Food

I TURN ON THE FAUCET and baptize the collards under ice-cold water for several seconds. I pick the leaves apart with my 12-year-old hands, casting the stems to the side.

A few feet away, my mother reheats her coffee in the microwave and then, between sips, crumbles cornbread and chicken liver into a large, sage-colored bowl. The familiar scent of sweet potato pies dances around the kitchen, along with the unmistakable laughter of my mother on the phone with one of her girlfriends.

Later, I’ll wash and dry the countertop before anointing it with a blanket of white flour in preparation for my mother to make the rolls—my mother’s grandmother’s recipe and the most relished part of the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. To this day, my mother is one of a few family members who has recorded the secret, something she has always carried with pride.

Some of my first memories about food are stories like this one, at home with my mother conjuring her magic in the kitchen, creating something wonderful out of simple ingredients, as is our legacy as black women. Her food was more than just food; it was nourishment.

Before seminary, before I found language for my womanist theology and politics, before Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride ushered me into the movement, my hands were actively developing the muscle memory that would later fuel my healing. It took me 15 years to realize that during those times in our kitchen with my mother, I was developing practical tools for my own survival and healing: cutting, peeling, dicing, skinning—not just kitchen duties, but small acts of self-determination.

My addiction to ‘non-food’

I began eating food in secret in high school, mindlessly devouring mini Snickers bars, ice cream, pizza rolls, and French fries in the parking lot at McDonald’s as a way to comfort myself and to avoid what I was truly feeling. When I was stressed or feeling depressed about school or what was going on with my family, I would stuff my face with junk food, making sure to hide the wrappers beneath my mattress.

Image via Sally Morrow / RNS

Pope Francis on Nov. 11 urged Catholics to continue the tradition of a family meal, leaving smartphones aside, and switching off the TV to enjoy the “fundamental experience” of sharing food.

“The sharing of a meal — and therefore, other than of food, also of affections, of stories, of events — is a fundamental experience,” Francis said during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Sitting around the table helps measure the health of relationships, the pontiff said: “If in a family there’s something that doesn’t work, or a hidden wound, at the table it’s understood immediately.”

08-06-2015
Arlington Heights UMC / RNS

Arlington Heights United Methodist Church’s Five and Two Food Truck served breakfast tacos to Komen Race for the Cure participants in April 2015, co-sponsored by Kroger. Photo via Arlington Heights UMC / RNS

Faith-based food trucks are building momentum across the country. In St. Paul, Minn., Lutheran pastor Margaret Kelly’s church is actually a food truck, providing free food and prayers to homeless and impoverished members of the community.

Back in Texas, the Chow Train in San Antonio has been making national headlines for fearlessly serving homeless residents despite a $2,000 fine in April for serving food from the back of a private vehicle.

Photo by REUTERS / Amir Cohen / RNS

Pope Francis and Israel’s President Shimon Peres plant an olive tree in Jerusalem. Photo by REUTERS / Amir Cohen / RNS

People must change their lifestyles and attitudes to help defeat hunger, Pope Francis said June 11, a hint of what may be coming in his much-anticipated environmental encyclical next week.

“We must begin with our daily lives if we want to change lifestyles, aware that our small gestures can guarantee sustainability and the future of the human family,” said Francis, addressing delegates at a conference hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Homeless men sleep just outside of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo via Josephine McKenna/RNS.

Market speculation and pursuit of profits are hindering the global fight against hunger and poverty, Pope Francis said Nov. 20.

In an address at a U.N. conference in Rome on nutrition, the pope urged the world’s wealthiest nations to do more to help those in need.

“Perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry,” the pope told delegates from more than 170 countries attending the global gathering at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities,’” the pope said.

“The hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.”

The Argentine pope has often called for greater compassion and justice for the world’s poor since his election last year, and he has made charity a priority of his pontificate.

Volunteers pack food packages to be distributed to needy Israelis. Photo via Michele Chabin/RNS.

On Oct. 3, when Israeli Jews sit down for their pre-Yom Kippur meal, prior to the Day of Atonement fast, many will be discussing where to buy their produce during this agricultural sabbatical year.

That’s because this Jewish New Year, 5775, is a sabbatical year, when, according to the Bible, the land of Israel is supposed to lie fallow. Called a “shmita” year in Hebrew, the sabbatical is intended to allow the poor to reap whatever may still be growing on the land “so that the poor of your people may eat,” Exodus 23:11.

The start of the sabbatical-year prohibitions, which include sowing, planting, pruning, reaping, harvesting and improving the land, coincided with the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that began this year on Sept. 24. Produce planted before the shmita can be harvested this year.

But people have to eat, so a century ago rabbis found a way to bypass the law so no one goes hungry.

Jacob Myers 08-18-2014
l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com

l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com

Do you want to know a secret about working out? Here it is: we don’t grow our muscles in the gym. When we lift weights we perform controlled damage to our bodies; we literally tear our muscle fibers, forcing our bodies to adapt. We improve outside of the gym by consuming healthy foods. To “battle the bulge” requires a commitment to strenuous exercise and healthy eating. All who have enjoyed (or endured) a strenuous workout or have disciplined their dietary practices understand that results are impossible without bodily sacrifice — no pain, no gain.

Furthermore, if it is true that we are what we eat, then Christ-followers ought to take a long, hard look at the kinds of things we are putting into our bodies. Paul’s words to the Christ-followers in Rome offer us some food for thought (pardon the pun; couldn’t help myself).

Paul beseeches us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, that is, to submit our lived reality to the standards that God deems acceptable. Such a way of being in the world is deemed reasonable — spiritual even, as the NRSV translators put it. This is our tangible act of service to God.

Julie Polter 08-05-2014

Accidental Theologians by Elizabeth A. Dreyer / Extending the Table by Mennonite Central Committee / Overrated by Eugene Cho / Burning Down the House by Nell Bernstein

The Editors 05-13-2014

Elizabeth Palmberg (photo by Heather Wilson)

Select works by our dear friend and colleague Elizabeth Palmberg.

 
03-26-2014
I am continually reminded that we are a Christian country. Evangelist Jim Wallis has pointed out that there are several hundred references in the Bible to helping the poor. Taking food off their plates does not seem very Christian to me.
Sophia Har 03-25-2014
Gluttony illustration, wildfloweret / Shutterstock.com

Gluttony illustration, wildfloweret / Shutterstock.com

Small.

If my name had a synonym, that'd be it. At least if we're going by the most-commonly-used word to describe me by both friends and strangers, Asians and non-Asians.

At five-one-and-three-quarters and just a little over 100 pounds, I will be the first to agree: I am small. No matter how much I eat or how little I exercise, I have still been able to get away with jeans and form-fitting dresses from high school. It's great — but the problem is, it makes it all the easier to hide my struggles with food.

A few weeks ago, some of my fellow interns and I decided to celebrate "Fries"-day (Friday) with an Amazon Local deal for Z-Burger. $22 worth of food for just $11. It was an intern's dream come true. It was also two days after Ash Wednesday.

After finishing my last fry, I texted a friend about how greasy my insides felt but how good the splurge was. He shared what he'd had for lunch, and despite my bursting stomach, I responded with "Ooh that sounds so yummy." That's when I realized I had a problem.

02-20-2014
Sojourners, a Christian magazine dedicated to social justice, featured Dumpster diving on its cover in 2006, motivating Micah Holden to begin trying it a year later. Now he lives with his wife and daughter in Wheaton, Ill., where they occasionally blog about being a Dumpster diving family in suburbia. Holden, who is a nurse, said his motivations to go once or twice a week are mixed.
Rose Marie Berger 12-12-2013

"Food brings people together."

Sara J. Wolcott 11-05-2013

In India, a church initiative helps promote sustainability and connect farmers with the dignity of their vocation.

LaVonne Neff 10-03-2013
Photo courtesy of Lavonne Neff

Mom and me, 1950. Photo courtesy of Lavonne Neff

Something you should know about tall women who seem reserved and even distant  — they may just be shy or socially awkward, and they may really want to be your friend. I've understood this all my life, of course, but I was well into adulthood when my mother told me she understood it too.

My mother was not the kind of woman who could chat easily with strangers or charm other people's children. She would not have survived as a social worker, therapist, or nurse. If she had belonged to a church that equated righteousness with personally comforting the deranged or the homeless or the dying, she would probably have changed denominations.

I tell you this only to point out that hospitality has many faces.

Andrea Ferich 10-02-2013

Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. Simon & Schuster.

LaVonne Neff 09-27-2013
Photo Courtesy of LaVonne Neff

Renoir, 1881: Le déjeuner des canotiers. Photo Courtesy of LaVonne Neff

Q. What is one of the best ways to look good, feel good, and enjoy a long life?

A. Celebrate! 

Yes, it's counterintuitive. Most Americans are convinced that if only we could eat little enough fat, ingest few enough calories, spend enough sweaty minutes at the gym, and drink exactly 5 ounces of red wine a day, then we might live forever — with enough expensive medical intervention, of course.

How dreary.

Dan Lundberg 09-26-2013
JENG_NIAMWHAN / Shutterstock.com

Closeup of fresh organic strawberries. JENG_NIAMWHAN / Shutterstock.com

Some read Romans 13 and lean toward faith being a personal thing (pay your taxes and don’t break the laws, avoid sexual immorality, debauchery, jealousy, and instead clothe yourself with Christ), but the chapter also says God has established government as his “servant to do good.”

This is why, in a country where the public is encouraged to participate in government, I want to encourage people of faith to voice the heart of God when it comes to issues like feeding the least of these.

LaVonne Neff 09-26-2013
Rodin's 'Le Baiser.' Courtesy of LaVonne Neff.

Rodin's 'Le Baiser.' Courtesy of LaVonne Neff.

It's odd that Christians — people who claim to believe that God created the earth, sustains it day by day, and intends to create a new earth — are often so mixed up about sex and food. How long would the earth's inhabitants last without coupling and eating?

And yet most Christian writers right up to the 16th century praised celibacy, sexless marriages, and arduous fasting. Bless Martin Luther for loving his wife (and the beer she brewed), but lots of us still seem to think that good sex and good food — if not actually sinful — are at least pretty low on the religious values hierarchy.

Has it escaped our attention that, according to our most sacred literature, God made a naked male and a naked female, put them in the midst of grain fields and orchards, and told them to multiply?

LaVonne Neff 09-25-2013
Adam and Eve, Drakonova / Shutterstock.com

Adam and Eve, Drakonova / Shutterstock.com

If we're going to talk about food, we need to start with theology. Before chocolate was invented, a snake put "sinfully delicious" and "decadent" on the menu. Somebody fell for the marketing ploy, and we've had a complicated relationship with food ever since.

We've also had a complicated relationship with sex, and with siblings, and with weapons of mass destruction. It's all there in Genesis (where the WMDs are swords). And pretty soon, right-thinking people started coming up with rules to keep people from doing bad things. You can have sex with this person but not that one. You really shouldn't deceive, sell, or kill your brother. Beat your swords into plowshares.

The rules helped to restrain bad guys, and they gave would-be good guys some helpful pointers. Still, there were plenty of bad guys to go around, and good guys could get pretty anal about what other people should or shouldn't do. Anyway, it's obvious that you don't create a good marriage simply by avoiding sex with the wrong person, and you don't have a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner simply by not killing your siblings, and you don't banish war simply by wiping out as many weapons as possible. The rules are helpful — adultery, fratricide, and genocide are really bad ideas —but if you want a Peaceable Kingdom, you're going to need more than rules.

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