Food is fuel, isn’t it? A meal for a human is the equivalent of adding wood to our fireplace. After all, our body temperature must be maintained at about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Just as a home furnace converts firewood, coal, oil, or natural gas into heat, so do our bodies convert food into heat. Naturally we feel cold when we are famished.
But if food is just fuel, why do we crave steak and fries today; eggplant parmesan tomorrow, and spinach quiche the next day? Why don’t we want celery and peanut butter every day? After all, we don’t fuel our fireplaces with wood today and coal tomorrow. Clearly something else is going on. Food is far more than merely fuel.
Strangely enough, the orifice through which we insert this food/fuel is a multi-purpose appliance. We eat with our mouths but we also use them for speech. I am not sure what biological purpose is served by the mouth doing both, but I do know what spiritual lesson it teaches. Just as what we take in to our mouths can be either healthy or harmful, so the words that come out of our mouths can also be either healing or hurtful.
There’s another similarity between the two functions of the mouth. Speech converts the spirituality of abstract thought into the physicality of vibrating air molecules, while eating converts the physicality of food into the spiritual by making it possible for the eater to continue conceiving abstract thoughts.
A baby forms its first relationship with its mother through its mouth. Babies gain far more than merely nourishment when their mothers feed them. It is no surprise therefore that adults also have a spiritual relationship with food. Most of us have certain ‘comfort foods’ that alter our moods. Often they bring about a feeling of security and deep contentment—not unlike what a nursing baby’s facial expression conveys. It is easy to see that there is this close connection between food and our spiritual condition. For this reason, when people tragically suffer from eating disorders, they need the attention of not just nutritionists, but also psychiatrists. The patient is suffering spiritually.
We drink alcohol, as well, largely for spiritual purposes— to modify our moods. Not surprisingly wise monks used to refer to alcohol by its Latin term, “spiritus,” or as we might say today, spirits. Like so much else we take in through our mouths, the purpose of alcohol is not merely physical.
We eat not only to be filled but just as importantly, to be fulfilled. From which it follows that if we know nothing of the spiritual aspect of food and eating, spiritual satiation from food eludes us. The terrible result is that we keep on eating, desperately seeking a feeling of fullness which never comes. Eating only for the physical assures that we don’t stop once we have eaten as much as the body really needs. Sadly, we keep eating. And eating.
The above explains how ancient Jewish wisdom describes these words of the wise King Solomon:
When a man labors to feed only his [physical] mouth, his soul never becomes satiated. – (Ecclesiastes 6:7)
Regaining our spiritual relationship with food is the surest way to curb our appetite. Once we are properly deriving not only physical nourishment from our food but also spiritual nourishment, we are more easily able to stop eating when our bodies have had enough. Obesity was not part of God’s plan for our bodies. But as a society becomes ever more secular, it is no wonder that we are all eating far more than our bodies actually need. We are eating to try and gain the spiritual fulfillment for which we yearn.
Three of ancient Jewish wisdom’s secrets for healthier eating focus on emphasizing the spiritual by:
- Avoid eating alone or in a rushed environment. Make conversation an important part of your meal. God made it impossible to eat and speak simultaneously so listen while you eat and chew; speak while your table companion is eating.
- Place smaller amounts on your spoon or fork enabling you to slowly savor each mouthful. Extract all the taste while concentrating on a good and loving God who makes the process of fueling your machine so pleasurable. Avoid swallowing inadequately chewed food.
- Begin and end each meal with a blessing of gratitude and appreciation. These short prayers bracketing the eating process helps to trigger the spiritual and emotional aspect of eating which will telegraph the feeling of fullness to you as soon as your body has had enough.
Passover provides an intersection between physical and spiritual eating. It is a unique festival in its demands to consume certain foods while avoiding others. Use this opportunity to get the spiritual nourishment you’ve been craving.