Eating is a primal nourishing act that connects us to the world around us. By the very process of taking in food, we transform the external environment into our internal environment. Meals are a celebration of our interdependence with nature. Yet in these modern, frenetic, convenience-ridden times, that sense of celebration has been banished from the few minutes we call lunch or dinner. Mealtimes have become more of a bother than a pleasant daily ritual that gives focus to our lives.
The Latin word focus means hearth or fireplace. In ancient and pre-industrial times, the hearth was the center of the house. Greek babies were welcomed into the family by the hearth; Roman marriages were sanctified at the hearth; families took their meal by the hearth.
While most of us have kitchens, the hearth is what is missing from many of our lives. But the hearth and the focus it symbolizes are easier to come by than we may think. Focus evolves from simplicity. It’s the humble, inconspicuous things that put us in touch with our nature—and its regular practice that makes the connection deeply felt.
In Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, the philosopher Albert Borgmann talks of simple routine activities – a good run, a good meal – that bring into focus the meaning of our existence. Borgmann writes that “truly human eating is a union of the primal and the cosmic. The very act of eating puts us in touch with the spiritual forces of the universe.”
At one time, food went from the land to the kitchen table. Today it goes from the land to the factory to the packaging plant to the supermarket to the freezer to the microwave and, at last to the table. In the words of author Wendell Berry, “The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are in exile from biological reality.”
When fresh ingredients are well-prepared and brought to the table, the meal becomes a catalyst that connects us to ourselves, to each other and to the world around us. It reaffirms our humanness; it reinforces our relationship to the earth and to each other, it takes us back to the hearth; and it makes us humble.
By Laurie Niehof
Excerpted from Back To The Hearth Macrocosm Magazine, Winter 95