Friday, August 21, 2020

Manners When Eating

All suffering lives are lamentable without exception. So begins the Peace Column of the Catholic Peace Weekly. The journalist writer recalls watching a video accusing an owner of beating and slaughtering a retired racehorse by a worker in Jeju. The writer couldn't put his favorite meat in his mouth for a few days. A feral cat searching for food, seeing all the pedestrians walking in the misty rain, was hiding under his car, a pathetic sight. He feels compassion even for a small cockroach struggling to live.

He doesn't know when these thoughts began entering his mind but possibly because of age. These days, he often frowns while surfing the TV channels. He is tired of seeing 'Mukbang' programs ( 'Mukbang' an eating show where the host binge-eats). YouTube space is no different. The smell of grilling and roasting and the sound of chewing is loud.

What he dislikes watching these 'Mukbang' shows is the attitude of the performers to the food. They cut off the live octopus's legs as if breaking a rubber band, putting them in their mouths, holding their belly button, and laughing. In one show the host puts a piece of a yellowfin tuna on his head and jumps around in front of the camera. They also play with chicken pieces as if they were toys. For them, the act of eating is nothing more than entertainment. It seems the  'Mukbang' shows appeal to the viewers. However, for the writer it's sad. The act of sacrificing another life and putting it in my body is not a joke.

I am not trying to diminish the behavior and pleasure of eating and drinking. All life must eat other life. Whether vegetarian or meat-eating, we die if we don't eat other life. Humans have been hunting since time immemorial, and now working fiercely in the forest of buildings to get food. The act of eating is a fundamental condition of life. However, people forget etiquette and reverence when eating.

There is a myth of "Bison Falls" among the Indian Blackfoots of the American Plains. A bison, destined to be eaten by humans, a tribal virgin is asked to dance and sing a song in hopes of reincarnation. This became an annual tribal bison dance ritual every year. It is a myth that cannot arise without gratitude for the sacrifice that the bison makes to serve the human need for food.  They see the similarity between humans and animals. The bison dance may have originated from the guilt and dilemma of having to kill another life.

Almost all religions, including Christianity, offer prayers at the table. Catholics are grateful for all the graces given to them at meals. It is thanks to God for giving us "every seed-bearing plant and fruit tree with seed” (Genesis 1:29) as food. The gratitude here extends to the mercy of the earth,  air, sun, wind and rain, and the labor of the farmer.  Extending also to the living beings that are sacrificed and become food for us.

There is a Western saying that "what I eat becomes me". Jeju racehorses were dragged into slaughterhouses, hitting their heads and backs with sticks, and slaughtered in front of other horses. The horse meat must have been labeled as a special Jeju product and appeared in a market someplace. Meat covered with the blood of barbarism and cruelty cannot be good for the human body. The octopus leg that the entertainer ate was not something to eat but a toy.

Do not eat anything casually. The attitude toward a piece of meat on a plate can be an attitude toward oneself. That attitude shapes my personality and consciousness. I should put it in my mouth with gratitude and swallow it with reverence.

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