A Book Review of Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna

14 Aug

Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna

Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna

The Food of the Gods, by Terence McKenna, is the story of humanities relationship with different plants and how these relationships effect and reflect our cultural values.

By the last page, the book has taken a somewhat discontinuous step into a different territory, with McKenna penning a manifesto of sorts on the integration of psychoactives into our current culture. He calls our culture the Dominator culture, and sees the use of consciousness-expanding plants as part of the Archaic Revival, a reference to the return of a  pre-monotheistic, integrated, “whole” way of living that we as a species once had with our environment and each other.

History buffs may find the first few chapters more exciting than I did. Being very ignorant of the specifics of history, I could not more challenge McKenna’s findings than agree with them – I can only take them at face value.

The book became most fascinating when it leads into the introduction of sugar, spices, and tea into the last few centuries, and how these substances caused an upheaval of society and are directly related to the enslavement of fellow human beings.

I found myself raising an eyebrow at some his theories on TV as a drug, and I was surprised how quickly he dismisses monotheistic religions in such a manner that his contempt and dislike for monotheism is obvious.

Where his writing is most engaging is the topic of our modern relationship with drugs, and why it is that our culture sanctions the use of certain substances (caffeine, sugar, alcohol) and shuns the use of others (marijuana, for example.) In a culture based on competition and dominance, we’ve embedded plants into our daily life that help promote these types of behaviors.

For instance, why is it that it’s socially acceptable to hype yourself up on caffeine and sugar at work but not marijuana?

McKenna’s point is that caffeine and sugar feed into the goals of “dominator” culture, whereas substances like marijuana (and other psychedelics) promote a less competitive, less egocentric individual.

The types of plants and substances that ultimately promote “dominator cultural values” is what we, as a culture, promote and use, and anything that’s a threat to these values is either illegal, shunned, or both.

This led me to think about my own life:

In the morning at work, what do I do? I drink Diet Cherry Coke or coffee, or both. I tell myself, I need some caffeine. I know soda isn’t healthy for me, but I justify it because I need the pick-me-up of caffeine to help me at work.

And then in the evening or in the night, what do I often do? I drink alcohol, something that’s going to relax me, mellow me out. Often I’ll drink alcohol because I want to wind down from the stress of work, or the stress of life.

It’s impossible to imagine switching these, isn’t it? I would never drink alcohol at 8am, nor would I drink coffee at 10pm at night.

This example is by no means dramatic or even interesting; in fact, it’s its blatant regularity and trivialness in our day to day life that I find fascinating in contrast to McKenna’s arguments on how our cultural values are evident in the plants, drugs, and substances we allow or omit.

The other topic I found most fascinating was his discussion on DMT and just what the hell the mind-bending experience of DMT means… I will resist elaborating, and instead, insist you read the book to find out. (Spoiler: unfortunately this topic is only skimmed. I believe he covers this more in depth in another book of his, which I’m going to read next.)


Here’s an interesting quote:

“The Archaic Revival is a clarion call to recover our birthright, however uncomfortable that may make us. It is a call to realize that life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience upon which primordial shamanism is based is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego and its fear of dissolution.”

– Terrence McKenna, Food of the Goods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge – A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

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