Eating. It’s the most basic function of all living creatures. If you don’t eat, you die. But have you ever thought about the fact that eating to live involves the death of other members of God’s creation?
In Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating, theologian Norman Wirzba says that even though more information about food and nutrition exists than ever before, today’s eaters are the most ignorant about where food comes from. In today’s consumer culture where food has become a commodity to be brokered, the main focus on food is that it be cheap and convenient. But when we take the time to think theologically about food, he says, eating “reminds us that we participate in a grace-saturated world, a blessed creation worthy of attention, care, and celebration.”
A theological approach to eating enables “the perception of food within a context that stretches through the many ecological and social relationships of this world to the divine creator and sustainer of it,” he writes. “To approach food with a concern for its theological depth is to acknowledge that food is precious because it has its source in God.”
Creation is a collection of many members, humans included, and all of these members have a life cycle. Eating, Wirzba says, is a daily reminder of creaturely mortality. “We eat to live, knowing that without food we will starve and die. But to eat we must also kill, realizing that without the death of others – microbes, insects, plants, animals – we can have no food.” As humans we must learn to receive this gift of life, and death, with grace and with respect for the sacrifice of other members of creation.
This means that we, created as God’s image on the earth, have the responsibility to honor God’s creation through thoughtful eating. “Thoughtful eating reminds us that there is no human fellowship without a table, no table without a kitchen, no kitchen without a garden, no garden without viable ecosystems, no ecosystems without the forces productive of life, and no life without its source in God,” Wirzba writes.
The Gospels frequently mention Jesus eating with others – sharing fellowship around a common table. It was at a meal when Jesus asked his friends to remember him whenever they ate together in community. What, Wirzba asks, would eating that ‘remembered’ Christ look like?
“In Paul’s view, it would be eating that strengthened the community of his followers,” he writes. “The Eucharist is a common, participatory event in which Christ’s followers exhibit Christ through the memberships they live. Through the daily meal Christians learn what it is to be present to and responsible for each other. When Jesus broke bread and shared the cup as the giving of his own body and blood, and then asked his followers to ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ he instituted a new way of eating in which followers are invited to give their lives to each other, to turn themselves into food for others, and in so doing nurture and strengthen the memberships of life.”
Supporting sustainable farming that does not injure the earth and humane and ethical raising of livestock, paying living wages to the people who grow and harvest the food and buying locally to reduce the amount of fossil fuel energy spent in transporting food long distances are just a few ways that we, as the body of Christ, can nurture those memberships and eat in remembrance of Him.
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Julie Murray serves as Associate Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org