A few months ago, I shared about an experience while visiting a farm here in North Carolina. I was tagging along with my friend, Natalie, who was on a field trip for her class on food ethics in her last semester at Duke Divinity School. The subject so intrigued me that I have asked Natalie to share with you all on the blog a bit about her experience with food, faith, and life. Enjoy the guest post! (…and this picture of Natalie with her yummy carrots!)
I recently had a friend tell me that her day sometimes revolves around what she’s going to eat at her next meal. Though we laughed, I suspect that this is not far from the truth for many of us. It seems to me that quite often we do base our time around eating and especially eating together with friends, spouses, family, church communities, co-workers, etc. We know when our spouse will be home so we can share a meal and laugh and catch up after a long day at work. We plan dinner at the local Italian restaurant around the corner from our home to celebrate a graduation. We cook meals and open wine and invite friends over to share them with us. Months before I have family come into town, I begin thinking about what local Durham restaurants I want to share with them. Eating is something we all do and many of us in abundance (heaven knows I do!). Eating is fundamental to who we are—and who we are together.
I was a bit taken aback by the puzzled responses I received from people when they found out I was taking a food ethics course in seminary. Simply put, I think food and eating matter for being a Christian. Jesus cared about hungry tummies and even knew hunger himself. I remember my surprise and delight when I first read Luke 24:41-43 while writing my final paper for my food class—“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” During his time on earth, Jesus fed people, knew hunger, and shared meals with his friends. One of our primary Christian practices is based around eating together at a table and our greatest vision for the kingdom of God is a giant dinner party. Food is integral to who we are as Christians.
So if food matters to who we are as people (philosopher Leon Kass and others argue that our fundamental humanity is found in eating) and who we are as Christians, the kind of food we eat matters. A good deal of my food ethics class was learning about how difficult it is to trace where the majority of our food comes from and how it has been produced. A good place to start discovering the truth about the industrial food system (of which so many of us are part) is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc. Much of why my husband Dane and I have begun to change the way we eat is because we love people, animals, and the earth that is our home—and all of these are exploited by the industrial food system.
But don’t stop at the hopelessness of the truth of the industrial food system. If you decide you want to change the way you eat, start somewhere tangible. Cut out fast food or eating on the go. Take a trip to a farm (Mary and I had so much fun when we went!). Cook one splendid dinner with all local ingredients and invite your friends to join you. Try to grow something that is more than decorative, even if you don’t have a yard (my gracious blog host has been growing fresh mint on her windowsill). We all love to eat—let us learn to eat well!
–Natalie V. Butters