relate to God, watch the way they eat." I know that what he said is true, because
I spent the better part of my life using food as a temporary salve.
What is sacred cooking? This idea fascinates me because I don't believe I've truly cooked in a sacred manner. Sometimes I feel extremely connected to the food I'm preparing, but I have never cooked with the intent of having a sacred meal.
Vrindavan, India has 5,000 temples and honoring the Hindu god Vishnu is of primary importance to their daily life. This is a town where the practice of "kitchen-yoga" is a huge part of their spiritual discipline. Cooking and serving food in a sacred manner is an act of spiritual devotion -- a way of communing with God.
All aspects of sacred cooking for the temple are focused on union with God. Preparing food for the temple is done mindfully for they are relating to God. They offer food to God before serving so as to infuse it with spirit, making it sacred before eaten. Finally this sacred food from the temple is distributed freely among the people to further spread the experience of love and devotion.
I suppose Christian Holy Communion is meant to be like this -- a ritualized experience representing Christ's Last Supper of bread and wine, but for some reason it never feels like a sacred meal to me. It's missing that element of sitting down with a community and focusing on food as the embodiment of spirit.
The closest I've ever come to this type of sacred meal is when a good friend invited me to her Jewish Passover Seder. I felt so spiritually connected to both the people and food during this meal. The Passover Seder brought people together in an intimate setting and ritualized the food and community.
In contrast, many of our traditional holidays seem to have lost that spiritual connection to food and how it represents our relationship to the universe. Digging into the feast, delighting in the many different delicacies, and honoring the talents of cookery seem more important than appreciating how food relates to the well-being of our bodies and souls.
In response to my pondering the question of sacred cooking, I found this lovely book called Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path. The author Donald Altman, a former Buddhist monk, looks at different spiritual traditions and their approach to making a meal sacred. Then he suggests choosing one of these spiritual paths and applying his recommendations for integrating one of these traditions into your life. Here are the different paths he details in his book:
- Hinduism: A food path for discovering the true self.
- Buddhism: A food path of liberated consciousness, moderation, and loving-kindness.
- Jewish: A food path of seeing the inner holiness and wholesomeness of each moment.
- Christian: A food path of fellowship within a community practicing love and service.
- Muslim: A food path of learning to surrender to Divine Providence.
Most of his suggestions aren't difficult to apply to our modern lifestyle and don't require you to adopt a particular faith as your own. The way a meal becomes sacred is through your intent, and your intentions are manifest through mindfulness, creating a conscious setting, small rituals, and thoughtful blessings.