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Culture, knowledge, food for peace in Expo Milano 2015, the world’s religions dialogue

Culture / -

Colors, flavors, fragrances, words from the soul: a great sense of unity characterized the day of September 1 at Expo Milano 2015 the “Food for the Spirit of the Milan Charter". Representatives of the world's main religions met together to address the issues of food security, waste, awareness, and of food as nourishment for body and soul. The blessing of the dishes, brought by participants of all denominations from 68 countries, was an intense moment, one that conveyed the strength of unity and dialogue. Those in attendance left with a smile for the day and the hope of peace and confidence for tomorrow.

Denying the planet its food means obstructing its spiritual growth

Culture / -

Carlo Serra
Alessandro Cremasco © Expo 2015

Too many human beings in the world today are denied food, and denying someone food is not just a matter of making them hungry, it means denying them the dignity of being human, and the possibility of growth and self-awareness.

Buddha Shakyamuni is often depicted holding a bowl in his left hand while his right hand makes a teaching gesture. This fact clearly means that the teaching has to do with food. But what exactly is it?
We are all gathered here today in a moment of shared awareness of food, represented by the Milan Charter, because for most religions food has a value that goes far beyond a substance or a product. It ought to be a substance of awareness, for everyone: but we are so used to eating hurriedly, alone, standing up, and often busy performing various other multitasking actions at the same time, that we are unable to give it any value beyond its taste quality and our personal pleasure. If it has been felt necessary to dedicate nothing less than a Universal Exposition to food, it means that our relationship with food needs a 360° overhaul. In its Original Nature, for all religions, food was not something to be traded for profit or power, as it has become. Food needs to go back to being a nourishment of awareness for human beings, restoring our awareness that our body is the food we eat, and our mind and our spirit are the food we eat too: for Buddhism, mind, body and spirit are a single essence.
Helping to restore this important vision of unity is one of the practices of Zen in relation to food. Helping to restore the true value of the food that is our life, that we are, encourages us to understand the importance of food and of nourishment for us and for all living things, and to understand that food and nourishment is a spiritual thing because it involves a sharing of interdependence and interconnection with the entire planet… and beyond. Too many human beings in the world today are denied food, and denying someone food is not just a matter of making them hungry, it means denying them the dignity of being human, denying them the possibility of growth and self-awareness, or spiritual awareness one would say in other religious contexts.
And beyond. To not help human beings, but also animals, plants and all beings of Earth to nourish themselves adequately, means impeding all of us and the Planet from carrying out our journeys of realization, of illumination, of awakening to our real nature of universal beings.

Everybody pauses for a moment of prayer, for food

Culture / -

Preghiera per il cibo
© Lindsay Hebberd/Corbis

Every culture in the world and every religious tradition have formulas and moments for giving thanks for the food on our table, as a sign of our union with our fellow diners. The event ‘Food for the spirit’ at Expo Milano 2015 reiterated a message of brotherhood and reconciliation, in full respect of the differences which exist between the various religions on our Planet.

When travelling all over the world, it is possible to encounter populations that are very different, in terms of their traditions and lifestyles. Some of them have not even discovered writing yet, while others are hyper-connected and constantly wired up to technology. Some are ultra-rich, others are desperately poor. However they all have one thing in common: at least once in their histories they have been used to pausing for a moment before eating their meal to bless their food, saying a prayer or even just remain silent for a few seconds. 

Gratitude for food, an inter-religious sentiment 
A short pause, but one that embodies a deep meaning: gratitude for the food that we need to survive. 

Sometimes it is a religious habit; in other cases it is a small gesture of the lay person that simply acknowledges the food. Even pronounced atheists have their own rituals (for instance they may stop for a few seconds before taking their knife and fork). 
In each case, regardless of the words that are said (if indeed any are said), this is a moment we need if we are to regain consciousness of what we are doing, and avoid trivializing a daily practice that should never be taken for granted. 

Wealthier populations appear to have lost this habit: when food appears directly on the tables of those accustomed to more, after being cultivated, farmed, processed and delivered by someone else, it is much easier to forget just how valuable it is. 

‘The food for the spirit’ in the Charter of Milan 
During the inter-religious meeting held on May 21 to mark the UN Day of cultural diversity, those in attendance experienced a symbolic moment charged with strong emotion: each representative blessed the food with a prayer chosen from their own religious tradition. And then this same “superfood” was eaten by all the participants. The Jewish rabbi ate the food blessed by the Islamic imam and by the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest ate the food also blessed by the Hindu and Protestant traditions… and so on for all the attendees, including the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, a non-believer, but nonetheless touched as were his fellow diners.

Over a million people are already #FoodConscious. What about you?

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