Toward a Theology of Food: Introduction

james

Please forgive me if the whole toward-a-theology-of-whatever-the-hell-you-want thing bugs you.  It is something of a theological cliché these days with your “Toward a Theology of Economics,” your “Toward a Theology of Fundraising, ” and the slightly more sanctimonious “Toward a Theology of Feet.”  There’s “Toward an Evangelical Theology of Cussing,” and who could forget the ever popular “Toward a Theology of Rabbit Breeding” (I haven’t made any of these up, I promise).  Name aside, I will attempt to make these series of posts as thought-provoking as possible, though I don’t see any reason to be too serious. 

These posts are inspired by Reed’s excellent series on Leviticus and Law in Post-Culture War America (especially Part III) in conjunction with some reading I’ve been doing on Agrarianism, and especially a book entitled Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Dr. Ellen F. Davis (Episcopal, Awesome, Duke Univ.), as well as a year-long (or so) infatuation with the Agrarian himself, Wendell Berry.  On top of all that, I’ve recently become a stay-at-home da…delitante, and consequently have been honing the cooking and baking skills that I’ve aquired over the course of my marriage, but have, up to this point, usually been too tired after work to really care.  So, as a consequence of all these stimuli, I really want to talk about food.  Are you hungry, yet? 

Here’s what I envision for this series: I want to talk about the morality of food, and I also want to talk about the connection food has to living the everyday simple life of the Church Kalender (that’s right, I spell it with a K now), I also want to chronicle my quest to create the world’s greatest beer bread; yes, there will be recipes in this series, that is, if all goes well, and I don’t burn down the house.

First, let us begin by gnawing on some thought provoking passages from various sources concerning the morality of food and where we get it.  These are about the morality of food generally.  I hope to approach the topic more specifically in a later post. 

What does the Bible have to say about the food we as Christians eat?  Nothing, right?  Oh, except for all that crap in Leviticus.  Here’s what theophiliacs’ own Reed Carlson has to say about that:

“Too often such foreign sounding prohibitions [as those found in Leviticus concerning food] can be explained away as the archaic superstitions of an agricultural, pre-modern people. In reality, such interpretations say far more about how removed the average American has really gone from the source of his or her food than it does about the text itself. These clever little things called “farmer’s markets” which we believe ourselves to have invented are actually one of the oldest and still by far the most common methods for human beings to get their food.” [Emphasis is his]

Maybe the reason the Bible isn’t saying anything to us about the food we eat is because we have removed ourselves so thoroughly from the context of the biblical authors–who were all thoroughly agrarian in outlook–that we have become blind and deaf to their message.  Open our eyes, Lord, that we might see! 

When one contemplates the careful protection of food, the respect for created beings, and the demand to care for the land that one finds in the Mosaic law (as well as in the rest of the OT), and when one takes a careful look at one’s own environment and discovers the multiple ways in which it is affected by one’s own eating habits, one is drawn to the same conclusion (though probably one would not be able to formulate it so clearly) as the estimable Dr. Davis:

“The essential understanding that informs the agrarian mind-set, in multiple cultures from ancient times to the present, is that agriculture has an ineluctably ethical dimension.  Our largest and most indispensable industry, food production entails at every stage judgments and practices that bear directly on the health of the earth and living creatures, on the emotional, economic, and physical well-being of families and communities, and ultimately on their survival.  Therefore, sound agricultural practice depends upon knowledge that is at one and the same time chemical and biological, economic, cultural, philosophical, and (following the understanding of most farmer in most places and times) religious. Agriculture involves questions of value and therefore of moral choice, whether or not we care to admit it.” [Emphasis is mine]

In short, to live a consistently moral life, we must not neglect the sanctification our food aquiring, and food eating habits.  How do we do that?

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18 Comments

  1. Food is important.
    I feel thankfulness is important in our attitude toward food — though my family does it in a Buddhist way.
    I’ll be curious to see where this post goes.
    One thing I imagine you are aware of, human diets changed radically about 10,000 years ago (I’ll assume you guys are Young Earth Creationists) — that was the agricultural revolution. Diet for which our bodies had evolved changed and with it human stature and bone structure (weaker).
    I am just hoping your “theology of food” captures that.

    Also, must we change our diet to match the ever growing population? Or instead, should we work on the population?

    That plate of food, btw, looks like one of my typical dinners. (hinting at my bias)

    Reply

    1. Sabio,

      Re: “Also, must we change our diet to match the ever growing population? Or instead, should we work on the population?”

      It doesn’t seem that population control has worked in China. I think that we need to adjust our farming and consuming techniques rather than think too much about population control.

      Reply

  2. “Any religion that doesn’t tell you what to do with your pots and pans and genitals can’t be interesting.”

    It’s too easy to find a good Hauerwas quote for just about any topic. The guy is a f’ng chicken soup for the theophiliac soul.

    Reply

  3. Whhhhhhoooooooops, that was seriously a typo: It was suppose to say “aren’t”.
    Wow! LOL.
    Well, you can tell by the rest of the comment that I assumed you weren’t.
    Now, I wonder if you would respond to anything of substance I wrote — perhaps still not. 🙂

    Reply

  4. James,
    I am saddened by the fact that most readers are not going to know how funny this post is, because they may not necessarily see where you are being subtly facetious. Kudos to you on the very “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” feel of the first paragraph – it had me chuckling.

    Sabio,
    I was about to complain at you about the whole YEC jab, too. Then I read the rest of the comments. You ask important questions, and I don’t know if James plans on it, but this actually plays quite a bit into one’s eschatology. If I had to answer your two questions, “must we change our diet to match the ever growing population? Or instead, should we work on the population?” I would say that it probably needs to be a little bit of both, starting with producing awareness in the general global population (yes, I know, let me know how that works out, will you?)

    Joey,
    I am so glad you decided to stick around and keep commenting. You are a good/welcome addition to our blog.

    Reply

  5. James,

    Oh, and I love your oscillation on the hermeneutic here. Are you now pro-historical cultural method?

    Reply

  6. Sabio,

    I meant my comment about how hurt I was to be a jest. I’m not hurt. As far the population thing, I don’t know that I have an answer except that I think we in the 1st world consume to much and should scale back. I do intend to hit on the whole agricultural revolution thing in a futre post, maybe.

    Shawn,
    I don’t know that I was ever against the historical critical method, I am against relying too heavily on it, however. If that makes me inconsistent, oh well. I am fox, not a hedgehog.

    Reply

  7. @ Tony
    I agree population control is not the answer because it doesn’t work as a policy. Unfortunately, as humans expand, war and disease will probably do the job where policy fail. Of course I don’t have an eschatalogy that would also be part of that solution.

    @ Shawn
    I think your last parenthetical was impling that you are skeptical about producing “awareness in the general global population”. I agree, it would be nice but…

    @ James
    I am cynical about the first world scaling back. How about planet hopping — we just go eat up another planet. Other organisms seem to do that, they bounce from host to host. Or perhaps natural selection will select us out.

    On a serious note, my family raises it own chickens and ducks for meat and eggs, grows our own organic food and value good nutrition. But I don’t think government policy will change things in others consumption habits as fast as economic necessity or better technology or rapture (returning to Shawn’s allusion).

    I also don’t feel “vegetarianism” is the answer — posited by many. Sure, it will feed more, which is one reason grain cultivation became useful — we needed it to feed large populations (especially slaves). Even though large grain consumption weakens humans. So should we advocate a diet to feed the out-of-control population we have become, or should we eat healthfully and try to work on population. For we know populations shrink with prosperity.

    Reply

  8. James,

    To an extent, I a guess I am just being the hermeneutics police aka an ass. Although, I am always a little concerned to see the hermeneutics shift in order to prove a point. I’m not saying you’re being inconsistent or disingenuous, because maybe you do shift your preferences when you switch topics – I think I can certainly see that in myself. I’m just nervous about people doing it, and think we all ought to have to answer questions about it when we do, because, frankly, I can justify anything with Scripture (or history, or tradition, et al) given enough hermeneutical wiggle room.

    Reply

  9. For taxonomy purposes (and educating this non-theology type), what are the main categories of hermeneutics and what categories are we addressing right now? If you have time.

    Reply

    1. …being that the last was a survey specifically aimed at biblical hermeneutics, even as philosophical hermeneutics are applied, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “Truth and Method” is widely considered the most important book of the last century dealing with hermeneutics.

      Reply

  10. […] Caleb Roberts has a couple of posts around about this topic, Eating to live, Living to Eat and Eschatological Butter. Another blog offers an introduction to the theology of food, titled aptly enough, Toward a Theology of Food: Introduction. […]

    Reply

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