Food is one of the most basic necessities of life. Food is life, a gift of Mother Earth, and we acknowledge that gift only when we treat it with reverence. Preparing, cooking and serving food is a day-to-day ritual of hospitality, love and sharing, and expresses the cycle of the year when fresh, seasonal food is used.
Whether you are cooking for a sabbat or just for supper, treat it as a conscious act of magic and reflect that when you eat, you take in the life-energy of the food you are consuming, not just its nutrition. Each ingredient possesses its own virtues and energies, and you can utilise these gifts to create culinary magic. Do you want to add sage for wisdom, rosemary for remembrance, lemon balm for joy? You can cook up a love feast, a meal for peace and healing, or a dish of abundance. All nuts are associated with fertility, all grains with abundance, and most fruits with love. The kitchen is a magical workshop, the oven an alchemical tool that transmutes raw ingredients into sustenance for the body and spirit. Prepare your food with intent, stir your dishes sunwise to wind up the magic, eat consciously, and give thanks to Mother Earth for her gifts.
A concerned Pagan has to consider the ethics of their food choices, which have an impact on health, the environment and animal welfare. Most Pagans say that the code they live by is “an’ it harm none, do what you will”. It is difficult to make ethical choices in a world dominated by factory farming that treats animals as unfeeling ‘production units’, that promotes genetically modified plants and processed foods full of strange chemicals, that advocates the use of poisonous fertilizers and pesticides, wasteful packaging, overfishing, exploitative labour practices, and a global market that means that many food miles are added to a product. Sometimes the tide of injustice and suffering seems overwhelming. So what are we to do? I think the only answer is that we do as much as we can as best and as honestly as we can. For me, that means being vegetarian, eating organic wholefoods and growing as much of my own food as possible. For some it means being vegan and buying only from local growers, for others it might mean buying high welfare standard meat, or only using Fair Trade products.
Foods have always played a key part in rituals and the worship of the Gods. Without food we would not live at all, and its production was one of the central themes of ancient religions.
One of the most valuable of the ancient foods was grain, which could be made into flour and then bread. It is one of the most important symbols of the nurturing Goddess, sometimes seen as her son, the vegetation god who would awaken in the spring, grow through the summer and mature in the autumn, only to be harvested and die. The shed seeds lay dormant in the cold, winter earth, the belly of the Earth Mother, ready to shoot again in the spring. This was a never ending cycle of life, death and rebirth, a cycle also promised to worshippers.
For ancient Pagans, grain and wine were god-essences. When we consecrate bread and wine in a ritual, we invoke that god-essence, the spiritual core of the food; through it, we absorb the power of the Gods. It nourishes us, physically and spiritually.
Wine is one of the ‘god-containing’ substances believed by the ancients to allow people to share in god-consciousness. Whereas bread is viewed as the body of the sacrificed god, wine is his blood, or sometimes it is seen in traditional British Craft as the blood of the earth goddess.  The taking of the two together signifies the union of opposites. The cup that contains the wine symbolises the cauldron or grail, which contains wisdom and inspiration.
Food Offerings and Libations
If the food has been made with intent and consecration, it becomes more than ordinary food, and thus makes a suitable offering to the Gods and spirits. When we bless the bread and wine, before we take any, we offer a portion to the Gods. Bread is thrown onto the fire so that its essence might be released to them with the words “The first is always for the Gods”. A libation of wine is made in a similar manner. (A libation is a pouring of wine, milk or other drink onto the ground or before an image as an offering to the Gods.). We always leave more food behind in the woods for the local spirits after the feast. In reality, of course, it is the animals and birds that eat it, but we consider that first the spirits consume its essence.
Food for the Sabbats
In addition to sharing the bread and wine in ritual, it is the custom to feast at the Eight Sabbats of the Pagan year.
In the past people were acutely aware of the passing of the seasons and what each had to offer in terms of foods and herbs. Humankind was bound to the Wheel of the Year which determined times for planting, times for weeding, times to gather seeds and times for harvest. During the summer and autumn, a wide variety of food would be available, but during the winter there would only be stored produce. By the end of winter even that would have been consumed, and only the return of spring and the greening of the land could save the population from starvation. In a time when food is always available in the shops, we tend to forget the importance of the agricultural and pastoral cycle which was everything to our ancestors, when different foods were available at different seasons, and the various festivities and occasions of the year involved their own special dishes. The festivals of the Craft attempt to make us more aware of the natural cycles and our part in them. In our seasonal celebrations, and in our feasts, we try to honour and reflect these magical connections of herbs and plants with the seasons.
© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Compendium, Llewellyn, 2019
 Julia Isobel Reed, pers. com.