How we eat can be how we enlighten. Our relationship to food can be a focal point of socially engaged Buddhist practice. We can seize foodways—our gardening, our shopping, our chopping, our cooking, our canning, our dish-washing, our dining—as an opportunity to address the immense suffering caused and continually perpetuatd by the food-system. What if our eating was a means to combat the very imbalances of industrial eating? What if our eating re-established our connections to the plants, places, and people involved in our food production? What if, in this time of the tremendous environmental crisis, our eating nourished us and the world? In my Plan of Concentration, I begin to answer these questions—I offer an account of how foodways can be a vehicle of social and environmental liberation.
We are living in a world of environmental suffering caused by human action, a geological time-period where humanity has impacted — and impinged upon — the well-being of the eco- systems and living beings of Earth. This is the anthropocene, the context of our contemporary lives, and the context of our eating. Our climate is changing rapidly and aggressively, radically altering — and in the case of many species, ending — the life of living organisms. Human communities, especially the poor and under-represented, are being destabilized and displaced as human-caused climate change escalates. This environmental catastrophe is perpetuated by an array of infrastructural imbalances and unsustainable policies: a fossil fuel dependent transportation sector, insufficient waste management systems, and large-scale deforestation, for example. The array of causes is staggering, and intimidating. A central component of this structural un-sustainability of contemporary, Western society is food and agriculture. The intensive, fossil fuel reliant, industrial agricultural complex makes a significant impact on the social and environmental well-being of the Earth. How we eat, therefore, is a powerful cause of climate change and its associated issues of quality of water, soil, health, and livelihood. As Wendell Berry argues, “how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.”
According to Dōgen, enlightenment is a unified endeavor of religious livelihood where cultivation, the fruit of that cultivation, and the sharing of these fruits are all co-constitutive. Enlightenment, in Dōgen’s buddhadharma, is the unified whole of practice-realization-expression. As we will investigate below, this dynamic enlightenment is constituted by the manifestation of buddha nature in time, through expressive-activity, with compassion for others. In this regard, awakening is a non-dual endeavor of embodiment. Therefore, the telos of Dōgen’s buddhadharma is the cultivation of upright, awakened comportment and conduct. Investigating Dōgen’s conception of enlightenment, we can turn to our inquiry into the tenzo’s Three Minds. There, we will see that virtuous, awakened character in the kitchen is itself the fulfillment of Dōgen’s philosophy of enlightenment as embodied ethical comportment.
The most memorable part of doing my Plan is the joy I experienced. Leading a Bridges orientation trip focusing on food and food-system issues clarified for me what I was inspired to think about, write on, and organize around. This opportunity to craft an experience for others solidified my shift away from abstract philosophical hermeneutics to engaged theology interested in social and environmental issues.