Food Freedom, not Food Rules

Guilt-free sustainable eating is possible. Review by Karen Swallow Prior

Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone.
Intervarsity Press, $11.49

eat-with-joyI don’t read a lot of “how-to” books. I read even fewer “foodie” books. Too formulaic, too tunnel-visioned, too promissory, too pedantic.

Not so Rachel Stone’s newly-released Eat With Joy. Stone’s approach to “how to” eat joyfully is expansive, holistic, humble, and humane.  It’s not about food rules, but about food freedom.

And it’s no mere feel-good fluff.  Stone has experienced for herself the rule-bound approach to eating, having been, like far too many in our food-sick society, imprisoned once by the shackles of an eating disorder. But now Stone approaches matters of food with the experience that comes with feeding a young family, the wisdom found in well-examined scriptures, and the joy that flows from redemptive eating. While Stone’s writing style is conversational and engaging, her exhortations and insights are substantive, bolstered by biblical teaching, sound theology, and authoritative sources (who include Richard Bauckham, Marilynne Robinson, and Michael Pollan)—interwoven with illustrative examples from popular culture.

The book’s chapters cover “joyful eating,” “generous eating,” “communal eating,” restorative eating,” “creative eating,” and “redemptive eating.” While all of these chapters should be of interest to readers of Flourish, the chapter on “sustainable eating” might be particularly so. Here Stone explains that “[e]ating with joy while loving God’s creation means humbly recognizing our place as members of creation.” She continues,

It means respecting animals as the divinely-created subjects of their own lives while recognizing their legitimate use. It means remembering Eden and anticipating the new creation while living here and now. It can mean eating local, gardening, composting, recycling and more—but this will look different for city-dwellers as compared to country folk, as well as for the wealthier among us compared with those living on limited material resources. At its heart, it means sitting down to the table mindful of God, respectful of the creation he loves, and believing that in eating this way—even if we’re forgoing things we’d normally have—we are pursuing our own best good, our own greater joy.

Within this larger context—that context being all of creation from the ground to the barnyard to the third world to the urban setting–Stone navigates refreshingly through a middle way, refusing to succumb to either a reckless free-for-all of food choices or the easy comforts of food legalism.  Stone’s approach makes “room for other ideas and concerns and, more importantly, for other people.”

For example, while pointing out that eating meat is, biblically-speaking, clearly a “concession” to humanity’s fallen state, she also points out that in such a broken world pure veganism might not be the most sustainable approach when considered holistically. The current fallen Creation, Stone points out, includes carnivorous animals. Stone distinguishes wisely between the question of whether to eat meat at all and that of “choosing not to eat animals that have been tortured” by rampant industrial farming practices. On the other side of such questions, however, Stone gently takes to task those “asserting that caring for creation constitutes nature worship” and who misconstrue scripture to bolster such views.

Perhaps the most captivating quality of the book is that even in going both deep and wide into a topic as broad and essential as eating, the work is refreshingly practical and inviting. “Resist the temptation to think that if you can’t change the whole system, it’s not worth doing anything,” Stone appeals to the reader. “Waste less food,” she coaxes:

 If you waste a loaf of bread, you waste not just the bread itself but all the resources that it too to bring that bread to you: the fuel for shipping the bread to the store, for producing the packaging, for heating the ovens, running the mixers, not to mention milling, harvesting and planting the grain.” Explicated this way, the old admonishment from our mothers approaches a manifesto of sustainability.

Even the prayers, scripture passages, and simple Stone-family-tested recipes included in each chapter round out the book like a well-balanced meal.

While Stone’s aspirations for one of the most basic necessities of life are high—no less than sheer joy—her means are simple and her enthusiasm contagious. Eating with joy means accepting food as God’s gift. It is no less than redemptive.

Karen Swallow Prior, Ph.D., is professor of English and Chair of the English and modern languages department at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.


  1. That aspiration of joy is what grounds this as doable. We can find joy in what god has given us, even if we can’t fix the world he’s put us in. And as we find true joy in food and the rest of creation, we find ourselves taking better care of that world. Rachel’s book is a great reminder of that. Thanks for the review, Karen.



  1. Expansive, holistic, humble, humane… | Rachel Marie Stone says:

    [...] Swallow Prior has a review of my book up at Flourish, an online magazine that I began writing for ‘way back when, edited by Rusty Pritchard, who [...]

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