When Washing Rice, Know That the Water Is Your Own Life: An Essay on Dōgen in the Age of Fast Food
This chapter calls attention to the absence of philosophic study on the subject of food and explores its implications. The essay frames this absence in terms of a “bi-fold non-appearance of food” (a widespread mindlessness and ignorance toward the essential component of life that is food). The consequences of food’s bi-fold non-appearance can be viewed clearly in our increasingly distanced relationship with food, our rapid loss of cultural food knowledge, and companies purposefully concealing knowledge about their practices. The essay warns that the dire state of our relationship with food is a symptom of a much larger “non-appearance of nature,” where mindlessness has led to massive man-made ecological disasters.
The essay turns to the thirteenth century Zen master Eihei Dōgen for insight into how to remedy this situation. Dōgen was known for encouraging bottom-up philosophy—starting with small, often overlooked aspects of our environment, such as food, as the basis for philosophic study—as opposed to top-down philosophy, where theoretical discourse attempts to fit a philosophic model onto the world. The essay then discusses Dōgen’s writings on Zazen—a meditative practice that seeks to develop a state of Zen consciousness where the boundaries between subject and object are dissolved. Finding the Dao in food preparation can also attain this state of consciousness. The essay challenges us to reckon philosophically to see food, because, without it, one cannot see at all. We need to recognize our lack of seeing as the force by which our ecological destruction is propelled.
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