The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Human Nature, by Leon Kass takes a unique view of examining the body and soul by focusing on the eating habits of human beings. He uses this in order to distinguish humans from animals and the divine element (God). In this book, Kass touches on the point of sanctified eating. In Kass’ final chapter, he looks at the “created order”, the dietary laws in the chapter of Leviticus in the Holy Bible and the problem of eating. Not only do these sub-chapters actually give a good sense of what humans are in the design of divinity, but it also shows how far human beings have to go in order to be close to the divine power of God.
In the first chapter of the Holy Bible, Genesis, God creates the world. In this creation he creates man on the same day, yet man stands divine like at the peak of the creatures. Rousseau, in the Second Discourse, recalls that when he was a beast he ate mainly fruits and nuts. Eventually, he rose to his human status and began to eat meat. One must face the idea that animal meat, not fruits and nuts, is “the human food.” Kass later on discusses how vegetarians seem to alter the balance of nature and fails to distinguish between man and animal by only eating vegetables, fruits and nuts. According to Genesis, the early ancestors were originally strict frugivores (fruit pickers), but when God restarts the human race again with Noah, he then shows the hierarchy of humans and animals. He then brings humans to the point that they are to eat animal flesh in order to balance the nature of the world. Human beings, although being praised for being superior, are animals both in their nature and in their origins. According to Aristotle, the soul, though thought by humans to be the only creatures to obtain it, is more that consciousness and is acquired in all animals even plants. Even in Genesis, God thought that animals and humans should be similar in this fact in order to be his companions. Though Genesis discusses creation of the “humanity” of the human being, Leviticus brings forth the dietary laws in which humans must obey when looking for divinity.
Leviticus, the third book of the Holy Bible, discusses the dietary laws of the children of Israel. It is said that the children are not to “incorporate animals that kill and incorporate other animals. This sheds light on people not eating “predators” as well as its “prey” at the same time in order to distinguish the pure meat from the tainted. If this is true, then do we all actually follow this rule that God shares with the children of Israel in Leviticus? From personal experience, I have seen myself as well as others eat various meats such as cow, rabbit, squid, octopus, alligator, etc. without even questioning the divinity that we are so far from while eating such things at the same time. It is said that this is a sin, but why isn’t it taught to everyone just like manners are taught on a daily bases? Does this act make people less human than those who actually follow the word of God? This is an act of an animal. An animal does not separate the two types of meat only because they are animals. Therefore, this eating, done by many including myself, does in fact show times where my eating habits have been more of an animal rather than the superior human that I am. Leviticus is able to show the dietary law that should be followed; yet we as humans do have a problem of eating in the midst of all things.
The problem that humans have with eating is the idea that dinner parties and formal functions have taken the place of the human need to nourish the body. On a personal level, I have gone to church gatherings that have been formal dinner parties. The dinner was not to feed the body but it was for the purpose of socializing with friends and church members. Therefore, what seems to be the distinguishing factor between the animals and the humans? Kass states that a dinner party is only an well-orchestrated dinner that does not deal with the quantity of but the food but the quality. “Ordered and flavorful variety, not mere satisfaction of hunger is the point of the menu.” The taste of the food, unfortunately, is the major concern of the party. If the food were not tasteful, then the party would not be a success. So, the main question is, are human beings far away from animals as much as humans think? Not only do we gorge ourselves, but we do so just because we have parties, not because we are trying to survive. Therefore, is it true that we as human beings can actually “judge,” because if it was actually true, then would we as human beings eat when we are not hungry? These are the problems that we as human beings face while being superior over animals, yet far from the divinity of God.
Between Leon Kass and the Holy Bible and Torah, humans have been defined as superior beings yet not too far from animals as much as humans think they are. The human being is able to “recognize the distinctions that are manifest in the world” and seem to prove their greatness over animals. By reading The Hungry Soul, I have seen myself on a different note. Reading this book not only allows me to see how much of an “animal” I have been while eating and participating in dinner parties, but I have also seen how far from the divine we are. Plato and Descartes shows how human beings lack knowledge of self and what they need what methods are available in order to find certainty, justice and piety. Kass, look at the human being from another view. He decides to distinguish the animal and the human by their eating habits and rituals done in order to show the hierarchy developed by God during the creation of the world.