From Eve eating the forbidden fruit, to Jesus eating his last meal with the disciples; the Bible has a lot to say about food.
Eating is nothing new. In fact, for most it has probably become so rudimentary in the patterns of our days that when we come to the table to feed our hunger, we often think of it merely as a means to an end. In other words, food today has become a commodity, where its value is seen primarily in its taste, convenience and price (Wirzba). When we think about it, we mostly view food as fuel to sustain our bodies in order to carry us on throughout the day.
Admittedly, I never cared much about food until my last semester in seminary. I took a class on a theology of food merely because one of my favorite professors was teaching it and I needed another elective to graduate. By the end of the semester, I realized that this class would stick with me for a while. Nearly a year later, I still cannot help but talk about food and faith.
It is telling that the first story anyone opens up to in the Bible is a story about eating. Moreover, it is astounding to think that the author of Genesis, when writing about "beginnings" and what ails humanity, is the fact that we all have taste buds that work with a brain that desires to taste good food. Even within the Christian religion itself, food--namely the Lord's Supper--is a central practice, if not the central practice of corporate worship.
Still, food is not often seriously considered in theology and it's because of commodification. Because we view food merely as fuel, the relationship most people have with food is one of anxiety or stress as so many of us wrestle with the daily question, "what do I eat for dinner?" (Pollan). We know that food can do something for us: make us fat or skinny, sleepy or ill; but we have lost the wonder and mystery of food and eating. Growing theologies of food can help resurrect that.
If we are interested in venturing into a theology of food, we might ask ourselves, "where do we begin?" It seems obvious and convenient to begin in the garden, in Genesis, but I would suggest that where we need to begin to undo this unhealthy relationship to food is to start with the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is an intentional coming together of seemingly different people sharing the same affirmation: by the hunger of their stomachs they are not self-sustaining gods (Wirzba). It is a time where we force ourselves to look at food differently and how consuming it connects us with nature, each other and to God.
But still, if we are going to begin to confront our poor relationship with food by way of the Eucharist, then we need to address our own eating (dis)orders when we come to God's table; the greatest of which is who we allow a place to sit and partake in the meal itself. For a while now, scholars have been saying over and over again that the basic problem Paul was addressing in his letter to the Corinthians was a problem with social stratification (1 Cor. 1:10-11; Theissen). Paul's warning against eating in an unworthy manner is a warning against collective disunity--failure of the individual to consider the "other" (Martin).
The Eucharist has just as well been commodified in most Christian traditions. It is a moment to remember the Christ who died for all and for some traditions it conveys the actual grace of God to any who partake in it. Yet, we buy and sell this meal, this grace, with the membership to the Christian religion. We celebrate a Christ who ate with those unworthy to eat with him. Yet, we maintain that the Lord's Supper is only for some.
For those of us who are Christians, we need to begin to reconsider eating beginning with the most important meal in our worldview: the Eucharist. I firmly believe that the Eucharist has the power to radically change our poor relationship with food and can be a catalyst for beginning the oh so necessary cultivation of a robust theology of food.
Some Further Reading....
Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith
Angel F. Montoya-Mendez, The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist
Michael Pollan, The Omnivor's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth
Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body