Although food is something that we need to sustain us physically, there's a spirituality to food that is being increasingly acknowledged by consumers.
"To be healthy in mind, body and spirit, it's essential to be spiritually connected to the food you eat and to relish the experience of eating," said Heidi Demars, an organizer with the Bisman Food Co-op and 2013 Bush Fellow. "Understanding how to eat is just as important — sometimes even more so — as what to eat."
The word sacred simply means "set apart" or not of the ordinary, said Carolyn Baker, author, former psychotherapist and professor and managing editor of the eatlocalguide.com in Boulder County, Colo. "And often times something is sacred because it’s derived from something sacrificed," she said.
For Peter Bolland, humanities department chair and professor of philosophy and humanities at the School of Social Science, Business and Humanities at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Cali., all food is sacrifice, because all food is gained by death.
"When we eat, we kill. This is a truth not to be shunned, shamed or avoided — indeed it must be sanctified and embraced," he said.
Wherever you are on the vegan to omnivore spectrum, our lives rely on the continual ritual sacrifice of these life-forms, said Bolland.
"To eat unconsciously with no awareness of this sacred dynamic is to be out of step with the essential core of life itself," he said. "All life turns on this law, the law of sacrifice."
Historically, humans felt more connected to their food spiritually because they didn't know when or where their next meal would come from, said Baker.
"Historically, the hunter gatherers were the first humans that I know of, and they were totally dependent on food moment-to-moment and the weather and it was all about hunting animals, there was no agriculture at that point," she said.
Once humans settled and got sedentary, they connected their food with weather and the gods of their time, such as Osiris in Egypt and Ceres in Rome. "Our lives were very dependent on food, not hunting and gathering, but on the weather-sufficient rainfall and stable climate so they could raise those crops," said Baker.
For Demars, her involvement in the co-op has made her more mindful of the element of sanctity and sacrifice that comes from her food. It also has made her stop and savor how her food is prepared and learn to be grateful for where it came from and her ability to consume it.
"In no small way, when you eat joyfully, you bring more joy into your life, she said. "When you savor your meals, you learn to savor your life. And when you're accepting and grateful of the food you eat, you're more accepting of yourself. As strange as it might sound, when you're filled with love, joy, contentment, or calm while cooking your meals, the food you consume is also filled with that love."
Think about mom's home-cooked meals, she added, and how good they were. "The secret ingredient was love," said Demars.
Demars noted that issues with obesity in the United States, which have increased since the ’90s, also have made many consumers connect with food in a more meaningful way and seek healthier choices.
One step toward making healthier choices is to create rituals around healthier food choices, and for the Demars that meant growing a garden in the back yard, and having the children in the family help with cooking and taking turns being "chef of the day."
As consumers, Demars said the biggest question is how we can be more mindful of where our food is coming from and the people that produce it. This also means considering the long term consequences that might occur to our current food system.
"The important part of helping the long-term viability of our food system is by consumers becoming more self-sufficient and considering what that might mean to each individual," said Demars. "For us that's putting up a garden in our backyard, we don't have a lot of space, but we grow what we can."
Demars said that even a window garden to grow herbs can be helpful and/or utilizing community gardens located in the Bismarck and Mandan area.
Baker agreed, "The more deeply immersed we are in the sanctity of food and its origins, the more we are likely to be repelled by processed, genetically modified, and chemically-laden foods that have been produced by way of massive resource and ecological destruction, and which deliver more of the same to our physiology," she said.
You can “vote” three times a day with your fork, said Demars, by sourcing more from producers in the community.
"You can see what kind of practices they're using and you're reducing the environmental impact by buying food grown within a certain mile radius — the average food travels 1,200 miles," she said.
Demars also said that buying local also makes long-lasting investments into the community.
"If you're supporting a family that grows produce you're directly supporting those individuals and anyone they hire," she said.
Overall, Demars is optimistic that more people will focus on food as a spiritual practice for their families, friends and communities.
"There's a shift back to local in terms of people wanting to know where their food comes from and the effects their food choices make long term," she said.
For Baker, this consciousness towards local and organic is a deeper shift in society itself.
"Our horticulture movement and the growing of so many gardens, is our way of symbolically giving homily to the earth and acknowledging that we really do need you and we really are dependent on you," she said. "It's a sacred experience, an experience in reverence. You can't really work the earth and make things grow without some reverence and connection to the sacred and having the awareness of the power of the earth we have."