Finding Jesus in Our Food

Much to your disappointment, I didn’t find the Christ’s silhouette in my grilled cheese. And much to your relief, neither did I find him “in” my food grossly ruining my pasta like a strand of hair.

What I mean is that what my family eats has become a very important spiritual practice. It is one of the most important ways we, as a family, live out our desire to be like Jesus. While my wife has been the torchbearer for this process, becoming far more educated about the ethics and alternatives of our food industry than most anyone I know, I am happy to go on the journey. It fits well with my belief that it’s more important as Christians for us to exchange systems and rhythms of behavior and belief than it is to just learn how to “Christianize” systems that are still oppressive and harmful.

These are not the conventional spiritual practices that we often wear as a badge of honor, like memorizing Bible verses, having a daily quiet time, or serving in the church.  In fact, it may not even seem particularly Christian to most people. But as a family we have decided against “being a witness” with bumper stickers or by standing up for traditional family values (whatever that means).

We want to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, subtly creating gospel-centered rhythms that reflect our interpretation of the Kingdom of God, and then inviting others to participate with us. Here are a few ways our eating habits reflect this vision.*

First, here are some of our habits:

We eat local foods.
We eat organic foods (when we can’t get it locally).
We eat seasonally.
We eat pasture-raised livestock.
We eat natural foods (nothing we can’t pronounce & nothing synthetic).
When it’s reasonable (as we define it), we prefer to make our own.**

And here is why these are important principles for us as we seek to live like Jesus:

We want to live intentionally & incarnationally. These practices force us to slow down. In our culture, I know for me growing up, eating was something that got in the way of life. But as we look at the New Testament, meals are important ways for us to connect with others, not a impediment to our connection with others. We take our time prepping and eating our food and we invite others into that process when we can. It’s very difficult to make “to-go” meals, so every night we eat as a group and we clean up as a group.

Along with that is that we have to be very intentional about how we get our food. We can’t just go to the grocery store to get everything we need (if you notice, almost nothing fits all our criteria at conventional grocery stores). What this means is that we spend more time each week actually interacting with human beings. We go to the farmer’s market each week, rubbing shoulders with vendors and people all morning. We get to know local merchants and farmers, forming a relationship and being with (incarnational) the people who supply us with food. A side benefit is that we actually see the amount of work that goes into getting our food, that it shouldn’t be something we take for granted, as we often do.

We want to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yes, that migrant worker that is underpaid and overworked, she is your neighbor. Most of us are unaware of the practices that allow us to get so much stuff for so cheap. To be honest, we prefer it that way. If we knew about the unethical practices in labor and wage, we would like, know about it. And then we’d have to admit that we don’t mind someone being treated unethically so long as I get my salad for $2 cheaper. Or sacrifice a little more money to make sure my purchases are not contributing to an unjust system. In addition, we want to support an economy of abundance and generosity and not an economy of fear and scarcity. Ironically, we see this attitude much more frequently from local businesses than faceless corporate machines that mass-produce whatever makes them the most money.

We want to be good cultivators of God’s world. There is nothing environmentally friendly about neglecting the tomatoes grown in your own community in order to buy some trucked in and packaged from a farm 1,000 miles away at your grocery story. Secondly, to be faithful to our vision of the Kingdom of God, we just can’t imagine it being a place where animals’ sole purpose is to be penned up in crates, force fed fatteners, and then killed in unethical ways so that we can get cheap steak.

We want to take hospitality seriously. My wife loves having people over for dinner. As an action-oriented person, cooking dinner for others is how she serves them, which is how she loves them. The Bible is filled admonitions and stories of hospitality. Part of being a good host is giving guests the best we can offer. My wife has a really hard time opening our homes to people and then feeding them food that she knows isn’t what is best for them. We want to give them the best, even if it costs a little more. The second part to this is that we want to feed our children what we believe is in their best interests. After all, they are our neighbors and guests too. When they are older, they will be free to choose how they eat. But for now, that’s our job.

Behind all of these reasons is also learning not to serve money. As we changed our practices, it was incredibly hard for me to use a higher percentage of our income for food than the average American family. But that’s also when I know I believe in something. Standing for something is easy when it doesn’t cost me anything.

*I am not interested in using this post to tell people they “ought” to follow us in our practices or rhythms. We each live out the Kingdom in different ways, all following our imaginations, consciences, traditions, and, in my belief system, the Spirit of God. To follow St. Paul’s analogy, who am I to say that an eye needs to function as a foot?

**These aren’t rules and we aren’t interested in being legalistic. They are just principles. We aren’t picky about food when we are eating at other people’s houses and we do still buy plenty of stuff at the grocery story (albeit almost exclusively in that 1 aisle labeled “natural” or “organic”).

3 responses to “Finding Jesus in Our Food

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for writing it.

    This is something Lexie and I have talked and thought about a lot, especially the aspect of loving our neighbors.

    My question always is: how far should we go with this idea of loving our neighbor through our purchases? Wendell Berry (at least what I’ve read of him) seems to advocate going to relatively extreme measures to avoid supporting oppression by our purchases. But for those of us who are living deeply entrenched in modern society (using computers, cell phones, business clothes, etc), what do you think is a good rule to live by?

    I tend towards extremism so I’m usually a few willing friends away from moving to the country, starting a commune, and growing/making everything we need to survive. But I’m interested in your opinion on the matter.

    Also, if you want to start a commune, you know how to get in touch.

    • That’s a good question that Sarah & I wrestle with often as well. For us, we know it is ultimately our choice. We can’t follow Berry if that’s not where we feel we are right now or if we think that’s not the direction we want to go. Every choice to go in one direction is a choice not to go in infinitely more other directions. So, for instance, going to the measures we could go means that we are cutting ourselves off from other Kingdom-building areas in our life. So, we’ve just decided that there is no objective “Golden Mean” that everyone should follow but that we have to be true to our calling and be faithful to the family God is shaping us to be. And then we trust that others in the Body are supplanting our weakness and rounding out our limited scope as humans.

      For us, we still draw some lines because of finances and others for convenience. Those are lines we are working on removing – or at least pushing back. Then we draw some lines because of our desire to be with people (for instance, we aren’t picky about what other people prepare for us because we value that time together more than our “food principles.” And we try not to do things that would require too much time as an individual. We like prepping and cleaning as a group but things that we do alone we aren’t as prone to push).

      By the way, the Amish have some great principles they live by to live this out well. You should read up on how (and more importantly, when) they decide a technological advance is safe to introduce into their communities.

      Where have you guys drawn the line?

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