Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 2 (Summer 2016) - Page 101

VOLUME 11, NUMBER 2 A JOURNAL FOR THE THEOLOGY OF CULTURE The vulnerability we feel in partaking of food can be a productive one. Words of instruction, wisdom, and love enter into our hearts more easily as our bodies are nourished. It also helps create an atmosphere in which two parties can engage each other openly and sincerely. For that reason, within Chuukese culture, mealtimes are viewed as the best time for the older members in a family to impart values and wisdom to the younger ones and to resolve minor conflicts among themselves. To be sure, partaking of food with one another has always been done out of good intentions—hence, the act of eating denotes vulnerability and openness. There are, however, some who have exploited this understanding to hurt others. Under the guise of sincerity, they would share food with people against whom they hold a g rudge, with the intention of hurting them. This indirect and deceptive practice that has encroached upon our positive understanding of food may be a consequence of our shame-based culture. In order to save face, people would tend to avoid direct confrontation with their offender, and resort to other indirect and deceitful means. One way people have harmed others via food is through the use of sorcery. For instance, one may put potion into pounded breadfruit or certain types of fish, chant over it, and offer it to the other person to eat. The expected results on the person who ingests it range from coughing, to vomiting blood, to swollen body parts, to even death.1 Consequently, at times, vulnerability we experience when we partake of food can be exploited by others. In light of this understanding, the act of eating also entails trust and humility. It entails trust because Chuukese people can only eat in peace (that is, make themselves vulnerable) with a person that they can trust. Otherwise, they are putting their lives at risk. It entails humility because partaking of food with another person symbolizes that we place our lives at the mercy of the other person with whom we eat. In short, food is involved in every occasion because partaking of food together is a posture of openness and vulnerability with one another. The act of eating with another person denotes trust and humility because it means we trust the other person enough to expose ourselves and place our lives at his or her mercy to either be enriched or be harmed. 1. See Ward H. Goodenough, Under Heaven’s Brow: Pre-Christian Religious Tradition in Chuuk (Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 2002), 345– 6, for a written and detailed explanation on the use of sorcery in Chuukese culture. 98