now on squarespace!

Hello faithful followers, I am thrilled to announce that Vanderslice of the Sweet Life is now hosted on SquareSpace. This blog and previous posts will continue to exist at www.vandersliceofthesweetlife.wordpress.com, but now www.VandersliceoftheSweetLife.com will take you straight to the new site. If you'd like to continue receiving e-mails about new posts, please visit the new site and re-subscribe!

I'm excited to see you all over there!

advental anticipation and the blessing of birth

Every year my birthday falls right in the middle of the Christmas season. The association of my own birth's close proximity to the birth of our Lord's is forever commemorated in my middle name, Noelle. My birthday celebrations have incorporated all sorts of holiday festivities from Christmas caroling to ornament decorating, ice skating and -- in my shopping obsessed middle school years -- a birthday party at the mall. Yet it was not until this year that I recognized the beauty of celebrating another year of life in the midst of the advent season. Each birthday -- particularly in the years since graduating high school -- I have reflected, in awe, on the ways the year played out differently than I could have perceived the birthday before. As I receive birthday wishes from across the country and around the world, I am reminded of the hundreds of wonderful people the Lord has brought into my life in my short twenty-three years as He's brought me from city to city, all over the world. Each person, from the short-term acquaintances to the long-term close friends, has played a part in helping me become the woman I am today.

With this birthday, I find myself in a phase of life quite different from any year before. My plans are no longer bound to the academic year. I am free of the constraints of debt, not committed to any relationship.I have the freedom to live and work where I want now and to move on when I so desire. Yet in this freedom I still find myself prone to anxiety as I desire to responsibly navigate the balance between contentedness in my present situation and the active pursuit of God's next step for me -- to live a life in active anticipation.

Advent is a full season dedicated to active anticipation: as we prepare to celebrate the first coming of the Messiah, we also reflect on the ways in which our lives are a continual preparation for His second return. We acknowledge that we live with the freedom we received through Christ's death on the cross, yet in the pursuit of Christ's restoration made complete. We live in the daily tension of the already but not yet. And it is in the same manner that we live out the active anticipation of Advent that I am to navigate the active anticipation of my next steps in life -- through participation in the global and historical communion of Saints, aka by living in community with all of you.

One of my theology professors at Wheaton told his class that the best way to examine whether we are following God's will is not to pray for decisiveness in the specifics, but to examine our lives in light of Micah 6:8:

"He has shown you, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

"If you are doing each of these things," the professor told us, "you are living within God's will -- whatever the phase of life. But this cannot be done alone. These can only be done in community." No matter where we live or work, no matter the specifics of God's next step for us, it is by participating in the community around us that we encourage each other on in justice, love, and mercy; that we live out our active anticipation.

So as I embark on another new year of life, and as we together finish out this season of Advent, I thank you all for the role you have played these past twenty-three years of my life and I pray that together we can continue to live out the tension of our active anticipation, living lives of justice, love, and mercy until the beautiful day of restoration for which we earnestly await.

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the celebration of the meal

photo-2 Something is backward in the way we think about food. The rest of the Kingdom Animalia chooses foods based upon what will provide the most calories ingested for the calories exerted. American humans, however, look for foods with the least calories ingested and spend extra time attempting to expend even more calories through exercise. We don't want the extra flab we might gain by eating too much fat, or the bulge that might come with excess carbs, or the bulk that might accompany extra protein.

In the end, what we create is a guilt complex surrounding the meal. We are afraid to enjoy the food we eat, lest we create a desire to eat more than we should. We are ashamed of the indulgences we allow ourselves, afraid of the consequence if we don't keep a tight reign on our tastebuds. We do not allow ourselves to see food as a gift from God to be used for our enjoyment, but as a curse that we must deal with every day.

I am not trying to ignore the fact that obesity is a serious epidemic. I am not trying to say that we should forget about our health or our weight. In fact, I would dare to argue that perhaps it is our very backwards perception of food that is the root cause of the abundance of obesity and the need to worry so consciously about our health and our weight.

Throughout my junior high and high school years, I spent hours reading websites and magazines that talked about the newest superfoods and weight loss regimes. As a budding ballerina, I constantly felt the need to slim down. I kept food journals outlining my calorie intake, workout time, and weight each day. When I think back to those years, I cannot remember a single meal that I enjoyed, but I can picture at which lunch table I chugged my daily calorie-restricted protein shake, or at which desk I snacked on my plain slice of whole wheat bread -- my carb allotment for the day. I was a slave to food and the power it had to make or break my dancer physique.

Much of the nutritional knowledge I acquired in those days remains with me now, along with the added information I've gleaned from the more recent dietary trends. I can explain the scientific support for high protein-low carb-low fat diets, for high carb-high protein-low fat diets, for high fat-high protein-low carb diets, for raw food diets, meat only diets, grain free diets, and juice only diets. I can spout off the benefits of antioxidants and omegas, the ills of soy and gluten, the power of chia and gojis, and the devastation of genetic modification.

In the end, the conclusion that I've come to is that when we enslave ourselves to nutritional science and dietary trends, we are unable to stand back and enjoy food in the way it was created. We worry that what we consume one day as a  superfood will the next be labelled a carcinogen. We eat low carb, and then are told we will die without them. We get rid of fat to find out fat is a necessity. We inject flavors and preservatives, we prepackage and microwave. We remove ourselves so far from the miracle of production that we no longer really know what the food is that we eat. We have a bunch of obese people eating food that is not really food, and skinny people afraid to eat almost any food.

 

What would happen if we change our perception? What if we gauge our intake not by the amount of calories or the grams of fat, but the quality of production and the natural existence of flavor? What if we learn about the ways our food is made, if we see the conditions in which it is produced. What if we appreciate the flavors of the foods God created and showed Him our gratitude by preparing them well and eating them in celebration? What if we don't just thank the Lord for our food with our words, but with our tastebuds as well?

I think that as a society we would gain health in a variety of areas -- mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We would learn an appreciation for fruits and vegetables, we would develop a curiosity for different kinds of nutrient rich foods, we would lose the anxiety over the newest diet trends and the stigma attached to the foods God made.

We would have to lose our attachment to the skinny model perception of beauty, to the quick and easy meal preparations, to Kellogg's and Nabisco. We would have to put forth time and effort in preparing our food and knowing our producers. But in the end, I think it is worth the sacrifice.

If the Divine Creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the LEAST we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.

homemade peach yogurt

when plans change

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.I do not see the road before me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” 

There are times when God steps in and, in an instant, jumbles the plans that He seemed to have orchestrated so perfectly beforehand. Yet, with the sudden confusion comes an overwhelming peace that says, “Yes, this has been My plan all along.”

It happened the moment I received a letter of rejection from my top choice university, and immediately announced “I’m going to live on a ship in Africa.”

And the time I woke up at midnight the night before the annual college acceptance day to leave my enrollment form on the kitchen counter with a note saying, “I’m going to Wheaton College. I need a check for $400.”

It happened the day I went to meet with a professor, where I dropped the very program that brought me to Wheaton. I called my parents saying “Hey, you know how I only came to Wheaton because I wanted to do HNGR. Well, I’m now an anthropology major and I’m going to study in Tanzania next year instead.”

It happened last March when I took a spring break trip to Boston. Upon graduation, I’d planned to live with a close friend of mine. But when we arrived back at school for our last quarter of classes, I took her out for coffee and told her that I couldn’t stay. She smiled and said she already knew; she was just waiting for the Lord to tell me.

To the outside observer, and even to those who know me best, it might appear that I have a knack for making sudden life decisions without much thought. But I assure you, each and every one of these changes of plans has not been made without floods of tears, pangs of anxiety, and hours of prayer (usually the praying is done by the people who witness my tears of anxiety, and in the Lord’s mercy He confirms His plan to me once I finally dry my tears and turn to Him). So here I am, living in Boston, with a degree in anthropology from Wheaton College, having lived on a ship in Africa where I first decided I wanted to be a chef.

I thought that God’s gear shifting had come to an end when I moved to Boston to study pastry. The multiple reroutes of the previous four years seemed to finally come together as I discovered a unique way to blend my varying interests. Yet, with a congratulatory e-mail from Sallie Mae confirming the acceptance of my student loan application, my stomach dropped and I knew that once again, God was asking me to trust Him and step into another unknown direction.

In all honesty, I have had my fears about making the financial commitment to study pastry for several months now. I’ve applied to various positions whose job descriptions did not interest me, but whose salaries proved quite tempting. I’ve looked at pastry programs around the country, amazed at the expense of the northeast. I considered an internship in Uganda, and I questioned whether to even leave Chicago. But time and again, I’ve been comforted by a knowledge that the Lord has never failed to provide for me financially and a surety that I was heading in the direction He was leading.

So when I looked in shock at the requested interest rate, when my eyes bulged at the projected monthly payments, and when my hand scrolled with trepidation to press the “accept” button, I was both surprised and relieved to once again feel the Lord’s firm guidance saying “No, this is not My plan for you.” And in that instant, the plans I’d been arranging for the past twelve months were once again turned upside down.

A degree in culinary arts is not necessary to succeed in the culinary profession, yet the prospect of attending was the catalyst for me to move to Boston and begin working as a cook in a fine dining restaurant. The tutelage of the chef I am training under now is providing me with an invaluable education for which I do not have to pay, and I plan to begin working at another bakery soon as well. Hopefully, continued education will be an option for me in the near future, but for now I am excited to see the ways that the Lord uses my new financial freedom to allow me different ways of exploring the intersection of faith, food, and culture. I recognize that I would not even be in the house, city, or job that I am now if I had not been planning to attend culinary school until this very last minute. God is funny in the ways He teaches us to trust in Him.

As I navigate through God’s newly revealed plan for me, I echo the prayer of Thomas Merton:

“I do not see the road before me. I do not know for certain where it will end… But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

a sacred story of meals

God thinks food is a pretty big deal. Not because He relies on calories for survival or because His deified nature gifts Him with spectacular taste buds, but because food is central to the story that He has been composing since the beginning of time.

According to the account of Genesis, Adam and Eve were given only one restriction while living in the Garden of Eden. It was not a restriction on their language, their entertainment, their fashion, or their sexuality, but a restriction on food. Of course, Adam and Eve ignored this lone restriction and thus, through the very act of eating, brought sin into the world. And with it, a curse upon both humanity and the land.

The direct effects of this curse are painfully recognizable in the state of food today. From the number of bellies that go to bed each night swollen with starvation to the mass farmed livestock living atop each other in their own filth, the earth groans in eager anticipation of full restoration.

But as we know, the story does not end with a fallen creation. When God came to earth in the form of Christ, dying and resurrecting to break the bonds of the curse, He set in motion the restoration of Creation. And to ensure that Christ's followers would not forget the work He began, or their own role in its continuation, He gave them a gift in the form of food.

For 2000 years, Christians around the world have joined in community over this sacred meal, not as a mere commemoration of Christ's death, but as our own participation in the restorative work begun by the cross. We eagerly anticipate the day when Christ will return and finish His work of renewing the earth. But our role is not one of mere anticipation. The work of the Cross meant that in Christ, we as humans now have the ability to take part in the process of restoration. By partaking of the bread and the wine, we commit ourselves to the work of restoring the earth with the knowledge that this restoration will one day soon be completed by Christ.

The story of the Gospel is a story of meals. A meal that brought destruction coupled with a meal that brings restoration.

God thinks food is a pretty big deal. And by participating in His meal, we have a responsibility to think so too.

"And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:16

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pain of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:22-23

"When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory. Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life: Lord Jesus, come in glory." Eucharistic Prayer, Book of Common Prayer

a new kind of food blog

In food lies the power to change the world.

sorting beans

For better or worse, the food produced and consumed around the world affects the health, livelihood, and environment of all people. While this power gives the mere family supper an overwhelming responsibility, it also gives us as western consumers a beautiful ability to affect deep change in the world around us.

Missions to protect the environment, to end poverty, or to become healthy are present in every sphere of life in the western world. Oftentimes, however, these groups are met with ridicule or skepticism as the dialogues are not engaged in such a way to provide a convincing argument for the necessity of environmental, global, or nutritional consciousness, let alone a feasible way to live this consciousness out. In order for conversation to take place that encourages consumers that there is a feasible way for all of society to live ethically, the conversation must be centered on an interdisciplinary approach. Environmental science, anthropology, history, economics, nutrition, and theology each provide a nuanced approach to ethical living, which, when understood in conjunction with one another, holds the power to transform food systems across the world.

This blog is meant to relay my own exploration into the intersection of faith, food, and culture in order to best understand environmental and nutritional health; to view food in a way that is healthful, sustainable, and ethical without being classist, elitist, or racist. My goal is to write (at least) weekly, sharing articles, books, videos, recipes, and restaurant reviews.

Join me as I explore the many facets of food in hopes of heralding a world that looks ever more like the renewed earth we long for.

ruaha