Death is a mixed bag. It’s been on my mind for some time. I have had a draft of this post sitting in my box for a while, since I came across the article on last meals for death row inmates. But, an old acquaintance of mine passed away yesterday at the tender age of 41. It might seem a bit rough to some for me to post it now, however I think a consuming, orgiastic ritual of food helps the rest of us schmucks who are in the que for the same fate, face and embrace these tragedy’s and inevitability’s. In Death you become the consumed. Death and sustenance are forever intertwined- food offerings made to the deceased, food consumed by the survivors, food for the soul. Food, love and death make us whole.
From the encyclopedia of food and culture:
“…foodstuffs were often left specifically in the presence of the deceased or placed in the coffin, or put into or placed on the grave. Formerly, in parts of Britain, bread and beer, or salt and bread, were consumed by a so-called “sin-eater” in the presence of the deceased; this person was thought to take on the sins of the deceased and thus enable him or her to be incorporated into the Christian otherworld (Hole, 1953, pp. 224–225; Kvideland, 1993). Food and drink consumed by the living during the wake and at the post-funeral meal were evidently also thought to provide necessary nourishment for the deceased, and thus to facilitate the transfer to the other world. Such food and drink have also been looked upon as a means of strengthening family and community in the face of death”
There is beautifully written post in a blog I found entitled Cut to the Chase: Eating, Fucking and Dying. Here is just a bit:
“For my part, I don’t seek release, in the form of Moksha, or like the devout Christian, who hopes to be removed from their own flesh. I am an animal, I am embodied, I am immanent, and to the extent that I can come to grips with the forces that control me: such as this trinity of death, sex, and food—the more I can come into accord with what it is that I actually am, rather than what I believe I am, what I am told that I am or should be. Acceptance of my self, and the extension of my idea of “self” to include all the systems with which I am actually a part of (which includes what I eat) is more my “spiritual path,” if I can be said to have one”
Every religion deals with death and food. Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, it’s ‘ ALL about death, sex and food. The catholic faith revers death. In spite of all the bullshit talk about the kingdom of heaven and how great it will be we, as a mostly christian nation, abhor it and live in fear of it. Which means we live in fear of our lives too.
One of the rituals that we provide for death row inmates is a last meal. Those who agree with capitol punishment might see this as an unnecessary kindness. I don’t think so. I believe that it serves to remind us of humanity and compassion. A reminder that this choice we are making as a society is profound. I do not think that it eases the difficulty of what is being done or what has been done, but it brings into focus the repercussions of our actions. Here we give life and compassion. Here we take it away.
Those of you who knew Scott White, eat your dinner and raise a glass to the man. Death will happen to us all. What will your last meal be?
Day Of The Dead Dessert Bread Recipe
Here’s a recipe for Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead Dessert Bread)
1/2 ounce active dry yeast (21/4-ounce envelopes)
4 ounces luke warm water
1 pound all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, plus 1 for egg wash
7 egg yolks
1 stick unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for melting
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons orange zest, from about 1 orange
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
2 tablespoon anise water (recipe follows)
FOR STARTER: Dissolve yeast in water add 4 oz flour, 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix until a paste forms. Cover with a damp towel. Set aside in a warm place ideally about 70° – until the dough has doubled in volume, about 4 hours (dough will ferment).
FOR DOUGH: In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the dough hook, mix the rest of flour, salt and sugar to combine. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, orange zest, anise water and orange blossom water and add to the flour mixture. Mix until well incorporated. Add shortening and butter and mix. Incorporate the starter and mix for 12 minutes, until you have a slightly sticky, smooth, shiny dough that just holds its shape. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and form into a round cushion shape.
Butter a clean bowl and dust well with flour and place the dough in it. Cover with greased waxed paper and a towel, and set aside in a warm place, about 70°, until it is almost doubled in size, about 11/2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and divide into two equal pieces. Set one piece aside under plastic wrap while you work with the first.
Take three-fourths of the dough and roll it into a smooth ball. Press it out to a circle about 8 inches in diameter – it should be about 1 inch thick. Press around the edge of the dough to form a narrow ridge of about 1 inch – like the brim of a hat – and transfer to one of the baking sheets. Let rest for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Divide the remaining one-quarter of dough into four equal parts. Roll one piece into a smooth ball – that will be the head. Roll out the other three pieces into strips about 8 inches long, forming knobs as you do it.
Preheat the oven to 375°. At the end of the rising period, place the three ‘bones’ at regular intervals across the dough with the round ball in the middle and make two indentations for ‘eyes.’ Brush the surface of the dough with the beaten eggs and bake until well browned and springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn the heat off, open the oven door, and let the breads sit for about 5 minutes.
Transfer the breads to racks, brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle well with the sugar. It is best to let the breads cool off for about 2 hours before eating. If well stored, they will keep soft for several days and, in fact, improve in flavor.
FOR THE ANISE WATER:
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons anise seeds
In a small sauce pan pour the water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and add anise seeds, let steep for 10 minutes, strain and let cool.