For most of us reading this, the act of choosing is central to how we eat. Vegetarian or not. Organic or not. What is the sodium content? What is a proper portion? Which foods are to be relegated to the category of special treats, and which should be eaten daily? We give a lot of thought to these choices, and well we should. But what we hardly ever consider is the nature of all the foods that we eat; what is it that they have in common? What they all have in common is that they were or are alive. It is the substances from living things that provides us with the energy we need to live. And this energy only comes from the other creatures, be they plants or animals.

This is so obvious, but most of us no longer hunt or fish or forage or farm for our food, at least we don’t most of the time. And because of this we have lost the awareness of the origin of our food. But we have also simply forgotten how interconnected our life is with the lives of the other life forms. We give lip service to the term “web of life” but it has lost its potency from being used so much. But the term has real meaning if we can try to look at it freshly.

Perhaps there is a deeper question here. Why is it that we must eat other life forms in order to live? What is it within other living things that is nourishing to us? Is it simply the ratios of different elements and compounds that their bodies contain? Likely not, because, unless preserved, the nutritional value of the plant or animal very quickly diminishes after death, finally disappearing. The closer in time the food is to still being alive, the more nourishing it is. This might lead one to ask if there is not something about the animating fact of life itself that is what is nourishing to life? Life feeds on life, and is nourished by life. This of course might inform how we should eat. We often speak of eating consciously, paying attention, taking time to notice every bite. Yes, the practice of mindfulness is good and necessary, but what else is possible? Perhaps what else is simply to care. To care about what was alive and is now food on my plate, and to care that I am able to eat, and that the act of eating is filled with real satisfaction, and results in my continued vitality, the continuation of my life.

Then one begins to comprehend, at least a little, that it is not the plant or animal’s life we are talking about—it is Life. Just Life. We are all completely a part of this animating principal that is Life. We are never alone—the very fact of our eating is proof. What truly matters is this underlying animating force that runs through all beings. Perhaps it might be a useful exercise to consider all of this when we next sit down at the table.

We are thankful for this meal, the work of many people and the sharing of other forms of life.
     —Buddhist prayer

 

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