TOAST Magazine

MAY CONTAIN FOOD

FOOD & DRINK

Let us thank our mother

For cooking the food we see at our table,

For pan-frying the meat, and boiling the veg,

And preparing a creamy potato gratin.

It is right that we give her thanks and praise.

 

Let us thank our father

For taking the Citroen Picasso down to Aldi

And buying the weekly shop.

It is right that we give him thanks and praise.

 

Let us open our hearts in thanks

To the staff of all the major supermarket chains

For it is they who sold us the bounty we see at our table

At a variety of discount prices.

It is right that we give them thanks and praise.

 

Let us give thanks to the articulated lorry driver,

He or she (but probably he),

Who drove our food down the M1, the M4,

And sometimes the A303.

It is right that we give him (or her) thanks and praise.

 

Let us thank the farmer

Who tilled the earth with calloused hands

(Or the appropriate machines)

To provide us with Nature’s bounty.

It is right that we give him (or her) thanks and praise.

 

Let us give thanks for the EU subsidies….

Nature! Don’t forget Nature!

Oh yes, let us give thanks to the plants, the seeds and the compost,

To the soil, the air and the ozone layer,

That precious membrane that protects our planet

From harmful levels of solar radiation.

 

Let us give thanks to the Sun, to the Solar System, and to the Milky Way.

Let us give thanks to matter, and anti-matter, and the Higgs Boson,

And give special thanks to the Big Bang……

This attempt at a grace in a largely secular age comes from May Contain Food, a piece that I’ve been working on with the choreographer Luca Silvestrini and his dance company Protein. (Apologies, shameless plug.) The performers are four dancers and four singers. The dancers dance and sing, and the singers sing and dance. The audience sits at large round tables, watches, listens and eats.

A dance piece about food? Is that really a good idea? Well, what we’re interested in here are the social and political implications of food. Where does our food come from? Why do we have such a fractious and neurotic relationship with it? How is it used as a weapon in family life?

Three examples:

The first, the act of eating itself. What is the level of our awareness of the food we eat? In a sequence which is at the same time deeply serious and deeply ludicrous, one of the dancers, Carl, invites each member of the audience to pick up a cherry tomato, inspect it, listen to it, kiss it, compare it to his/her eyeball, and finally eat it, being mindful of the explosion of taste on biting it, and being careful to chew it at least twenty times (not so easy to do). The first time I took part in this exercise I started by giggling knowingly and ended by being astonished at the complexity of the experience of eating a mediocre cherry tomato.

The second, the dangerous intimacy of feeding someone else, sometimes tender, sometimes violent. The parent feeding the baby – a beautiful connection, but always with the possibility of becoming a battleground – the baby is reluctant, the parent becomes frustrated, the baby learns to wield the glorious power of refusal. Later in life, the lover feeding the lover, and the erotic possibilities of that. And much later, in contrast, the carer feeding the old person, a degrading return to childhood. Who is in charge? The person who feeds, or the person who is fed? The hunger strike is the last refuge of the powerless, being force-fed the greatest possible humiliation. At the climax of our piece is a chaotic scene in which all these scenarios are happening simultaneously.

The third, the sacramental aspect of food: the beautiful ritual of eating together, and the curious customs associated with it. (Luca spent a period of his life as a silver service waiter, with all its splendid, fatuous formality.) As well as the grace, we stage a funeral for a red pepper – the piece is predictably preoccupied with vegetarianism – we visit a family table over fifty years, and we look at a restaurant in the process of immaculate service, and later, in chaos.

In May Contain Food there is no band. Every sound we hear – speech, singing, whispering, shouting, laughter, animal sounds (including, I’m proud to say, a cow chorale) – comes from the performers. This is a realisation of a long-held ambition of mine to make a dance piece with no band. And seems to make perfect sense in the context of a piece about another bodily function – eating.

May Contain Food is touring Britain between now and June.

Words by Orlando Gough

Image by Alicia Clarke

Buy Orlando's recipe journal here

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