Eating As Political And Spiritual Action

By Maía — December 2011

Take an orange and  hold the globe of it in your two hands. Breath the deep fragrance.  

Do you know the eye-shaped leaves of  the  orange tree?  Shining dark green, bursting with life.  Break open the  flesh  of the orange. The flesh glistens, makes the mouth water.

Bite into  it.  

Close your  eyes:  you are eating the earth, the water,  the  air,  the light.

Maybe for some time you’ve been feeling a call to change your relationship to food …perhaps by joining a non-profit food coop, or by starting to shop more often at a natural food store or at your local farmer’s market, or even by growing some of your own vegetables and herbs.   

But can  we change our  relation to  food even more?


One way is to make a practice of consciously reconnecting ourselves with  the bio-spirituality of plants …as well as the minerals, water,  sunlight, soil which feed the plants which feed you and me.

Through the complex–and still not fully understood by science – invisible process of photosynthesis, light becomes flesh,. The plump, translucent flesh of an orange, say.

This is not poetry but fact. Particles of light, along with molecules of CO2,  are captured from the sky by the leaves of plants, to power the creation of sugars, carbohydrates, proteins, anti-oxidants,, etc . When we bite into an orange and swallow, that orange becomes perception, feeling,  intelligence.  Food is transformed into motion, choice,  creativity, even compassion.  

The truth is that everything we choose to buy  is a political act and really can make  a difference  in terms of fair labor, healthier land, water and air, healthier bodies and minds.

Put your money where your mouth is— an apt political slogan. We can go even further by such choices as avoiding genetically engineered food, by choosing food that is both organically and sustainably grown.

Another way would be to invite your friends and family over to your place for  an Earth Dinner** potluck where everybody brings an organic dish and does a little research into the main ingredients, sharing both the dish and a paragraph or two of the “personal story” of oranges or rice or carrots, etc.  Such potlucks can be held once a year on Earth Day, four times a year at each change of season, or even more often.

Harvesting and composting in a community or private garden, we can play a small but real part in the great food cycle. When we’re on all fours in a garden…we’re as close to our ancient ancestors as we’re going to get. *

But to fully re-discover the spiritual dimensions of food, we have to do more than taste and touch and see. We have to slow down and Imagine—  to remember, to perceive with our mind’s eye the miracles of flowering and pollination, the intricate folded instructions of a seed which , with a little water and soil, will wake up into a bush or a tree or a vine, eventually feeding us with its fruit.

Chlorophyll, means“lover of green”.

Green feeds us in another way too: by daylight, leaves store carbon dioxide gas and release oxygen into the air we breathe— a few minutes without it and we die.

Then there is the sheer beauty of food— natural, simple, pure, whole, food, especially when shared with others— which feeds more than our bodies.

Imagination is the capacity we all have of bringing to experience  much more than what is visible or tangible to us. We cannot see or hear the sunlight, water,  soil, and wind in each glowing segment of orange…but we can take time to remind ourselves and each other by re-telling  the “story” of how the orange in our hands arrived here—including the people who did the labor of harvesting and getting it to us.

When we do this, we feed ourselves and our friends and families, not only good food, but gratitude— and even wonder.

* Ted Kooser, former poet Laureate of the United States

**   The concept of the Earth Dinner as part of  Earth Day celebrations originated with Organic Valley Farms, a collective of organic farmers dedicated to organic food practices and education. It was my idea to make such dinners a part of our everyday life. Be creative about how you organize your dinners so that everyone has fun AND learns something about the food they are eating.  

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