Eaters and Eaten
One of the ways we celebrate important occasions is by eating. Festivals, whether religious or secular, are times for joyful observance of something worth remembering, and tend to be annual, since the regular solar cycle makes a good periodic reminder.
I grew up in a Jewish family, but also in a Christian community, and each tradition had its own foods, prepared and consumed in special ways. Some legendary origins of these festivities go far back in historic time. A good example is the Hebrew holiday called “Passover,” which supposedly commemorates what we might call a Survival Epic, in which the nasty oppressors – in this case the Egyptians – were holding their Judaic victims in bondage – i.e. as slaves. But the Lord – who, of course, was always on the side of the Good Guys – and who had already inflicted nine terrible disasters (“plagues”) on their captors, apparently to no effect except to harden the heart of their leader, Pharaoh, still has one shockingly severe punishment up His sleeve. Somehow, in a single night, the oldest offspring of every Egyptian family, and even of their livestock, is to be struck dead. But the Jews, identified by a special mark on the doorposts of their dwellings, are to be spared, or “Passed Over.”
And somehow, tied in with all this, is a special dietary injunction to forego the use of yeast in the baking of bread (supposedly because, in the course of their hasty exodus, there would not be time for baking the traditional way). Hence the connection, which has lasted to this day, between the celebration of “Passover” and the eating of flat, dry, unleavened bread called “Matzo.”
Another very interesting example of how baked goods have (or may have) figured in History, or pseudo-History, has to do with events (or alleged events) leading up to the French Revolution. The Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, when told that many members of the peasantry were dying for lack of bread, is supposed to have responded “Let them eat cake.” Dubious History, but just the words to fire up a people to begin cutting off heads.
Of course, there is also a long tradition of people eating each other. This can be practiced to satisfy various needs, including hunger, religion, and even the quaint belief that the eater may thereby acquire any desired characteristics of the eaten. Believe it or not, there are no fewer than eight cannibal cookbooks currently available on the open market, some of them quite serious, others – so to speak – tongue in cheek. Of the latter category, I would recommend one called You Are Who You Eat, by Ina Hillebrandt.
But there are all kinds of people – from gourmands to gourmets – who specialize in eating. There are restaurant critics who go around giving, or not giving, stars for the quality of the food and the service. And there are any number of jokes about patrons who complain about finding a fly in their soup. Such as:
“Customer: Waiter, what is this fly doing in my soup? Waiter: The backstroke.”
Then there are favorite foods, which, judging from the relative popularity of thousands of my epigrams, must, at least in our culture, include chocolate and peanut butter – with lines like these:
“If chocolate could teach, I would by now be extremely well educated.”
“Chocolate is great, but Love is greater – and the greatest of all loves is Love of Chocolate.”
“But after you have gone, I will still have Peanut Butter.”
“What is truly divine – apart from Peanut Butter?”
But the whole subject of eating is one which has fascinated the interest – dare I say, consumed the attention – of myself and my readers, with such Brilliant thoughts as:
“If forced to choose, I’d almost always rather eat than fight.”
“I’m very good at eating – Can you tell me where they need eaters?”
“The only way to make sure you get enough is always to have a little too much.”
“After breakfast, does anything matter but lunch?”
“What good is it if I talk in flowers, while you’re thinking in pastry?”
As for being at the other end of the food chain, look no further than:
“Didn’t you know? It’s always an honor to be eaten by a superior creature.”
Which calls to mind the Shmoo, a creation of cartoonist Al Capp in his comic strip Li’l Abner. Among the Shmoo’s adorable characteristics was the fact that it was delicious, and always enjoyed being eaten.