The Foodie Bible, Levitical Edition (or, Michael Pollan meets King James)

You have heard it said,

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Here is wisdom,

Let one who hath understanding explain its secrets.

 

Behold the list of ingredients!

Canst thou comprehend it?

If thou know not what thou art consuming,

How shall its purpose in thy body be determined?

 

The parts of your dish shall number four, or six,

or several more if they be but spices,

But lo, you shall know their names,

And shall be able to speak them aloud,

And shall keep them at hand in thy dwelling.

 

Of all the leaves of the plant,

and its stem and its roots in the ground

You shall eat;

But among them you shall not eat that grown in the tampered soil,

for it is unclean;

And you shall not eat of the potato as flakes,

for it is unnatural.

 

And of all the fruits of the trees and shrubs

and which grow on the vine,

you shall eat your fill.

But the forms in which you shall not eat them

are such: as candies, as gummy, as flavoring,

nor even as Jello-O or Kool-Aid.

Eat them whole and clean,

for that is how I the Lord have given them unto you.

 

And you may eat of all that are in the waters,

But anything in the seas or streams

which is not swimming freely,

or of which kind there are not sufficient numbers,

you shall regard as destestable,

and of their flesh you shall not eat.

 

And of the animals from which you eat,

flesh or milk or any other issuance from their bodies,

They shall roam upon the earth,

and feast upon its gifts,

and shall not be prevented from the blessings of this world.

For I, the Lord, hath ordained their natural ways

and thou shalt not prohibit them.

 

Do not break apart your food into its component parts,

Nor concern yourself with its nutritional data.

For it is good and holy

as I, the Lord, hath created it

to nourish you in its perfect state.

 

Thou shalt not eat of the Crisco,

nor of its kindred,

the margarine and the spread.

For they shall cause your days to be short

in the land which I shall give unto you.

 

All things must meet their end,

But the Twinkie, it hath no end.

And so it is an abomination.

 

Eat not from the box that saith “Helper”,

For G-d alone is your Helper.

 

His handiworks far exceed those of humankind,

So feed upon the works of the hand of the Lord,

And lean not upon human creation,

For lo, you are my people

And I have given unto you all that you need.

Eating as a Spiritual Act, Part 2

Remember when I said I would write up more of my notes from the panel I attended on this topic? I’m finally getting to that! Here is Part 1 in case you missed it.

So, the last thing I said was how eating opens us up to a number of realities: ecological, agricultural, social, and so forth. Dr. Wirzba maintains (and I concur) that religious traditions are an excellent key to helping us think through these realities. He said, “The opposite of religion isn’t atheism, it’s negligence.” In other words, by shirking our responsibilities to be good stewards of God’s creation, we are denying our very connection to God.

The fact that the creation story takes place in a garden is significant: the Deity of Christianity (and all the Abrahamic faiths) is not violent and powerful, but a farmer, who picks up and uses the soil to create life. He gets his hands dirty, so to speak. “God loves the soil first, because without loving soil, there is no you or I.” The creation is ultimately an act of hospitality, wherein God “makes room for another to be…to become what they are most able to be.”

I would add that the story of Christianity ends at a great banquet – the telos (a word meaning ultimate destination, destiny, fulfillment of purpose) of the garden is this hospitable act of celebration and communion. The Sabbath was the culmination of creation (it was seven days, not six: humans aren’t the final word, but rather REST and appreciation).

Our life now is the growing, in the garden; our afterlife is the harvest, the enjoyment of the growth we have allowed and fostered in our lives. We are not meant only to sustain life together, but to celebrate it. To be hospitable: helping others – and ourselves – become fully who we are.

How would our worldview and self-image change if we thought of God primarily as a farmer or a gardener (or a vintner)? If we thought of the world we inhabit as a garden (and not a “resource”, another word for “superstore” in consumerist mentality), and of ourselves as the plants God is tending? A gardener understands virtues such as attention, patience, long-term commitment, the value of hard work, and the vulnerability and fragility of life. If we modeled our lives after God’s in this way, oh how our eating habits would change.

To drive this point home, Wirzba asked, “What if we thought of food as ‘a Gift'” – pointing out that the name we give to food is important. For example, thinking of a plant as a weed, or a flower, or a vegetable gives us different ideas in our mind of what that plant’s use is and how to relate to it. So with food: we relate to it differently if we think of it as fuel, or a commodity, or a Gift. “Naming something is the act of establishing a relationship with it.”

When we vote for “cheap” as our primary value around food (voting being what we’re doing with every dollar we spend – particularly on the Dollar Menu), we are not honoring the life that food represents (remember the quote, “for any of us to eat, others have to die”). We want to be able to say grace before meals with a clear conscience.

I wonder, how can we spend ridiculous amounts of money on our pets, or put up huge fights about abortion, but not honor the life that is represented by what is on our plates?

So how do we honor it? Here is Wirzba’s short list of suggestions:

1. Grow something (or if you’re like me, try and fail and appreciate your farmers that much more).

2. Know the people who grow what you cannot grow yourself.

3. Participate in your local food economy.

4. Share food with others.

5. Grow your food imagination: for instance, ponder the miracle and achievement that is a single loaf of bread.

6. Say Grace before meals – make eating a mindful act. Make that a time set aside to think about economy, politics, celebration, gratitude, mercy, and honor of the other lives sitting before you, which you are about to consume.

And one final word of wisdom from Dr. Wirzba: “The point is not to become the food police…the point is to become more merciful with each other.” We learn how to do that by paying attention to the incredible mercy God offers us through our daily bread.

Amen.