Language We Use Around Food
by Sam Pinnick
Language we use around food - Words for Shavuot 2019
Food is at the heart of Jewish life and culture. In the Torah food is the basis of a rich and subtle language that G-d communicates with Israel. It’s used to explore themes as love and compassion, justice and belonging, life and death.
Whenever someone hears I’m a Registered Nutritional Therapist, people always ask seemly simply questions relating to their health or an article they’ve read or a 3rd hand hearsay! But the body is not a seemly simply structure – it’s complex, ingenious, resilient but also vulnerable to so many variables such as environment, genetics, antecedents and triggers.
I’m fascinated by the role and mechanics of our organs – and the process of when you eat food how it is broken down into specific compounds and used for different purposes. But this has only a certain impact on our health. The lifestyle choices we make regarding sleep, stress and exercise are also part of the equation that make us individual. But I’m understanding more and more that our thoughts are at the core of all these decisions. The emotions we attach to situations, relationships and foods influence all these actions.
The language we use when talking to ourselves about the choices we make regarding the food we eat, or the people we interact with, what we prioritise or the level of stress we deem acceptable – is so important.
This room is full of educated, privileged women – we know when something isn’t right with our friends and family members. We use positive language to determine how we can support them but generally when it comes to ourselves the same isn’t true.
The language becomes unkind, negative or at worse complacent. You hear people say: “I can’t complain” or “as good as it gets” or “I’m used to the pain – I’ll survive”. There are lots of negative references with food too. I don’t eat this, can’t eat that, shouldn’t eat this, or I’ve had a bad food-day, or I’ve been naughty with my food choices, or I’ve got no will-power, or no self-discipline regarding foods!
Obviously, there are exceptions – those with certain illnesses, diseases, allergies, intolerances or sensitivities - all know that certain foods will make them feel unwell.
But food is information, it fuels our body and feeds our soul. It supports everything from our immune system, cognitive health and obviously our digestive health. To be honest I could talk for days on the benefits of prepping meals, of chicken soup, of positive judgements around food – even just about the importance of keeping hydrated. But today’s brief asked for a talk peppered with Jewish references.
So, I used that brief as an excuse to purchase yet another book! From Forbidden Fruit to Milk and Honey “A commentary on Food in the Torah” was compiled by Diana Lipton and all proceeds from the book go to Leket Israel an innovative food rescue charity. The book takes every sedra and looks for the food references and explains them – A great gift for anyone who’s a foodie like me!
Shabbat’s parasha, Bemidbar talks about the heart of a Jewish relationship to food. The Shulchan Aruch ‘The Set Table’ links the order of food and the order of religious living. As the Israelites are travelling through the Wilderness they weep and moan “If only we had meat to eat!” (Num 11:4) referring to an uncontrolled lust for the food of their past life as slaves.
In a midrash (Rabbah 5:2) on Shabbat’s parasha Bemidbar, it discuss the importance of social justice where food is concerned. (Prov 22:22) A rich person who does not support those who are needy is actively robbing the poor. The social order, which a religious attitude to food demands, is impossible to maintain without a heightened sense of social justice.
In last week’s parasha, Behukkotai it says “if you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. You shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land” (Lev 26:3-5)
I find this one of the most evocative visions of plenty. Security being associated with having sufficient food, not with safety from enemies.
Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of the 10 commandments. Before Moses goes up to receive the commandments he is joined by Yitro (his father-in-law) and seventy elders to “eat before G-d” (Exodus 18:12).
Every Shabbat and Chag - Blessings are recited over a cup of wine and then cholla and thanks is given once the meal has been enjoyed.
As Jewish women, most of us are feeders. We feed our children, family and friends, some even the community. But what about ourselves? Regardless of the emotional attachment to a particular comfort food, we all feel better after a home-cooked-from-scratch meal.
But how many of us skip meals? Avoid exercise? Take on everyone’s problems? Surround ourselves with negative people? Live in pain or discomfort? Accept the unacceptable?
So, I urge you to be kind to you. Use positive language. And be generous with your emotions towards yourself.