Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Redemption of Food


It seems like we obsess over food. I know I do. For all of my adult life, I have been in a love/hate relationship with food. I love to cook. I hate being overweight. I went on diets. I didn’t have time to cook properly, so I bought packaged foods. When I was on food stamps, the first day they came in my kids and I shared a giant meal of steaks and baked potatoes. My children went in and out of dietary phases with me throughout their childhood years. I went in and out of dietary phases as I felt more comfortable or less comfortable with my life. When I felt out of control of my finances, for some reason I would spend money at the grocery store and cook one of those giant steak-and-baked-potato meals. Attempting to become a better person, I tried to act on small convictions: vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian. I tried to treat my physical ailments with food choices: sugar free, gluten free, soda free.

More recently, in an effort (successful, I might add) to lose weight and become healthier and stronger, I went on an almost solid-food-free diet. Two shakes or smoothies*, a couple of “smart” snacks and one actual meal a day – small portions only – along with some heavy duty boot camp style exercise brought me to a manageable weight. I feel good about how my clothes fit. I don’t want to gain back my weight, but I’ve also decided I don’t want to avoid great food anymore.

There has been a lot of talk around diet and the way we use food to connect with one another. Much of this talk has been negative – like using food as a vehicle to social interaction is a bad thing.

It isn’t.

Friends Gather To Enjoy
Good Food & Good Fun
In fact, breaking bread together is one of the oldest ways of connecting with one another. It is a means of communication, of conveying love, and of supporting and nurturing one another. In one of the most famous bread breaking events in history, Jesus, son of Mary, fed over 5,000 people on a hillside. He broke unwritten rules of law by breaking grain to feed his disciples on the Sabbath. He shared meals and drink with the people others loved to hate – tax collectors, sinners, resident aliens, people in other cultures, women, prostitutes. According to some, Jesus "ate his way through the Gospels." There’s the wedding where he made the water into the best wine, the gathering of disciples where Martha flitted about, the dinner in the house of a Pharisee, and the feast at the home of a descriptively short tax collector who climbed a tree just to see Jesus. Finally, Jesus joined with his closest friends, the Apostles, and probably a few more disciples and family to celebrate the Passover meal one last time. When sharing that meal, Jesus literally broke the bread to share it with his followers. In doing so, he invited them to remember him every time they ate. “Whenever you do this,” he said, “remember me.”

In his teachings, Jesus told his disciples that “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. Whenever you feed the least of these, you are feeding me.” “When two or more are gathered, there I will be also.” Whenever we gather with others to share a meal, we are gathered with Jesus. We need not be in a religious setting; the Christ is with us always. When we break bread together, we invited the best of who we are to connect with the best of who our companions are. We meet as equals, sharing the same food and drink, sitting at the same table. It doesn’t matter if we believe the same things. What matters is that we are sharing a good meal, good conversation, and laughter.

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In a not so distant past, the kitchen was the heart of the home. Spirit flowed around the stove, where those who cooked kept a soup pot bubbling and the family gathered to review their days and make plans for future times. Friends were invited to cocktail parties, dances, bonfires, and barbeques. As good food filled the stomach, good Spirit filled the soul.

Recently, as I sat with a close friend over an excellent meal at a wonderful Middle Eastern café next to the local mosque, it occurred to me that too much time has been wasted on worrying about food. Too much of my time was wasted on weighing the bites and assessing the calories. My friend and I began to discuss the idea that perhaps if we simply lived our lives, finding the places where happiness touches our hearts, and sharing those times with others, the calorie content of the food we ate would no longer matter. What if we simply enjoyed our meals, punctuated with forks raised to illustrate points, stopped eating when the holes in our stomachs were filled, and continued the conversation over a good cup of tea? Would we find ourselves sated by the combination of food and friendship?

What if I had a smoothie for lunch not because it’s part of a “nutrition plan,” but because it’s delicious and I feel good about it? Believe me, I can make pretty good smoothies from scratch! I think that letting go of the obsession with food comes with a side effect, at least for me. Once I begin to let go of the need to control food to the point of obsession, it becomes less likely that I will crave the “bad” foods and the giant servings. If I eat good, real food, I no longer crave unnecessary foods. If I enjoy good meals with good friends and relatives, I will so look forward to those times together that I will no longer find the need for the shallower sustenance of unnecessary snacks.

The Reagan Family at Dinner
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There is a television show I like to watch sometimes, called "Blue Bloods." It's about a family of New York City police officers and attorneys whose jobs often intersect with one another. My favorite part of this show is the ending, in which the family gathers together with all generations at the dinner table. They begin with prayer that we in my family call "grace;" that is, a thanksgiving for family, the food we eat, and those who prepared that meal. In my family, this grace is an invitation for the Grace of God to be with us, for the Christ, Lord Jesus, to join us at the meal. The family on this show, the Reagans, are people whose integrity and strength are worthy of emulation. The culmination of their trials and troubles around the breaking of bread is a beautiful symbol of something that is passing away in our culture. It is sad to lose this tradition of family, friends, and food. Perhaps, it is a tradition worthy of resurrection.

I look forward to many excellent meals in the future; not just food, but exquisite moments, shared with good people. Bon appetite!

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*I used Herbalife products to kick off that weight loss. If you're interested, contact my sister Jane Rogers at

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