Theme: Food is Memory
If the new DreamWorks movie The One Hundred Foot Journey seems vaguely familiar, it might be because Director Lasse Hallström replicates the storyline he used in his 2001 award winning film Chocolat.
Lonely exiles come to a small French village and are taken in by one of the villagers. Deciding to stay and set up shop dispensing new food, the exiles come into a heated resistance from the villager who controls the old order. After a fiery ordeal the opposition is overcome by tasting the new food. The village and its inhabitants are transformed and they all live happily ever after.
Both films are thus, clashes between the old order and an outside order resulting in a new order. This new order brings with it healing, restoration, and a new taste of life.
The Old Order
The old order means adherence to rules of law implemented by a solitary individual living in isolation. They are rules which worked in the past and are perpetuated by those who want to maintain tradition and their own prominence.
In The One Hundred Foot Journey the proprietress of the old order is Madame Mallory of Le Saule Pleureur. She is the sole possessor of the coveted Michelin Star. The Michelin Guide is the “Bible” of French Cuisine; one star is good, two are amazing, three are “for the gods” or divine. Madame Mallory earned the one star rating with her husband years ago and has maintained it in his memory. She tells her staff that French Cuisine should be a “passionate marriage”, but unfortunately her kitchen is producing food which resembles a “tired affair”. Love has departed from Madame Mallory and all that remains is the struggle to maintain the old order and keep the one star rating.
The Outside Order
If rule by law defines the old order, life by sacrifice describes the outside order. A sacrifice is a loss or a giving up of a desire for a better cause or to help another person. The exiles who come to Saint-Anton-Noble-Val, the Kadam family, are living sacrifices. When they were forced to flee India and seek asylum in a foreign country they lost their home, their family restaurant, and most importantly their mother, the true heart of the family.
Living in exile they have traveled from place to place sacrificing their personal comforts and dreams for the one hope of building a new family restaurant where the son and brother Hassan can be the “cook” his mother envisioned him to be. All they have left of their mother is her spice chest which miraculously survived the fire she died in. The spices symbolize her ongoing life with the family and they are given by the father to the son in order for him to use the gift his mother lovingly cultivated in him.
The war that erupts between Le Saule Pleurer and Maison Mumbai is not just a cultural war between French and Indian Cuisine. The war is fueled by two people with broken hearts who have lost their loves, Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam. They stubbornly cling to their own cuisine as a way of keeping the past alive. Madame Mallory has spent thirty years in isolation, the restaurant becoming her only life. She rejects the newcomers in a proud egotistical way which only infuriates the equally proud Papa.
It is Hassan the son who takes “the one hundred foot journey” to make peace. He comes the first time with an offering, the pigeon prepared for the minister. Madame Mallory’s rejection of the peace offering only fuels the fires of war, and Hassan the peacemaker becomes the sacrificial victim caught in its flames.
The war ends when Madame Mallory sees the damage her pride has done to the outcast widower and his children. She turns and makes “the one hundred foot journey” to humble herself and wash the graffiti off the wall of Maison Mumbai. The wall is significant for it symbolizes what the Saints of old referred to as the pusilla anima - the defended heart, the one which sees the outsider as a threat. It was a wall Madame Mallory had hoped to make higher but she could not. Now she is cleaning it and as she does her own heart is moving toward becoming a magna anima - an open heart, one which is able to give and receive love.
Hassan the peacemaker, with his hands still bandaged from the fire invites her in to make an omelet for her. With her hands and his instructions, they become a team able to create a divine meal. They have started a new journey together, one which eventually leads to a new order in the village. This new order brings the union of lives, the healing of hearts, the restoration of love and a meal prepared and partaken of together. What was good, became amazing, and is on its way to becoming divine.
Food is Memory
In a poignant scene toward the end of the movie, Hassan the peacemaker has become the most celebrated “chef” in Paris. He has reached the top of the world in French Cuisine. One night thinking he is alone in the restaurant he discovers a co-worker eating Indian food his wife had prepared over a fire in their courtyard, and he offers some to Hassan. One taste and tears well up in his eyes. The author Frederick Buechner writes of such tears . . .
“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”
The food is taking Hassan back to the courtyard he shared with his mother long ago in Mumbai and it is summoning him to “where if his soul is to be saved” he should go next. His future is at a wedding feast that seals the connection between Le Saule Pleureur and Maison Mumbai.
Food is memory. The post-modern secular West seems to have forgotten this most elemental truth and made eating and drinking disconnected from any deeper meaning.
The Greek Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann gives the Biblical theology of eating and drinking in his book, For the Life of the World.
“In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live, is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. The world as man’s food is not something “material” and limited to material functions, thus different from and opposed to, the specifically “spiritual” functions by which man is related to God. All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man…….. “O taste and see that the Lord is good”.
Food, especially “Eucharistic” food is memory. It is given as a gift to bring man to a remembrance of life with God in the Garden and to summon him to life in union with God in the present looking forward to a great wedding feast that lies in the future (Rev. 19:9). All of which is made possible by the sacrifice of the Son who was Himself the peace offering.
Food is Memory . . . ”Do this in remembrance of me.” First Corinthians 11:24