my talents, my ideas, my company, myself freely and nakedly, with no airs or pretensions to being anything other than I am. I will feed those whose appetites will be satiated by me, and those whose appetites won’t I should simply allow to pass over me and find better food for them. Food does not care who eats it, nor why.
At the first communion, Jesus said, “Take of this and eat, for this is my body, broken for you. Take of this also, and drink, for this is my blood, poured out for you. Do this and remember me.”