On Dostoevsky and Loving Real Food

I’m currently working my way (admittedly rather slowly) through The Brothers Karamozov, a 700+ page masterpiece work of fiction by nineteenth century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. I make a habit of reading for 5-10 minutes every night when I get in bed, which I find relaxes my mind in a way that generally ends up in my conking out with the book laying open on my chest.

I came across a passage a few nights ago that has stuck with me, because it resonated with the way I’ve learned to think about the food that I buy, prepare, and consume — which, of course, includes the ice cream that I make.

It comes in Book Six, Chapter III (“Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zosima”). Father Zosima, an elderly monk who is nearing the end of his life, is midway through sharing his final thoughts and wisdom with Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov (the youthful protagonist) and other close friends in the monastery where they are cloistered. He entreats them:

Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

When I was a little boy, I remembering loving to look at plants and animals. My mom would take me to the Dallas Arboretum, and we would spend a whole morning or a whole day just walking around looking at flowers, admiring trees, rolling in the grass, picking up leaves off the ground. I also loved the zoo. I remember my dad taking me and a friend to the Fort Worth Zoo one time in particular — beaming with excitement and anticipation, because we drove all the way across the metroplex to see the zoo that was even bigger and better than the Dallas Zoo. I remember the joy of curiosity, and the simple amazement of seeing wild animals.

But as we grow up, we begin to find such things boring. We stop noticing the flowers, the grass, the multicolored trees all around us. Joy and curiosity at the natural world are replaced by a desire for efficiency, comfort, and profit. The earth that was once a place to love–a place worth loving and living on–becomes mundane and, for the most part, an obstacle to the things that we want.

And so our worlds become smaller. Our yards and neighborhoods cease to be places of beauty and limitless exploration, and become units of property that we pay strangers to maintain for us. Likewise, animals (wild and domestic) gradually cease to be creatures of wonder, and we come see them as pests to be exterminated or protein to be consumed.

As I’ve learned about local agriculture, the way plants grow, and how animals are raised over the past few years, I’ve found myself returning, with increasing frequency, to that childlike curiosity, joy, and love towards plants and animals around me wherever I am.

I’m passionate about eating real (and slow) food, in part because doing so pushes us to rediscover the beauty and wonder — and love — of the world around us. If we take the time to pause and ask seemingly mundane questions about what we put into our bodies to literally keep us alive on a daily basis– Where does my food come from? How does it grow? Who slaughtered this cow, and how did they do it? — we can’t help but remember that all of creation is connected and interwoven.

So I wonder: Do you love the food that you eat?

There are plenty of things that taste good for a moment because they activate the pleasure centers in our brains. But do you love what you put in your mouth and in your body?

Do you know what it’s made of? Do you love where your tomato came from, the methods and pesticides that were used to grow it? Do you love the farm and the butcher that the cow in hamburger came from, and the way that it was raised and killed as a fellow part of God’s good creation? Do you love the way your food makes you feel, not just for 10 minutes, but 2 hours later?

If not, why do you consume it? Why do you take it into your body as life?

Loving real food means loving more than a momentary taste in our mouths. It means loving the way the world works; the way plants grow and the way animals live; the way natural ecosystems provide what we need to survive; the way that in every bite we take, our lives are inextricably woven together with the lives of untold numbers of other people who planted, grew, harvested, slaughtered, delivered, and prepared that food.

And so it means better knowing, understanding, and loving the Creator of this world, who out of a love of unfathomable depth spoke into existence the earth and the sky, the plants and the animals, the sea and the dry land, and us — and who called it, and continues to call it, good.

“Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.”

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