Analects of Confucius Book 10 on ritual behavior: Confucius and food
Confucius was very careful not just about the food he ate but the manner in which he ate it. As in all other aspects of his life, there was a strong ritual element to how he prepared for a meal and consumed it no matter whether it consisted of “coarse rice or vegetable soup” or the highest quality meat sent to him by his ruler after a sacrificial ceremony.
Even when he was eating the simplest of fare, Confucius was sure to show his thanks for the food with a small offering. During a meal he ate in silence, presumably to savor the full extent of its taste and texture.
Confucius maintained a moderate and balanced diet, refusing to eat “too much finely milled rice and finely cut meat” and abstaining from rich and luxury foods during regular periods of purification. Although he enjoyed drinking liquor, he never got drunk.
Confucius paid close attention to the freshness and provenance of the food he ate in line with ritual conventions as well as to protect his health. If food was rotten, rancid, spoiled, smelled bad, not butchered properly, or not served at the right time, he refused to eat it. He would not even touch sacrificial meet bestowed on him by his ruler if it was more than three days old.
Here are seven passages from Book 10 of the Analects showing the kinds of food that Confucius ate and the rituals he followed when receiving and consuming it.
He didn’t eat too much finely milled rice and finely cut meat. If the food was rotten or rancid, if the fish wasn’t fresh, and if the meat was spoiled, he didn’t eat it. If the food was off-color, he didn’t eat it. If it smelled bad, he didn’t eat it. If it was undercooked, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served at the proper time, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t butchered properly, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served in its proper sauce, he didn’t eat it. Even if there was plenty of meat, he didn’t eat more meat than rice. As for liquor, however, there was no limit as long as he remained sober. He didn’t consume liquor or meat bought from the market. He was never without ginger when he ate, but used it only in moderation.
After assisting his duke at a sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat bestowed on him overnight. After carrying out a family sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat for more than three days. After the third day, he didn’t eat it.
When eating, he did not talk. When retiring to bed, he did not speak.
Even if the food only consisted of coarse rice or vegetable soup, he made a sacrificial offering with the same level of respect as when he was fasting.
When his ruler sent him a gift of pre-cooked food, he straightened his mat and was the first person to taste it. When his ruler sent him a present of raw meat, he cooked it and made an offering to his ancestors. When his ruler gave him a livestock, he reared it. When dining with his ruler, he was the first one to taste the food after the ruler had performed the sacrificial offering.
When receiving a gift from a friend, he wouldn’t bow even if it was something as valuable as a horse and carriage. The only gift he would bow for was one of sacrificial meat.
When he was served rich delicacies at a banquet, he adopted a gracious expression on his face and rose to his feet to show his appreciation.