Feeding the Soul

Posted on October 12, 2014 by Lauri Ringer


Years ago, I dined with a surgeon friend who ordered a meal that was a favorite from his childhood. I was curious as I watched him dig into his fat-laden meal. Finally, I had to ask him, “How can you — a medical doctor — eat food that you know is unhealthy for you?”

Almost like he was christening his coronaries with the sludge he was ingesting, he calmly answered, “As a physician, most of the time I eat food to feed my body. But I also know that sometimes I need to feed my soul.”

After that meal, I thought a lot about the idea of feeding the soul, and I came to the conclusion that it involves more than just the food on my plate.

Most of the time, our relationship with food is elementary and we eat food to feed our bodies. But tapping into how food feeds our souls elevates a common necessity (eating) to a rite that lends meaning and purpose to our lives.

Examples of how food feeds the soul abound — in religion, family tradition, geographical identity, socialization, and by connecting us to nature.

In religious observances, food is intended to nourish the soul. Some examples that come to mind are Christianity’s Holy Communion, Judaism’s Passover Seder, and Islam’s Ramadan.

Religion also incorporates abstention from food into its rituals and liturgy. Forgoing food can enhance its sacredness. When food is removed from our table, we tend to turn inward for sustenance. After a fasting period, food has more meaning and vibrancy. The process of fasting and then eating again reawakens the both the senses and the soul.

As to family tradition, food can touch our earliest memories. Just as my surgeon friend fed his soul with a favorite dish from his childhood, people often associate foods from childhood with feelings of comfort, security, and love. We all inherited food traditions from our families — mom’s peanut butter cookies, Sunday pancake breakfasts, hot dogs from the ballpark when we went to games with dad.

We can pass on these familial treasures or we can build new food associations with being safe and loved. Whether it is a monthly meal at a favorite restaurant or a home-cooked dinner, we can start family traditions with our children, parents, or siblings.

Anthony Bourdain’s television series “Parts Unknown” does an excellent job of highlighting how food feeds the soul of people’s geographical identities. From Paraguay and Thailand to the Bronx and the Mississippi Delta, every week Bourdain takes his viewers on a cultural excursion with food as the centerpiece. To feel the soul of a location, it’s important to eat foods that are emblematic of the culture.

Indigenous foods speak to the soul of people all over the world. Tahitian vanilla bean, Irish black pudding, Maryland crab, New Zealand lamb — every place has a food, a crop, or a dish with which they especially identify. Food from the homeland feeds our souls because it elicits feelings of comfort, pride, and familiarity, much like our family traditions do.

Socialization often revolves around food as well. We break bread with others and socialize over meals. On a primitive level, eating a meal with someone signifies trust, intimacy, and generosity.

The mere fact that archeologists suggest that food sharing goes back to prehistoric times speaks to our collective conscience. If humankind has a collective soul, I believe it can be found at the dinner table we share with our prehistoric ancestors.

Lastly, feeding our souls connects us to nature, just as nature connects us to our souls.

It’s a near-spiritual experience to eat an entire meal aware of how food engages your senses. Behold the rainbow of colors, patterns, and composition of the foods; taste the varying flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, spicy); smell the scents (pungent, flowery, fruity); feel the temperatures and textures of the food against the tongue and roof of your mouth.

When we are acutely aware of our food, we honor not only the bounty of Mother Nature but the breathtaking fact that we possess the ability to experience it through our senses.

Reminding ourselves of these things helps us to appreciate the delicious and readily available food we eat. And when we recognize that food does much more than just feed our bodies, we satisfy not just our hunger but our souls.

Bon Appetit!

19 responses to “Feeding the Soul”

  1. Mike Miller says:

    Beautifully said! Thank you.

  2. Frank says:

    It's the carbs that are killing people not good fats.Diabetes being the main problem from eating carbs. Diseases like MS and ALS coming from starving the brain and nerves of the fat they ned to work. Meat,fish,poultry,nuts,greens and a little fruit are what humans need to eat not grains and legumes which contain phytotoxins.

    • Phil says:

      I cannot claim to be a dietary expert, but it seems to me that the healthiest foods are those nearest to a raw state as possible. There is something called, I think, the "Caveman Diet" which promotes a similar approach to eating.

  3. Adrian Citroni says:

    Very well put, Lauri.

  4. Willl says:

    Can't stand a negative comment ,huh sludge indeed ?

  5. Dave Magnuson says:

    Insightful post Lauri. "trust, intimacy and generosity" is real soul food. Thank You.

  6. Gary Waltrip says:

    "people often associate foods from childhood with feelings of comfort, security, and love" — that's a memorable quote. It explains why each of my sons looks forward to a certain dish cooked by mom, whenever they are able to come home.

  7. Robby Bonfire says:

    Just as people will do ~anything~ for money; so will they do anything for food, when it is scarce. So you could say
    "The love of food is the root of all evil." lol.

    • lauri_ringer says:

      I appreciate the lol. Your quip touches on an interesting point.

      In the Western World, we take our "food security" for granted. One out of nine people in the world go to bed hungry. World hunger is a complex issue that gets into politics and other ethical, cultural, and scientific issues that I decided were outside the scope of this article.

  8. CharlieM says:

    Nice Post.

    Souls are fed by good communication, as well.

  9. Very well written. Nice!

  10. Michael Michael says:

    Although I'm sure not everyone will agree (the vegetarians among us) but hunting for your food also brings you back to your ancestral roots and closer to the cycle of life in nature.

    It certainly makes you aware of what you are eating and what actually goes into that McNugget or hamburger you are shoving down your throat without a second thought.

  11. Jim Hallett says:

    Different foods from different cultures, or even different parts of the USA is one of the best parts of traveling. Why eat fast food junk or at a chain restaurant, when even the simplest home-cooked meal or at least a specilaty fixed in the local tradition is so much more enjoyable? I love the adventure of trying new foods, and most of the time, I eat very healthy, but a lot can be said for taking a few days a month off for eating some comfort food – whatever that might be. It is the processed junk and all the sugar that is hurting the health of so many, not fat. I love all the variety – Middle Eastern, Indian curries, Thai, SW & Mexican, NZ lamb, paella & ceviche, authntic Italian (sorry, not Olive Garden!) and on it goes. Bon appetit!

  12. Miriam miriam says:

    For us compulsive overeaters, we find too much comfort in food and use it to fill a void in our lives. I wish i didnt find so much comfort in it. But when you never get comfort from others, you try in some way to comfort yourself.

    • lauri_ringer says:

      Miriam, your post touched me. Like you, I LOVE food. It's possible – though not easy – to change your relationship with food without giving up the joys of eating. I worked in the food business for twenty years with some of the finest chefs in the country and was a bona fide food snob. I've changed my diet a few times for health reasons – all that gourmet food wreaked havoc on my body – and discovered ways to change my food perspective.

      I went from full-on gourmet to a mostly raw diet – http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/raw-food-diet. I am not a physician and there are lots of dietary life-styles to consider but the raw life-style works for me. I can prepare insanely delicious and complex menus, which is part of my relationship with food, and I can dine at most restaurants.

      Besides a rainbow of vegetables and tons of nuts and seeds that are used in preparation, I eat raw cheese – which simply means unpasteurized. I, also, eat meat and fish that are raw, have been lightly cooked, or seared (had a yummy "black and blue" steak recently,) sushi, ceviches, carpaccios, cured or air-dried fish and meats like gravlax and proscuitto. It is a lot of work and preparation but, for me, it's worth it.

      You don't need comfort from others to find new comfort in the joys of healthy food. Don't give up your love of food or the comfort you find in it…create new food associations for yourself. It takes commitment but it's worth it!

  13. Miriam miriam says:

    Lauri, Thank you for your loving response.

  14. Vera says:

    “As a physician, most of the time I eat food to feed my body. But I also know that sometimes I need to feed my soul.”- well spoken. Dog facts.

  15. Ying says:

    Thanks for sharinhg this information. Intresting concept on feeding the soul. To feel the sole of location like thailand its important to food that is show the culture of location. So if you are in bangkok you must visit Sukhumvit restaurant .