Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Bible and Food

Back in May, I wrote a guest post for Wendy Hammond at The Local Cook on the topic of the Bible and Food. She has been doing an entire series on eating locally based on the book Simply In Season. I have decided to repost it for those who missed it and since it really encompassed a lot of what I often would like to communicate about food, but don't always seem to get it across in a way I feel is sufficient. Wendy posed some real thought provoking questions and I responded based on information I have gleaned over the last few years. I encourage you to visit her site and read some of the other Food and Faith posts as well. 

Photo Credit: 60 in 3

How has our culture blurred the line between feasting and everyday eating?

As we all know, our culture didn’t start out feasting everyday. Gathering one’s food and sustenance was just about an all-consuming struggle for survival. Everyday eating was a means of survival, with occasional feasts that were highly anticipated.
And even when the industrial revolution took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, many still spent a large portion of their income on obtaining food.  

By the early 1900’s a family spent about 43 percent of their budget on groceries, but by the late 1980’s they only spent about 19 percent. Some of this was due to greater farming technology that resulted in falling food prices, but regardless, the results has meant that most families now can spend less on food and more on wants and desires. And with this new affluent lifestyle we have more disposable income to eat out and purchase “treats” that once were rare occasions. 

I remember as a child in the late 1960’s, if I made straight A’s, my parents would reward me with a trip to Kip’s Big Boy so I could eat a restaurant hamburger. It was a rare occasion to dine somewhere other than at home and therefore special! Today, my own kids would think of this as laughable! While we may eat out less than the average American family, it still isn’t all that unusual to stop at a restaurant for a meal. And when we do, every family member can “feast” by ordering whatever they so choose (provided Mom allows it!).

Now, when a holiday arrives that we would normally celebrate with a “feast”, we are hard pressed to serve anything that is really “special”. For example a turkey at Thanksgiving can be had all year long if one wants. The holiday ham? Again, it really isn’t out of reach. Our supermarket isles are loaded and boast that they can give you anything you want, whenever you want, from anywhere in the world.

 In addition, we find all kinds of reasons to celebrate with food because we CAN. We can afford to have prime rib to celebrate a birthday, go out to a gourmet restaurant with friends on a Friday night, or enjoy a decadent chocolate cake on Valentine’s Day. Sure it may put a slight ding in our pocket book, but most aren’t going to go without a meal because they splurged a bit. Our new-found affluence along with the technology we have been able to harness has blurred the lines of feasting and eating for everyday sustenance.

Photo Credit: Chris Campbell

How might we benefit if we recaptured the joy of saving certain foods for special occasions? (John 2:1-11 and John 21:1-14 )

When we eat certain foods all the time, they loose they importance. They become commonplace and mundane. By reserving certain foods for those special celebrations, we elevate their status and reclaim their significance in our lives. Let me give you an example of how this works.

For centuries, Sunday (or the Saturday Sabbath for some) was set aside as a day of rest. It had special significance. All other days were common and full of hard work. But when Sunday arrived, it was special; set apart; a day to celebrate. No one worked for the most part and everyone benefited by having a time of rejuvenation because God designed our bodies to be revived in part through resting.

It’s the same with our foods. Our bodies are not designed for feasting 365 days a year. Or even 165 for that matter! And we’re starting to reap the consequences of having done so. Today obesity, disease, and a lack of productivity are all on the rise. If we recaptured the concept of holding certain foods back for times of true celebration and feasting, our digestive systems and our bodies overall would benefit by having periods of rest from over indulging and our spirits would be refreshed because we would actually have held some things as sacred in the sense of being “set apart” (which is what the biblical word sanctified means).  

How can we learn not to take for granted God's gift of "ordinary" food and the creation that makes it possible?

I’m sure that manna and quail was a treat and tasted really good the first week the Israelites ate it, but by year 39 or 40, it was no longer special, but rather just an everyday meal. Imagine that in contrast to the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey! I’m sure it required the Israelites to learn to cultivate a grateful heart despite the repetition of manna and quail on a daily basis. It’s a choice they had to make and one we must make as well. However, I think the fact that they didn’t have other choices in front of them all the time may have made it slightly easier.

Everyday we are hit by an onslaught of food advertising encouraging us to purchase some product or patronize a food establishment. It’s constant! And our attitude can quickly slip back into the mentality that we “deserve” a break today from our “ordinary” foods.

I am a firm believer that an individual can cultivate one’s palate to appreciate God-given foods that some people would consider ordinary. But to do so, you can’t be eating the sugary man-made foods all the time. Most foods eaten as close to the way God made them as possible are satisfying, nutrient rich, and healthy for our bodies, while man-made foods cause us to crave more and more without being satisfied, they lack nutrients, and often do as much damage as good. However, God warns that even some of the foods He has given us should be eaten in moderation and on occasions rather than regularly. For example, Proverbs 25:16 warns, “Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it”.

Also, if we participate in growing our own food, we appreciate it more because we have invested ourselves in the process of acquiring it through labor and toil. And it doesn’t always result in what we hope. The home gardener quickly realizes that creation answers to God, not us! He sends rain when it pleases Him and pests as well. As a result, there is both satisfaction and gratefulness when that perfect tomato comes off the vine!

Photo Credit: the amanda

How can we make both our daily meals and our feasts a time of gratitude and recognizing God's presence?

Nancy Campbell, in her DVD The Family Meal Table, says that each time we come to the table we are to eat not only physically, but spiritually as well. When I first heard this it rang true in my spirit! While we already observed a time of reading devotions at the table, it spurred me on to make it a regular part of our lives at as many meals as possible. Although we aren’t able to do so every single time, we have made it regular practice and something we try to characterize our lives by. Sometimes we just read a scripture passage while at other times we read a devotional book. We’ve even read a storybook that was based on scripture. And before we leave the table we always pray a second time to thank God and ask for His blessings. I’m grateful that my girls are growing up with this, and hopefully for them, it will be a holy habit!

When we feast, it is often harder to incorporate these practices if your extended family is large (and sometimes loud!) and not of the same religious persuasion. However, if you plan as much for the spiritual element as much as you do the food, and you do so ahead of time, you can incorporate something that should make the meal spiritually special.

Many people like to add three kernels of corn at each place setting for the Thanksgiving meal so that individuals can thank God for three blessings during the past year. At Christmas, we often have a birthday cake for Jesus and sing happy birthday to Him. I find that celebrating a Messianic Passover Seder the week prior to Easter is one of my favorite times of feasting spiritually.  We use a Christian Haggadah from The Friends of Israel that shows how Christ is the fulfillment of all that the Passover signifies. It never ceases to amaze me!

Is it possible for Christians to imagine new guidelines for eating that don't lend themselves to legalism or creating divisions? (Leviticus 11, Romans 14:14-21.) 

I believe so. And I’ve been trying to practice this for the past 11 years after reading Rex Russell’s book What The Bible Says About Healthy Eating. He gives three guidelines in his book: 1) eat only what God calls food, 2) eat food as close to the way as God made it as possible, and 3) don’t make any food your god.

While we have freedoms in Christ, not everything is profitable. Many people have taken the command to Peter in Acts 10 as a license to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. God never said this. He did say that it was okay to do so when Peter was with Gentiles.  When I go to someone’s home and they serve ham, I am free to eat it with joy and thanksgiving. However, I don’t typically eat this food in my own home on a regular basis. Keep in mind that while God’s dietary laws were to set the Jewish nation apart from all the other nations, these laws also protected them physically from many diseases that often plagued pagan cultures.

Photo Credit: Le Petit Poulailler

What would your own guidelines for eating with justice and joy look like?

When determining what my family will eat, I always want to consider what God calls food and how did he design it to be consumed. For me, this means:

1)   • eating locally produced food,
2)   • that grows in the seasons that God designed it,
3)   • grown by a method that is in line with God’s economy,
4)   • in a humane manner (Prov. 12:10; Gen. 1:28-30), and
5)   • preparing it as close to the way as He made it as possible.

This is a simplified statement, but it gives me a starting point for consideration as well as peace that I’m working within His design to the best of my knowledge.

What does the Samuel passage tell us about the importance in that culture of being invited to eat with someone? (Matthew 25;34-36, 2 Samuel 9) 

Hospitality didn’t just mean sharing one’s food, it meant that the host or hostess considered you’re well being above their own. The host would sacrifice his own needs to provide for the one he had invited. When David brought Mephibosheth to his table, he was committing himself to Mephibosheth’s well being. And for a lame man, this meant LIFE!

What meaning has sharing food had for you in the past? Do you ever invite others to eat with you?

Many of my fondest childhood memories are centered around food. A meal on the table meant security, abundance, and love. And when my mother passed on, her recipes were what I treasured most. Preparing the foods she cooked connected us and brought comfort even though she was no longer with me. I’ve sought to build a similar foundation with my own daughters by cooking together often. We enjoy tasting and trying new recipes, new techniques, and new foods. In this we share as a family.

With friends, sharing a meal provides a platform for connecting our lives and talking about what is on our heart; from debating an issue in love to discussing a passage of scripture or talking about how God is working in our lives. Sharing a meal brings us together.

But if we stop with just sharing a meal with family or friends, we miss an element of hospitality that God has called us to practice. Matthew 5:46-47 says:

"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"

This is where I am seeking to stretch myself as a follower of Christ. It isn’t always easy if our sphere of contacts doesn’t include those society considers needy, so we may have to be creative. For me, I need to grow in this area. Therefore I’m considering a community gardening project or a food pantry program that reaches out to the hungry in my area. I hope not only to share good food, but build relationships in Christian love. That’s food for the soul!


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