CathyHird 21Dec22


Looking for resources to mark Asian Heritage Month, I came across a piece by Rev. Dr. Hyuk Cho who lives and works in Vancouver.

The title of the resource is Rice Is Heaven (Worship service outline on the United Church of Canada website). The title of the piece comes from a poem by Kim Ji-ha that is used as a grace. Translated, it goes like this:

Rice is heaven,
    Because heaven cannot be possessed by one
       Rice must be shared with each other.

Rice is heaven.

Just as together we view the stars in Heaven,
    Rice must be shared by all.

When rice is eaten
    Heaven enters the body.

Rice is heaven.

Ah-ah! Rice must be shared!  

Reflecting on this poem/grace, Cho says, “This poem reflects Asian people’s holistic thinking of life as interconnected or interdependent. Heaven, earth, and human beings have to work together to produce a bowl of rice. A bowl of rice on our table is the collaborative work of heaven’s sunshine, cloud, rain and thunderstorm, of mother earth’s nurturing embracement and of human labour.”

For Cho, this exemplifies the Asian worldview.

We can see that when we take in food, especially a staple like rice, we take in the work of the people who grew the grains, the people who brought them to the store, the people who cooked them. The poem reminds us how interconnected humanity is and that this interconnection is a gift as great as heaven.

The idea that rice must be shared jumped out at me. It is almost impossible to cook a single serving of rice. A bowl of rice is going to feed more than one person. It is a meal to be shared.

It’s true with the North American staple, bread, as well. No one person is going to eat a loaf of bread in one sitting. We might break a batch of bread into buns, but the whole batch is going to have to be shared.

The person who taught me to make bread said, “Count how many loaves you need and add one so that it can be eaten hot out of the oven with whoever shows up.”

Bread also cannot be possessed by one and must be shared. Like rice, bread embodies the work of many hands, many people.

In the same piece, Hyuk Cho explained that in the Korean village he is from the morning greeting is Have you had breakfast? Later, the standard greeting is Have you eaten? And in that village, he was fed by many of the neighbours, not just his parents, as all took responsibility for each other.


Imagine if we asked each other here Have you eaten? and responded with food if the other had not. There would be less hunger in our community.

Another piece of cultural information that Hyuk Cho shares is that the word for peace in some East Asian languages is made up of the characters which read: “Eat rice together equally.”

He tells us that peace is written “in Chinese characters (平和), in Mandarin Hépíng (和平), Heiwa in Japanese and in Korean (평화).”

The idea of eating a staple food together, shared equally, feels like peace – sharing among others, being together in a positive way, having enough to eat, neighbours having enough to eat.

Breaking bread together could also be an expression of peace. Having enough to share. Having enough to satisfy. Eating together. Breaking off a piece of bread to give away.

One of the challenges to western culture that is in the poem I started with is that rice cannot be possessed. This is hard for us. I cook a pot of rice, it is mine to divvy up as I chose. I bake a loaf of bread, and I chose how to slice it, who to share it with.  

But for Cho, his culture taught him not to think of ownership, not to think of possessing food.

He learned to think of sharing as fundamental.

There is something about communal responsibility instead of individual possession that we could learn from.


Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.






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