In writing about food and theology, I’ve constantly been frustrated by how little emphasis is put on the role of eating together in our understanding of how we approach our relationship to food. One of three things usually occurs. Either the author gives idea of eating together a token acknowledgement, before the authors move on to their real point, whether that be localism, veganism, eating all bread, eating no bread, food justice, and so on. If not that, eating together is referenced to recall supposed halcyon days of yore when the nuclear family gathered around the dinner table every night. Last but not least there are the books that jump on the latest dieting gimmicks and then seek to put a “Biblical” or “Christian” gloss on them.
Slowly, this is beginning to change. We can in part, thank the “New Monastic” writers such as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove who included the significance of eating together as one of the chapter in his recent book, The Awakening of Hope.
Sarah Miles has also tackled this subject in her book, Take this Bread, which among other things, chronicles her adventures in learning to eat with others. As well, people seem to be rediscovering the pleasure that eating and eating together affords, as put forward by Robert Farrar Capon in his book, The Supper of The Lamb.
Still, the pickings are slim, and the introduction of Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, by Rachel Marie Stone, is a more than welcome addition to the table, so to speak. There are many reasons this book is a joy.
If you have never give much thought to what you eat, how it’s produced, and what it means to eat together, Eat with Joy is a very accessible primer on those subjects. This is not a scolding book, you will not be made to feel guilty about your actions or inaction in how you relate to any of the topics, particularly those relating to issues of food justice.
Eat With Joy and the Eucharist
At its heart, what makes this book such a great new contribution is how it views eating as an extension of the grace that is offered to us in the Eucharistic meal where we feed on and are sustained by Christ. As the author says: Thus every meal is sacramental: a tangible, tasty reminder of Christ’s sacrificial love, especially when we take a moment before eating to consider the potato casserole or Pad Thai (or whatever!) as God’s sustaining love made edible.
It naturally follows from that, that when we eat together we extend that same grace to those whom we share our food with. Stone is also very clear that this isn’t meant simply to be done with those who live under the same roof as us, but with(not to) those who are most alone and in need of companionship as well.
Such an attitude has great implications for the ways in which we offer food to those who have little. Too often, food is simply something we give rather than something that we partake together. One result might even be that when we eat together more, we cease striving after new diets, because we learn that the important thing is that we are created, loved and sustained by God and we already know God’s opinion of us as God’s creation. (Genesis 1:26-31).
Eat With Joy is a great new addition to the field of food and theology, and we can only hope that there will be more books like it, following soon.