While in Papua New Guinea, I shared rent with a Japanese colleague. One day, when it was just the two of us at the table, I saw her pause before she started eating.
“ Everything ok?
- Yeah, I’m just thanking the food in my plate.
- You’re what?
- Yes, in Japan, we always thank the spirit of our food once they’re cooked, I’m thanking them for their sacrifice to feed me.”
This moment was a revelation for me. I loved the idea of thanking an animal’s spirit, that died so I could eat. I like the idea of being grateful for the sacrifice of a living being. Even though it’s not self-sacrifice, but really humans who breed to feed. The animal doesn’t have a say. As for peas and carrots, I don’t get it.
Maiko, my colleague in question, added that this was the reason why she never threw away food. This principle really guides her life. I do the same, but for me it’s more about avoiding waste, reducing consumption and my spendings. For her, it’s about honoring the sacrificed food, so that the sacrifice was not in vain. I spoke to Ayuko, another Japanese colleague, about this. She also does it, but more out of cultural habit rather than choice.
As I would love to be a vegetarian but cannot because I love meat too much, I really identify with Maiko’s animist beliefs and they help me to feel less guilty when I indulge in a juicy T-bone. This might seem hypocritical for some, but personally I find a way to be coherent with my beliefs, to be respectful of living beings…
I immediately thought of Christian grace, but beware, that’s not it! They were both adamant about it, it’s not a prayer, but giving thanks. They don’t address God, but rather the food’s spirit.
Place: Papua New Guinea
Author: Valérie Mietton
On her first humanitarian mission, and a first posting in a non-Western country, Valérie discovers Papua New Guinea, a strange country, and colleagues from all over.
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