- Taylor Leahy - Dietitian
Food and Faith
How does our faith come into play when we are struggling with food.
Food is a very personal thing to many people. We all have our quirks and preferences, and we all think that our own grandmother’s recipe is the best over everyone else’s. Food is a way to bring people together, to celebrate events, to remember people in our lives that have passed on, and can be a way to honor God and what Christ has done for us. In Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Norman Wirzba makes several points regarding how food plays a role and serves as a reminder in our faith.
In Genesis 1 we see God showing His love by providing a beautiful, nutritious, and delectable edible garden for Adam and Eve to live in. In Exodus 16 we see that God gave the gift of mana every morning to the Israelites as they wondered through the desert; one less thing to worry about, but also a reminder to be thankful. Food is for sharing and fellowship as we often gather together and have meals with one another. Let’s go grab lunch or meet for coffee are common ones I hear. Eating connects us to creation; the natural ecosystems all play into this point as we are all connected in some way. Another point he makes is that eating reminds us of our stewardship. Psalm 65:9-13 states: 9 You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. 10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. 11 You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. 12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. 13 The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing. God gave us this beautiful earth that can do and provide so much for us. Mankind has been charged with tending to it. Genesis 2: 8-9 reflects that God is the ultimate Gardner and Farmer. 8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
Eating is a reminder of the eucharist as Jesus commanded his apostles and then the churches to break bread and drink wine in remembrance of him as the bread is a symbol of his body and the wine a symbol of his blood. At meal times when we stop and say a blessing over the meal, we are reminded to be thankful and mindful of the Lord with the goal of savoring a taste of heaven. In his book, Unclean, Richard Beck puts communion into perspective by saying: “Participation in the Lord’s Supper is an inherently moral act. In the first century church, and in our own time, people who would never have associated with each other in the larger society sit as equals around the Table of the Lord…The Eucharist, therefore, is not simply a symbolic expansion of the moral circle. The Lord’s Supper becomes a profoundly subversive political event in the lives of the participants. The sacrament brings real people—divided in the larger world—into a sweaty, intimate, flesh-and-blood embrace where ‘there shall be no difference between them and the rest.”
Jesus used teachings and parables about food as that is what was easy to understand for everyone. In the feeding of the 5000 we see food given by a young child as a gift. We see Jesus setting the example of giving thanks to God, and then he broke the bread and fish and shared it with everyone. Jesus saw the crowds physical and spiritual hunger and met those needs. Maybe he realized that people pay better attention when they are not hungry, and maybe he also wanted to wow them with a really cool miracle. Jesus says ‘I am the bread of Life’ in John 6:35 He could have called himself anything, but he chose a tangible and common item that gives nourishment and fulfillment for everyone, the only pre-requisite to sit at the table and eat is hunger. Lastly Wirzba comments that food lets us commune with God. He states,
“to know this world deeply we need to get our hands deep into it, smell its aromas, and taste its startling flavors. It should amaze us that we live in a world that tastes so good.” I love that!
For some, food can be a tough subject to talk about. Whether we have unpleasant memories of certain foods as a kid, maybe we didn’t have much food to eat, for others maybe food was something that they could/can control in a time that they don’t feel like anything else is in their control. 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to ‘cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ As we discuss food, fears, anxiety, and traditions we read in Romans 14:1-23 to not let ‘right or wrong’ foods distract you from what really matters, worshiping God with our lives and focusing on Him rather than ourselves is the whole point. Many times we show God’s love through serving others. A good friend of mine made the comment one time regarding the need to nourish ourselves well so that we can focus on and serve others well.
If we are constantly going around hungry or constantly thinking about the next meal, calories, grams of fat or weight, we miss opportunities to love others and to be mentally/emotionally/physically there for our friends and families that are struggling. Goodness, doesn’t the devil love that?
Food is a great equalizer, as we all need food for energy for our bodies. Food not only nourishes our bodies physically, but emotionally, and can be a vessel to also fill us spiritually. We all have a favorite meal that just brings a smile on our face and happy memories associated with it. God blessed us with flavors, spices, textures, taste buds and noses so that we can truly enjoy food rather than just give ourselves energy. We all not only crave certain foods as a way to tell our bodies that we may need more of a certain nutrient, but we also crave relationships, both with people and with Him. Being able to be with friends and family, to sit down and share a meal and by default conversation and memories brings us joy. The kingdom is about sharing and caring for one another, bring glory and praise to God, and connecting with others who do not yet know Him. We practice the fruits of the spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control when we are in challenging situations, with challenging people, and during challenging times. This also applies to struggles with over and under eating, or the various forms of purging. When we don’t love our selves enough; when we don’t find joy in meals; when our hearts are not at peace; when we are not patient with ourselves when we mess up; when we don’t speak kindly to our self; when we choose coping mechanisms that are not good; when we are not faithful to our promises to eat a balanced meal that will nourish us; when we are not gentle to our support system and instead choose to be short or angry; and when we feel like we lose our self-control – the devil is slowly winning and our hearts hurt just that much more. The Lord is the ultimate definition of the fruits of the spirit and through Him we can find ourselves living them out as well.
1. Beck R. Unclean: Meditations on purity, hospitality, and mortality. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books; 2013. Accessed April 26, 2019.
2. Wirzba N. Food and faith: A theology of eating. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2011. Accessed April 22, 2019