On Losing, Living, and Eating Emphatically

I wrote this a while ago, but I’ve been thinking of it lately and needed the reminder that food matters in these ways. We all do from time to time, I’d say.

At the crux, food is about living. We eat and share food for a host of reasons, but at its essence, food gives us life. That is why it is crucial at times of loss to eat and share food. When someone dies, it is not only culturally courteous, but literally, significantly helpful, to bring a meal to the bereaved. The term “bereave” means to have something taken from you. We have all been bereaved. We’ve lost jobs, expectations, opportunities, abilities, and people we love because they’ve died or left. It is instinctive and astoundingly effortless to stop eating when we’ve lost something. It’s a way of our bodies saying, usually unconsciously, “Something that gave me a reason to live is gone.” And so we do our part in a seemingly small way to inch closer to them, closer to absence.

Shrug this off as a morbid soapbox, but concede this: Eating can be the active choice to live. Eating a meal when you feel the wound of what was ripped from inside you is the very act of one day after another, one step in front of the other, one bite back to life. Living is not a passive undertaking. We may stay in bed or loaf about in our pajamas for days on end, ignoring the world and any future we have in it, but that in itself will not kill us. Not eating will. Granted, we are all guilty of eating mindlessly when hurried or bored. But think of the emphatic action of taking a drink of water when you’ve tasted nothing but tears for hours. And think of the enormous empathy in offering that water. If eating is the active choice to live, then sharing food is the act of saying, “I want you to live and I want to share in that life.”

Food matters. Being conscious of what we put into our bodies, when we do, and with whom we share meals, is the essence of meeting our most basic needs. Maslow’s Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization all come after the physiological root of Breath, Water, and Food. There are times in our lives when we can only ask of ourselves and others to just keep breathing, drink, and eat. When you survive a fresh loss, save the morality and spontaneity for another time. I believe we too often are trying to infuse exceptional meaning and matter into every single minute, making sure we’re remembered, to be noticed saying something like this brooding post. We want our lives to be witnessed.

A couple months ago, I lost the person that has witnessed my waking up and lying down. I lost the person that filled what is now a sizable hole in my heart. Unluckily, it’s a recognizable bereavement, a recurrent wound. Not death, but the familiar wrenching of another relationship dissolved. I may have failed love again, but I have been fed well and sought the nourishment to keep me going day to day to day, one foot in front of the other, one bite back to life.

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that each meal can be radical to the psyche. It’s necessary to note that food can’t fill a void, nor should we try to make it, but that food can fill hope, literally fueling a future. So instead of focusing on the pain and how we’re going to manage, acknowledge the loss, drink a glass of water, breathe deeply, and accept a meal when it’s offered.


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