James Baldwin on Bread

For a number of reasons, usually related to copyright owners not responding, or denying permission to quote, a few of my favourite snippets haven’t made it into the final version of the book. One of these quotes is far too interesting to toss on the scrapheap – it’s James Baldwin in his brilliant essay, The Fire Next Time, talking about the importance of enjoying food. Here’s the man himself:

“To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it. And I am not being frivolous now, either. Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become.”

He’s dead right, and not just about the generally lousy quality of bread in the United States. Most of us have been forced think about food joylessly, automatically, like the way a car needs fuel. To divorce ourselves from our senses is intentionally to cripple ourselves, to diminish the range of things we allow ourselves to feel. And Baldwin chooses the right word to describe this process: sinister.