• Fruits form part of an offering during a Hindu festival in India. (Getty Images / Noah Seelam )Source: Getty Images / Noah Seelam
As a Hindu, fasting is part of my religious practice. But there's so much more than that to the links between food and faith.
By
Sarina Lewis

19 Jan 2017 - 11:02 AM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2017 - 4:25 PM

It was at a book launch late last year in downtown Margaret River that I realised the complex and deep connections that I’ve created between faith and food.

“So, who do you know here?” I propositioned the tall and interesting looking blonde woman hovering by the herring hor d’oeuvres (an edible showcase for the newly minted herring cookbook). She seemed as unconnected as I to the small group of the author’s friends and relatives who’d turned out in their Saturday afternoon finest. I felt as conspicuous as she looked. She was German, as it turns out. We got talking. Things got interesting.

She asked what I was doing there. I told her the truth: The publishing house responsible for the launch was looking at a manuscript of mine; they’d sent me an invite and it seemed right to come. When she asked what my book was about, I felt prepared.

“It’s about God and food and identity,” I recited, my elevator pitch by now perfected, “and where I fit at the axis of those things.”

She considered me, unblinking: “What does God have to do with food?”

I think it took me a full three seconds to process her question. What does God have to do with food?

What DOESN’T God have to do with food?

I was stunned. The truth was that I had told and re-told that elevator pitch countless times and no one had ever asked me that question. It stopped me because I couldn’t really address it, other than to tell her that, as a Hindu, fasting is part of our religious practice. But that wasn’t the answer. Not really.

Growing up, visits to New Delhi and our ashram meant the giving and receiving of prasad, a consumable blessing. Each time we’d make the hour-long journey from South Delhi to Sohna, Dad would stop our driver at the heaving market a few kilometres from the ashram turn-off to buy fruit – bunches of sweet black-spotted bananas, loose-skinned mandarins and those soft Indian apples whose meringue-like texture made them, for me, inedible. Upon arrival we’d offer this fruit at the feet of our guru who would, in turn, offer a piece back to us. THIS piece we would take with a cup of viscose chai. I say ‘take’, because consuming the fruit wasn’t an end to hunger, it was spiritual medicine – a figurative mouthful of God.

This wasn’t the only time as child that I experienced the link between food and God.

It saw it every time I watched my Indian grandmother, my Ammie, eat when – at the beginning of every meal – her elegant tailor’s fingers would pinch a small portion of sabzi and rice from her thali that would be put aside and offered, via the garden, to God.

I felt it in the cool wet of the turmeric tika mixed with wet sandalwood paste that was used to mark our forehead during special religious festivities.

I heard it in the tales of Ganesh and his crazed love for laddus told to me by Dad.

But mainly I ate it every night at my dinner table – no matter if we were in New Delhi or our Australian home of Torquay – because we had woven in to us as a family the knowledge that our Kashmiri roots had been seeded in a bed of spice and that this bed of spice tied us by superstition and story to the Hindu pantheon.

How does one explain the transformation of a banana in to a blessing? Belief.

Needless to say, when asked by a German woman eating herring pate at a café on Margaret River main street what God has to do with food I did not have the wherewithal to recount any of that.

Taking the time to think more about it has helped me to understand that so much of the difficulty in explaining what joins food to faith is not in the complexity of the tales that need to be told, but in identifying what it is that allows me to connect the physical and the ephemeral.

In other words, how does one explain the transformation of a banana in to a blessing? Belief.

Now I have no idea of the neurology of belief, but I do have experience of its physiology. I know what it FEELS like. I know that the transformation of fruit in to faith requires a change in perspective. And I know that I have access to that perspective because I choose to allow it. I allow it because I am willing to suspend doubt in order to find supreme beauty in living a life whereby my deities dine with me in spirit every night at my family table – the fantastical quality of such existence that provides me with a sense of strength and connection to both my genetic past and a godly power.

Belief is one tool we can use to help us navigate life’s mystery. Once engaged everything that we do becomes an act of faith because faith becomes the lens through which we see the world. And with faith as our lens, the unexplainable becomes indistinguishable from the quotidian. It’s not just that food is faith, but that everything is.

So Shivaji, Ganseshji, Devi, Krishna – these are my Garam Masala Gods. As indispensable to the food that I cook as the turmeric, cumin and chilli I use to flavour every plate.

Love the story? Follow the author on Facebook

Discover different perspectives on faith and religion in Shaun Micallef's Stairway to Heaven. Watch episode 1 below then see following episodes Wednesdays at 8.30pm on SBS, or via SBS On Demand

Food and faith
Falafel, faith and deep-fried mystery food: Shaun Micallef eats America
Extreme faith? Try extreme food. Comedian Shaun Micallef was in America to discover what life's like as a Mormon, but his digestive system got as much of a challenge as his thoughts on spirituality.
Sweet devotion
In Sicily’s hilltop town of Monreale, one pasticcièra is keeping alive traditional biscuits once prepared there by Catholic nuns in the 16th Century.