The last in the Terra Madre Madre Meets Salone del Gusto conferences (Sunday, October 26) addressed the subject of the spirituality and sacredness of food.
The moderator was Carlo Petrini and the speakers were Enzo Bianchi, prior of the monastic community of Bose in Piedmont, Italy, and Satish Kumar, friend and disciple of Gandhi, founding director of the Schumacher College in Dartington (UK) and editor of Resurgence magazine.
Bianchi and Kumar were both friends of Ivan Illich, the Austrian philospher, theologist and anarchist social critic who, combining spirituality and social commitment, created the concept of ‘conviviality’ in opposition to productivity.
During the debate, Bianchi immediately clarified the concept of ‘sacred’ as ‘something to be respected’. ‘’As a consequence, even food can be sacred,’ he said, adding that it plays a central role in the history of the Church. ‘Why do monks pray before meals?’ he asked.
‘Not so much to give thanks, but to emphasize the sacredness of the moment and create a distance between themselves and food. We are accustomed to eating in silence but our meals are a masterpiece of communication. We want to welcome the other. For modern man, food has become a fuel to consume how and when he like. Food is necessity (bread) but also joy (wine). Wine isn’t necessary but it brings happiness.’
Kumar spoke about the connection between food and Indian philosophy. He explained how Krishna, the most important deity, was a shepherd who devoted his life to goats and became the God of farmers. He told the story of how, before leaving home, Krishna always used to eat some butter. Today, instead, food is just another consumer object that creates economy.’
Kumar went on to describe Gandhi’s relationship with food and how he taught that loving food is ‘an expression of gratitude’.
Bother speakers addressed the problem of malnutrition. Kumar made a comparison between an apple tree and a supermarket. He asked the audience who had ever seen an apple tree denying anyone its fruit or asking for their credit card. He said that if you enter a supermarket and ask for an apple without paying, first they’ll kick you out, then they’ll waste a whole load of apples. He argued that food in nature is neither discrimination nor waste, blaming economists for creating a ‘fear of scarcity, which doesn’t exist in nature. The seed is the symbol of abundance par excellence, he said, because it ultimately turns into a fruit, hence into nutrition.
Bianchi concluded that, ‘Food today is aimed at the single individual no longer at the community. At the table man is egoistic, he doesn’t know how to share any more. We have to rediscover the sacredness of being at the table …. all together!’