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Background

Why India?

Over the years it has been my privilege to visit India and learn something of her soul and secrets from dear friends. Astonishing, advanced, archaic, and antithetical to complacent notions of common sense, India defies reductive depictions or descriptions. If you are Indian, or have experienced the country deeply, enough said.

If you only know India vicariously from its images, myths or media, then it’s like reading the menu without sipping the soup. The Ethical Feast might be a great opportunity for you to finally immerse yourself in the great river of tradition, contradiction and surprise that irrigates this primal land and its people.

Looking forward and outward, I believe the future that India fosters is of great importance to the whole world. Consider the dilemma of a rising Indian consumer class that could reasonably approach 300 million people by the time a baby of today is ready to get a credit card.

Indians have every reason to wish for the modern conveniences enjoyed in Europe and the USA. Yet imagine the consumptive shock of adding another entire USA to a planet already under strain to satisfy our seemingly insatiable material hungers

What are the possibilities for a convivial middle class India? Can the world’s “colonial winners” legitimately ask the world’s “aspirational poor” to respect ecological limits? Limits the West has so egregiously flouted? Regardless of what Europe or the US may say, will the energetic and upwardly-mobile developing world pause to consider the enduring legacy of the first-world's consumerist exploits before impetuously embracing the same future?

Many early invitees to the Ethical Feast have lectured, authored, and lobbied on these concerns at far deeper levels of sophistication than I suggest here. Yet our most fundamental challenge is ultimately personal. No mountain of intellectual exercise or activist effort can bridge the distance we personally have to cover every day. Personally. We will come together as equals, as peers, to explore the truth that we are what we eat. We compare notes and witness each other’s journey to “be the change we want to see.” This is the core of the Ethical Feast experience.

It really matters what future we all choose. The path forward appears to demand the full engagement of our hearts and a sensuous discipline of our appetites. What a delightful way to explore this territory together: around a congenial table, sharing each others’ strengths and questions.

Why an Ethical Feast?

Ethical and Feast, like fat and thin, are two words that appear to repel each other, creating a sense of polar tension. Feast conjures an image of unrestrained abundance, while Ethical is all about empathic constraint.

This polarised tension is constructive: it invites the emergence of a third position. Perhaps, like me, you are not shy about holding contradictory ideas within a single breath...thus providing the moment in which novel insights can arise unexpectedly from unresolved dualism. I find that powerful paradoxes can be endlessly generative.

Ethical +/- Feast

Ethics are required for an awakened life. Yet there is a spectrum of ethical practice. Given too much head and not enough heart, ethics become extreme and resolve into life-defeating ascetic abstraction. Given too little rigour, ethics become relativistic pabulum. Somewhere on the spectrum is the powerful, resonant territory of the awakened spirit: a place where the psychic health of both the individual and collective is maximised.

A feast is a celebration of plenty. Yet without moral discipline the feast descends to gluttony. Abundance is also a demonstration of competence. When we deliver a rich harvest, our thanksgiving tables are groaning with the fruits of our labours. Otherwise we have failed to truly engage with the universal richness that abides in all lands. Someplace between these extremes is the grateful joy of plenty. This must be where the physical health of people and the environment is maximised.

Now comes a unifying potential...Many of us are preoccupied by (1) a concern over right and wrong, and (2) a devotion to staying fed two or even three times every day. Yes?

For me, the circumstances of daily life mean that I focus on the pragmatic and immediate issue of my belly.... the vast complexities of global food and consumer systems is quite beyond the reach of a daily contemplation. What to do? Pretend my belly is too small to make a difference? 

What about these dinner party conversation starters:

  • In seeking change, how can we stoke our individual passions, yet move lightly, gently...cultivating strength through a respectful sense of discipline and restraint?
  • Starting with our own careers, how extensively can we cultivate right livelihoods?
  • How can societies learn to spark a self-reinforcing cycle of abundant nutrition and health?

Where do you wish to start the conversation? This Ethical Feast seeks to be an unfettered celebration of the liminal in service of the literal.