This post is an extract from the article in the Hedgehog Review, Fall 2019, by Wilfred M. McClay and an invitation to follow the link and read the whole thing! As he suggests, food is a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of how we transcend it. Did you know that Babette’s Feast is a favourite film of Pope Francis?
We are animals too, with animal needs and animal limitations just like those of our dogs and cats and squirrels and horses and all the rest, creatures great and small. For us, as for all of them—all of organic life, for that matter—the perpetuation of life requires at every moment a steady flow of nutrition, which we derive from our taking into ourselves the lives of plants and animals and metabolizing them, then eliminating what is left over from that process. Not to put too fine a point on it, we kill and appropriate and eliminate. We are guilty from the start, in a sense, of valuing our own life more highly than the lives of other living things. That is, in a sense, the original sin of all living beings, the sin entailed in merely existing at all—a thought that would never occur to us, were we nothing but animals.
But food is not only a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of the ways we transcend our animality. Just as we are not souls without bodies, so we are not bodies without souls. The two are distinguishable but inseparable. Unlike the other animals, we are not content to take our food as it comes to us. We don’t do a lot of desperate bone-gnawing. Instead, we do a lot of work on our food, and it gains value from the infusion of all our loving labour.
Post-Christmas is a good time to reflect on our eating and our food preparation, the love that stirs the spoon, the shared table and the love that flows from it; the Shared Table of the Eucharist which transcends all meals. Do go and read it.