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On Food and Ramadan: Towards a Less Food-Centric Existence

May 28, 2011

For the most part, food tends to be highly overrated.

I have started to believe that more and more, and one of my goals for this Ramadan would be to internalize this message. I think that process will involve two components:

1. Not just the killing hunger for food while fasting, but killing the need for good food in large volumes all the time
2. Developing a further awareness of and respect for where food comes from

In this post I will be focusing on the first bit: the emotional detachment from food.

It’s easy to say food is overrated and then scarf it down by the platefuls come sundown. The real challenge is not to posit one’s existence around their meals. Just fasting is not enough. The real challenge is not to dwell about the breaking of the fast, not to dream so much about it, and not to spend so much time everyday in preparation of it,not to anticipate it so much that our purpose and other much more meaningful passions become secondary.

Good food is awesome. There’s no denying that. And I’m not saying that iftar or any other meal is not meant to be enjoyed. A good, nourishing iftar with loved ones can do wonders for one’s spirits.

I’m just saying that a magnificent iftaar does not have to be an everyday event. By extension, an elaborate meal does not have to be an everyday event. In fact, not having such food will make you miss it more and, when you have it, enjoy it more. Isn’t that the kind of moderation that’s enjoined upon us?

I see no point in a day spent fasting if half that day is spent cooking and preparing elaborate meals. And I see a stark contrast in the love and care that goes into the preparation of food and the manner in which that food is polished clean within minutes, without as much as a Bismillah and a half-nod towards the cook. Gone are the days when every meal was an event, with each course being given the respect and enjoyment it warranted, when the amount of hard work and meticulousness and care that went into cooking was reflected in the manner where people enjoyed that food.

We’re still more than capable of that level of cooking and that level of enjoyment. When we are presented with good food, however, we’re just much more likely to take it for granted and don’t give it the time it deserves. That’s gluttony. That’s when overeating becomes sinful.

Foregoing food of any kind is the literal abstinence which is, on a surface level, what Muslims are ordained to do from sunrise to sunset in the month of Ramadan. What I’m interested in is how fasting can teach us to stop needing good food all the time, how it can help us re-orient food so that it is not the centre of our existence. It’s easy to abstain from food literally. How does one do it spiritually?

I think the answer lies in meaningful spiritual passion.

Find and get lost in another passion. Find joy in something that gives you purpose and meaning, whether it be writing, drawing, music, religious education, volunteer work, or being active in the community.

For when you are involved in something they are passionate about, food becomes secondary. When the neurons in your brain light up from that pleasure, the flakiness of a samosa doesn’t matter.

Imagine not eating for the sake of eating. Imagine eating just so that you have enough strength to do what you love. Imagine loving food even in its most simple forms. Grapes and cheese. Bread and butter with tea. And imagine reeling over on the days you are blessed enough to have a much richer gravy-ridden piece of meat on your plate. In what other body of faith do spiritual detachment and blissful enjoyment go hand-in-hand? If this isn’t being in the world but not of the world, I don’t know what is.

It’s about time we started playing our part in changing humanity’s attitude towards food. What better time to do so than Ramadan? By becoming Muslims who uncover the true treasures of this month, we can be in the forefront of the food movement that calls for a respect and gratitude for where food comes from, both ecologically and spiritually.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2011 3:31 pm

    MashAllah, you’ve said some important things here. It’ s funny, on the one hand, I feel like so much of my life revolves around food because it’s what we’re thinking about, writing about, and talking about (at http://www.beyondhalal.com for anyone who might be reading this…). On the other, we’re not really talking about food, we’re talking about Islam, ethics, sustainability, etc., while combating cruelty and injustice in its various manifestations. For me, I see food pulling together various strands in conversations on health (both literally and figuratively in terms of community health, family health), social justice, the environment, etc., because it is such an everyday thing that, even if we didn’t want to deal with, we must in order to live.
    Spiritually, Ramadan does offer something so precious in the way we relate to the everyday things. Socially, it seems like iftars are such a big deal that we can’t just have a simple meal and appreciate it; it has to be elaborate. I’m totally with you–I love the idea of stepping back, taking a deep breath, eating iftar (“not for the sake of eating” but to do what we love…beautiful) and moving on in order to get to the real purpose of the month.

  2. July 5, 2011 8:42 pm

    Ah, just the person I wanted to hear from on this post! 😀

    I’m so glad you understood what I’m driving at, and I don’t mean at all that the work that chefs and food activists do isn’t important. I think what I was getting at is that an approach to food should be comprised of a balance between deen and duniya. One can’t absolve themselves of responsibility simply by being monastic and not caring about food. There’s the flip side of the coin, which has to do with a conscientiousness about where our food comes from and how we treat our planet.

    While I had an easy time writing this aspect, I had a lot of difficulty writing on the latter part. How do I say that it’s possible to be a vegetarian for environmental reasons and still be a Muslim?

    But I didn’t need to say it. You guys did! That’s why the article How Michael Pollan Made Me a Muslim (http://beyondhalal.com/2011/06/in-search-of-a-good-life/) made me breathe such an enormous sigh of relief!

    So I’ll still write the second part about Ramadan being an opportunity towards becoming a more “compassionate” eater, though I’ll borrow from and link very heavily to the Beyond Halal site. That’s why I’m so happy about the site…it’s wonderful to know that there are Muslims thinking along those lines and taking it to the next level.

Trackbacks

  1. Going “Beyond Halal” | A Muslimah Writes
  2. A Guide to Ramadan for Myself « A Muslimah Writes

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