Book Review

Bread, Body, Spirit

Finding the Sacred in Food

SkyLight Paths, 2008

When I first heard about Alice Peck’s book, Bread, Body, Spirit: Finding the Sacred in Food, I was excited and intrigued to read what other religions had to say about the spiritual richness of food which I already see in the Christian tradition. I was curious to see what insights I could possibly glean from the other great spiritual traditions of the world.

Alice Peck explains her purpose in the introduction, when she writes: “I’ve done my best to demonstrate this universal connection to the Divine that can be fostered through food. I gathered an intentionally eclectic group of writings that explore the ways food and how we approach it—from growing it, preparing it, serving it, eating it, and sharing it — has the possibility to bring us closer to all that is holy.”

Her goal is not to provide an “answer book,” a comparative book explaining the theoretical/social/cultural approach, but rather to provide stories that show the places where the world’s religions intersect. She does feature a very eclectic mix of writers, from Native American spirituality, to Zen Buddhism, to Muslim, to Hindu, to Jewish to Christian. So in that sense she does a very good job of showing the wide gamut of approaches to food, helping us to see that all religions have viewed food as more than physical nourishment.

She divided the book into nine appropriate sections: 1) The Garden: Acts of Faith; 2) Fish, Fowl, Flesh: Acknowledging Responsibility; 3) Cooking: Taking Action; 4) Serving: Nurturing; 5) Eating: Being Present; 6) Fasts: Letting Go; 7) Feasts: Reaping; 8) Compost: No Beginning and No End; and 9) Grace: Communion. Peck writes a brief introduction to each section, that I found to be quite profound and allowed me to begin to reflect on a certain aspect, while providing a summary of each selection. I thought Peck did a fairly decent job of representing each faith tradition within each section. However, I thought that at times the Christian perspective was under-represented. For instance in the section on fasts, there was not a Christian piece, and I know that many Christians have written about fasting.

In terms of the actual selections that were included, I found some of them quite profound and beautiful, such as every strawberry being carefully picked by hand or a woman recounting her Grandma’s love of serving. There were other selections that I did not particularly care for or found confusing, particularly the Buddhist selections, as I am not familiar with Buddhist thought and spirituality.

I enjoyed reading the book, as it revealed the vast ways people approach food and find spiritual meaning within it. There are important truths to glean from these different perspectives that can help me as an Evangelical live more responsibly and think more carefully about food. The book also helped me realize how much of a voice Evangelicals can have when it comes to food and the way it can be used as a means to share the gospel. In each section, I found myself thinking how much an Evangelical could say about that topic. Sadly, the Evangelical voice was missing from the book.

At times the book seemed to encourage us to accept the idea that we are all approaching the same God in our spiritual quests. While I believe that looking for commonalities within the religions can help foster healthy dialogue and can help Christians share their faith, it is a fine line between finding commonalities and saying all religions are the same. So while I appreciate Peck’s work, I fundamentally disagree with her underlying assumption that seems to guide the book. I do not think that this means Christians should simply disregard it, but rather read it and interact with it in a thoughtful manner.

 

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