"Ye gods! But you're not standing around holding it by the hand all this time. No. (…) [T]he dough takes care of itself. (…) While you cannot speed up the process, you can slow it down at any point by setting the dough in a cooler place (…) then continue where you left off, when you are ready to do so. In other words, you are the boss of that dough." (Julia Child)
Here we are, well into Advent, and in my house this means the most disruptive smells of my wife's baking: cookies, breads, cakes, and various other delectables. It is impossible not to be carried away with their smells, and the mind goes off in many a gustatory reverie.
I remember trying to read a theology book ("For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy" by Alexander Schmemann) which began by saying "You are what you eat." And then went on to talk about the Eucharist. I could not go much further as the impact of that thought arrested me. We all know the saying about being what we eat, but I had never thought about its implications for the Communion bread. If I am eating God (in a sense) then…
But let us go a little further. You not only are what you eat, but you function on what you eat as well. We all have heard about the positive (or detrimental) effects of diet on mental as well as physical performance. Could there be, I wonder, I connection between spiritual performance and diet?
Taking this to another level, very few of us eat what is unappetizing. Yes, some of us had to learn to like this or that food – mostly because of parental enforcement or medical enforcement (I am yet to meet someone who actively enjoys Metamucil for example). Eating is one of the earliest forms of socialization. I remember my shock and horror the first time I tried Bovril on toast…if you do not know what Bovril on toast is like I would recommend you contact Br. Bede and Sr. Therese who I am certain will be able to regale you with culinary tales to fire your imagination (you can also go to the Bovril Shrine here: http://www.medianet.ca/bovril/bovril.htm).
On our last trip to visit my family in Brasil I introduced my wife to a culinary treat of ours called "farofa." She pithily described it as "eating sand"…it is toasted manioc flour – and that's pretty much it, though there are regional variations where things like bacon are added to it. Usually the kids bread a banana on the flour and eat it! Yum! She was not so impressed.
Of course, the most perfect food for our spiritual bodies has to be Eucharist. Whether you are a Tridentine Catholic, serious Oxford Movement Anglican, a no-candles-on-the-altar Calvinist or something in between, the sharing of a meal together as Christians in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice is the most nutritious aliment known to humankind.
So for these last couple of weeks as our heads swim in Christmas cookies, puddings, turkey or ham, candy canes and other such wonderful things, take some time to (re)watch Babette’s Feast.
Also pause and consider: could all this pleasurable eating be a kind of thinking? Or, conversely, what kind of thinking is fueled by all this good eating? Nowadays we talk a lot about different types of intelligence – things like musical intelligence and kinesthetic intelligence and, of course, the old emotional intelligence. Is there such a thing as "foodie intelligence"? Can pleasure be a form of thinking? Further, should you seek/expect pleasure from sacraments?
The Romance languages, like French and Portuguese, have different words for pleasure ("plaisir" and "jouissance" in French, "prazer" and "gozo" in Portuguese) – and it makes me wonder – can we re-discover the levels and differences in pleasure (not all are good of course)? It would bring me much pleasure if someone were to write a book which would tease out these differences theologically, similar to what C. S. Lewis did in The Four Loves. Can we write The Four (or Five or Seven) Pleasures? What is contemplative pleasure anyway? I believe the answer to this last one is encompassed by the Julia Child quote above!