Food as a Defender of Culture


Of the myriad heavenly and earthly themes that season the epic poem The Odyssey, one of the most central is the meal. Homer uses eating, drinking, and the customs surrounding meals as a touchstone of character that reflects a person’s inmost nature. Thus is illustrated the true selves of the swinish suitors as they devour another man’s abundance; or the noble Menelaus as he waits upon young Telemachus; or the savage Polyphemus as he gorges on the dead. In all these scenes from the Homeric epic we find particular truths of our interior life revealed in something as simple as a meal.
The wisdom of depicting the act of eating as symbolic of the interior life is rooted in the mystical side of eating, an act essential for life and an occasion for the morality that springs from manners. The decline of the meal, therefore, reflects and contributes to the decline of life, of human culture. There is a new book that offers a rich solution to the crisis of food; a book designed to enrich and enliven the idea and identity of Catholicism that rises from a good meal like an aroma.
Breaking bread together is a deep sign of cultural togetherness for it bestows the natural nourishment of a person’s body as well as the supernatural nourishment of a body of people. A meal is a ritual: a manifestation of living together in harmony and health—an enactment of human civilization. Food provides a happy occasion for gathering and collective enjoyment, which is one of the pillars of friendship. As an essentially life-giving activity, the meal is like a sacrament of family and friends: a sign and strengthening of the life that follows and flows from those labors of love that bind people together. Meals also serve as a way of worship—a celebration of God’s gifts


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