The legacy of Thanksgiving: gratitude, identity, and eating
Food is not traditionally included in the study of religion, but as our guest says, “everyone eats!” Ben Zeller is an associate professor of religion at Lake Forest College and a researcher of food’s relationship to religion. He says including food in religious studies is important because it re-centers religious studies on the lived experience of everyday people, as well as illuminating what a certain faith dictates about the body, self-control, celebration, and community. One feature of religion and food almost universal to every faith is feasting. Zeller also discusses arguably the biggest feast in America, Thanksgiving, and how it went from a regional day of prayer and gratitude, to the standardized, commercialized, civil holiday we celebrate today.
The spirituality of vegetarianism, veganism, and Jainism
Vegetarianism and veganism are not religions, but Ben Zeller of Lake Forest College says that in his research, the decision to stop eating meat and other animal products can be an incredibly meaningful shift in one’s philosophy of eating. For most vegetarians and vegans, their decision is not a religiously motivated one, but we talk to one man whose religion is at the center of his relationship with food. Shikhar Shah practices Jainism, which prohibits the consumption of meat, eggs, honey, and even root vegetables. Shah says that his faith’s approach to non-violence and conservation is something that informs his everyday life, and he carries that into his practice as a physician.
The Sikh tradition of langar hits the road
Langar is a simple meal served to the community after worship at a Sikh gurdwara. Though anyone is welcome, it’s usually served “in-house.” Then Ravi Singh, a Sikh man living in Los Angeles, decided to take this tradition on the road, to better serve the homeless and others most in need of a meal. He and his wife Jacquie started the “Share a Meal” food truck to distribute their rice, bean, and curry burritos. But now, their project has expanded thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers who are eager to help. Almost all are non-Sikhs, and Singh says, it’s the commitment to service that has brought them together.