Thought for Food: Christianity is a “Food-Laden” Religion

April 9, 2011


Food is about more than just being fed. (cc image courtesy of ednl via Flickr)

These days everywhere you look people are talking about food.

As Ryan O’Dowd writes in “Thought for Food“:

Whole foods, slow foods, back to the garden, back to the earth, come to the table, eat-pray-love, organic, green, natural, local, farm-fresh, grass fed, cage-free, food for Africa, food for China, food for Haiti, food for my starving children. And on the list goes. Food is ubiquitous today.

In her essay “Is Food the New Sex?“, Mary Eberstadt suggests that the tremendous excess of food in the West has raised our awareness of food and led a new and obsessive food culture. Food has become one of the modern modes of self-expression as both young and old make how and where they shop, cook, and eat a substantial part of self-definition.

O’Dowd recognizes there are complicated issues surrounding food—the connection between processed food and disease, class issues, animal rights, the social impacts of large industrial food conglomerates—but says that however complicated the conversation might be, “its arrival is welcome for it pressures us not only to wrestle with the issues themselves but, even more, to think in holistic ways about the relationships between the political, cultural, nutritional, and spiritual nature of food.”

O’Dowd doesn’t stop at the political or social significance of food but considers also the “human significance” of eating. He writes:

Our holistic thinking must also attend to food beneath and behind this public face, for food informs and shapes every dimension of life. Consider just the human significance of eating. Each day, our food reminds us that we are creatures, made to be dependent and hard working. Jesus’ command to pray “give us our daily bread” calls us to remember our dependency upon the giver of good gifts. Food teaches us to be attentive to beauty and invites us to become creatures of pleasure and delight.

There is more to food than our “food-obsessed” culture understands; we have to remember the simple place a common meal has in the human experience. As the “food-laden rituals” of Christianity point to, food is “a gift, a mystery, a delight, and always an experience of the divine.”

Read the rest of Ryan O’Dowd’s “Thought for Food” in Comment Magazine.


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