I am taking a food and theory class that is fascinating. I am really enjoying the class, but the professor has not been impressed with my responses to the readings at all. Hopefully, this one is better:

Because Pig is a Filthy Animal, and I Don’t Eat Filthy Animals: Why Do We Still Follow the Rules


This clip from Pulp Ficiton posted here ran through my head as I read Jean Soler and Marvin Harris. Dietary restrictions for religion have always fascinated me, and I finally have some answers as to where Kosher and Muslim laws come from; however, there was not much said about Catholicism. Growing up, I was always told that I could only eat once a day on Fridays during lent, and that when I did eat, I could not eat meat. Even today, while I no longer go to mass nor participate or believe in any of the catholic dogma I was taught, I still feel that tinge of guilt if I find myself eating meat on Friday during lent. This guilt goes beyond what Jules (Sam Jackson) is talking about in the clip (that I am eating something that is “filthy”). I do not feel bad because I believe meat is unclean, and after reading a decent amount of Derrida, I certainly don’t believe in the purity of food as discussed by Soler (64).

For instance, Soler points out that unleavened bread has not been fermented and is therefore clean and pure; however, as Derrida would assert, the idea of purity is a myth that has been socially constructed. In Dissemination, Derrida says “The purity of the inside can only be restored if the charges are brought home against exteriority as a supplement, inessential yet harmful to the essence, a surplus that ought never to have come to be added to the untouched plenitude of the inside” (128). Derrida argues that the Western philosophical tradition warns that a pure inside is always threatened by something form the outside, and this idea is what Soler is describing when he points out how unleavened flower “is true to its natural state” (Soler 62) and not changed by something from the outside. Therefore, one idea of food laws is to keep the body pure. However, a kosher food like coffee stains the idea of purity. Caffeine “alters a man’s judgment” (Soler 62), but because it comes from the earth, coffee is “pure.” While I know the myth of purity is simply a myth , and I can stand back and understand why Soler posits, “Uncleanness…is simply disorder” (64), I still feel that tinge of guilt when I break a dietary rule from a religion I no longer follow.

I also feel guilty if I do not have pork on New Year’s Eve. My family (as most Cuban families) has a long tradition of cooking an entire pig in a Caja China all day on New Year’s. The holiday would not be the same if I didn’t share this experience with my family. Food after all, is story; isn’t this idea what these articles are exploring: that the story we tell ourselves about food shapes our society, beliefs, and food restrictions ? While these articles do an excellent job of exploring the origins of these diet restrictions, my question is why these rules are followed today when we know the anachronisms of these rules? I believe that Derrida’s deconstructed reading of purity applies in my New Year’s example and breaking the rules example. The holiday’s purity depends on following a [pure] tradition older than my parents and my parents’ parents, just as following the rules do.

The Pulp Fiction scene is a good starting point to begin discussing how these rules have survived because it illustrates a morally ambiguous character’s food restrictions. Besides the initial health reasons that Harris points out, these dietary restrictions are more complicated. For instance, my friends and I would go to bars and drink and smoke and ingest things that were by no means healthy or clean, yet on the way home, at Taco Bell at four in the morning on Friday, my lapsed Catholic friends would refuse to eat meat and remind me that I shouldn’t eat meat either . While the Pulp Fiction example is extreme, it relates. Jules is a hired killer, who, we see from the pervious scene, has no restrictions against eating meat (he takes a bite out of Brett’s burger). However, he won’t eat pork. Certainly, his reasons don’t concern health. He smokes and kills people, and yet he will refrain from eating pork because he views it as “filthy.” There are endless examples of people who do not believe in the religion they were brought up on, do not go to church, do not abide by any of their religion’s other rules and yet follow the dietary restrictions of their religion.

Slavoj Zizek has an interesting anecdote that I feel can be applied to explain why people hold on to dietary restrictions. Zizek describes his aversion to sharing food at a Chinese restaurant, which led to his friend’s psychoanalysis of Zizek’s fear to share a sexual partner. Zizek’s answer to this fear is a variation on De Quincey’s “art of murder.” The true horror for Zizek is “not sexual promiscuity but sharing a Chinese dish” (ix). What Zizek’s reading of De Quincey is describing is that art is amoral, so murders can be either mundane and dull or artistically beautiful in execution—murder can be art. De Quincey states, “If once a man indulges in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination” (2). That is to say, how many people have entered eternal punishment by some banal and innocent murder, which when perpetrated was no big deal to them, and ended up uncivilly eating meat on Friday during Lent .

Zizek’s reading of the “art of murder” can be applied to the non-religious who still follow religious food laws. The dietary restrictions followed today stem primarily from original sin. Forbidden food signifies the first sin humankind committed; therefore, lapsed Catholics still equate the food they are not supposed to eat with the introduction of pain and sin into the world. For example, after eating the fruit, woman has to feel pain during childbirth, man has to toil the ground, man rules over his wife, the snake has to crawl on the ground, and man and woman are thrown out of paradise. All for eating some fruit; meanwhile after murdering Abel, Cain gets a mark of distinction and “knows” his wife. It appears the punishment for eating the fruit might have been more severe than for murder, which is why I think lapsed Catholics won’t eat meat on Fridays despite not following any of the other rules, and the reason is because of De Quincey’s art of murder.

Zizek equates the idea of the art of murder to a “displacement” that underlies our Western philosophical attitude since the time of the Enlightenment and is why my lapsed Catholic friends refuse to eat meat while indulging in other sins. Zizek makes the connection between Immanuel Kant’s enlightenment ideas and the injunction to obey traditional authority. As Zizek describes: “We must be careful here not to miss what Kant is aiming at—he is not simply restating the common motto of conformism, ‘In private, think whatever you want, but in public, obey authorities!’ but rather its opposite: in public, ‘as a scholar before the reading public,’ use your reason freely, yet in private (at your post, in your family, i.e., as a cog in the social machine) obey authority” (ix-x). This idea is precisely what is happening with morally ambiguous characters, like Jules, and what is happening with people like friends of mine who will, in public, drink to excess, smoke, do drugs, but in private, will not eat meat during Lent. Furthermore, I believe that the food restrictions are followed because foods are a narrative; therefore, for example, part of my childhood memories are the smell of fish and chips and my mom’s special cocktail sauce after a day of playing outside on Lent Fridays. Following the rules is a way for one to remember the past so that it is not about the rule any longer but about the memory tied with food.

Works Cited:
Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. London: Continuum, 2004. Print.

Quincey, Thomas De. “On Murder Considered One of the Fine Arts.” W. W. Norton Company.
Books.wwnorton.com/books. Web. 3 Sept. 2011.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and, 2009. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out. New York:
Routledge, 2008. Print.

Advertisements