Breaking Bread and Meeting God

Shopping, preparing and the fellowship of food

by Audrey Hindes

Making dinner day after day, night after night, can feel like such a chore: when and where to shop, what is affordable, making time to cook—not to mention the cleanup! Wouldn’t it be easier to just eat out so we can get on with our lives? In our modern world this is an understandable perspective. But seen through a lens of faith, our priorities of “quick and easy” rob us of deeper relationships with God, with creation, with others, and even with ourselves. Let’s consider three aspects of a meal to use as an image for exploring how our experience of food can draw body and spirit together in healthful ways: shopping, preparing, and fellowship.

With a recipe, you learn to make one dish; with a method, you learn to apply techniques as appropriate to different foods without being bound to a recipe.

Psalm 65:9–13 paints a beautiful portrait of a land bursting forth with abundant food. But for many, access to healthful food is a real challenge. Food deserts are one challenging example where grocery stores in urban areas are few and far between. For residents of these areas, transportation is often an additional hardship, and trips to the market are limited by what one can carry on a bicycle or on the bus. These are matters of justice. As I wondered what can be done, I considered the stories in the Gospels where Jesus feeds thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish. How could the efforts of gaining access to fresh, healthful food be multiplied? Community gardening is one possibility, turning vacant lots into the kind of land teeming with abundance described by the psalmist. Another possibility is creating local co-ops, buying household staples in bulk at reduced prices and dividing it equally among participants. Examine the particularities of the neighborhood where you work or live: how can the efforts of a few be multiplied to feed many?

Even if access to affordable, healthful food is not a challenge, many are cut off from the basic knowledge of food preparation. Here I emphasize the skill to apply appropriate methods of cooking, rather than reliance on recipes. With a recipe, you learn to make one dish; with a method, you learn to apply techniques as appropriate to different foods without being bound to a recipe. This opens pathways to creative cooking and substitution, working with ingredients on hand. Was it the invention of the microwave that put us on this track to valuing “quick and easy” at the expense of affordability and health? If our meals are packaged and ready to eat, only requiring a spin in the microwave, we’ve lost basic skills and an understanding of why all methods don’t work for all foods. This disconnected relationship to our food has other implications as well. Family rituals of preparing food together create and sustain important social bonds, promoting an interdependent web of love and support. Today’s microwave meals lend themselves more to isolation than socialization.

These scenarios call to mind Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden in Genesis. When they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the action resulted in being disconnected from the land that produced so abundantly, and disconnected from the way they previously enjoyed interacting with God. Lack of knowledge about basic food preparation methods and skills has the understandable tendency of resulting in throwing up one’s hands in frustration, giving up because of the perception that cooking is too hard, too much work, too mysterious. We give up our agency in making good decisions about food and nutrition when we settle for whatever comes in a box. But all is not lost; no matter how young or old a person is, these basic skills and methods can be taught. Is there a cooking school or local chef who might be contacted to teach community cooking classes—perhaps even as a volunteer? Options for good, nutritious, inexpensive food also multiply with the knowledge of how to prepare whole ingredients.

The final aspect to consider in this image of preparing a meal is fellowship. I’ve already mentioned family rituals of preparing meals. But what if one lives alone? Can a family meal experience be recreated with friends or neighbors? If you do regularly gather with others, look around the table and notice who is missing. Often people most in need of a strong social network are those who are single, whether by choice, divorce, or death of a spouse. Those who are depressed are especially vulnerable to being forgotten.

In Luke 24, Jesus appears to followers after his resurrection. I find it significant that it is after he breaks the bread that the followers recognize him. What might we recognize about God and one another when we break bread together? This is why my notion of the truest form of communion is a dinner party.

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