sweet reads: food and faith: a theology of eating

Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Norman Wirzba, Cambridge University Press, 2011.

“Eating is the earthly realization of God’s eternal communion-building love.” (xiv)

When I first began discovering for myself the role of food in Scripture, I was eager to share with others how my pursuit of Gastronomy also fit within my own faith.

 “Oh, like Norman Wirzba?” one friend asked, innocently.

While I was slightly excited to find that resources already existed to aid in my research, I was also quite heartbroken to discover that I was not, in fact, digging into new ground. The soil had not only been tilled, it had been sown, grown, and was ready for reaping.

I’m regularly hit with these reminders that I need a large dose of humility, which eventually allow me not only to develop an appreciation for the work that others have done before me, but also provide the framework so that I can nestle into my own unique corner of the field.

Indeed Wirzba’s work proves to be an invaluable resource on theology that I continually returned to in my graduate school research.

Everything that lives eats, we are the ones privileged to garden, feast, and be hospitable. We are the ones who can give voice to gratitude and develop eating practices reflective of faith, hope, and love. (60)

Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating is, as the title suggests, a well-articulated, all-encompassing theology of eating from creation to restoration. Over the course of 200 pages, Wirzba develops an in-depth theology of eating by examining the role of food in community, death, Eucharist, grace, and eternity.

Norman Wirzba is a professor of theology and ecology at Duke Divinity School, and thus this book is written as a theological text. Approaching it from the perspective of a food studies student, I read with slightly different eyes than its typical audience. I began with the knowledge that food is integral to all of creation and was eager to examine what the Bible and Christian tradition have to say on the subject. The intended audience, on the other hand, likely begins with a desire to discover what Christianity has to say about creation care – both social and environmental – and this book guides them in seeing that it all revolves around food.

 

Opening with a theological reflection on the importance of food, Wirzba creates a Trinitarian argument for the enjoyment of food:

We don’t really understand food until we perceive, receive, and taste it in terms of its origin and end in God as the one who provides for, communes with, and ultimately reconciles creation. Created life is God’s love made tastable and given for the good of another. The mundane act of eating is thus a daily invitation to move responsibly and gratefully within this given life. It is a summons to commune with the divine life that is presupposed and made manifest in every bite. (xii)

He explores the centrality of food in the entire Gospel message: clinging to the beautiful interdependence of death and resurrection as witnessed through the process of growing food, exposing the brokenness of the industrial food system, and looking forward to what the enjoyment of eating today tells us about an eternity with God in restored creation.

 

This book is a great starting point for anyone hoping to establish an in depth theology of food. By examining the centrality of food and creation care in the Gospel – and in bringing to light the widespread ramifications of our food choices – Wirzba develops a thorough argument that responsible eating is a necessary component of responsible Christian living.

My only critique is that while Wirzba creates a compelling theological argument for the importance of caring about our food system, he veers in the direction of holding to a nostalgic imaginary of pre-industrial food. This is the tendency of many current popular writers on food, who recognize the current ills without fair examination of the important advances that brought our system to where it is today. This incomplete understanding of the past leaves the current experiences of the urban poor out of the conversation on remedy.

Any examination of “responsible eating” opens the doors to a whole slew of complicated questions and incomplete solutions – an entirely different conversation which this book is not intended to cover. Nevertheless, a recognition that eating with the intention of caring for creation is nuanced and complicated for a large constituency of society would allow Wirzba’s message to resonate more fully among the diversity of the church body.

 

This book is incredibly detailed and, at times, very dense. It is the most thorough approach to a theology of food that I have found and is a solid read for those coming from either the perspective of theology or food studies. If you are serious about doing theology through the lense of food, then this book is a must-read.

Humanity (adam) is what it is, is at all…because of its relation to soil (adamah) and the life God makes possible through it…The human being is defined through otherness. It is a being whose identity emerges only in relation to other beings, God, the animals, and the rest of creation. (39)

 

Looking to purchase Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating? Buy it here: Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating