In her classic book, The Art of Eating, M.F.K. Fisher argued that eating is one of the most intimate acts a human can participate in. “It seems to me,” Fisher wrote, “that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” Unfortunately, modern society often treats food and meal-sharing as little more than mechanical necessities.
This is something Rachel Marie Stone hopes to change. In her recently released book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, Rachel argues that God intended us to delight in our food and invites readers to recover the joyfulness and intimacy of eating. Rachel, her husband, and two sons live in Malawi where she recently welcomed me into her home with a beautiful spread of food and drinks. Here we discuss a new way to see food, the importance of hospitality, and why we need a theology of eating.
JM: Rachel, say that the “diet-culture mentality” first caused you to reflect on our modern eating culture. Expand on that.
RMS: I had bought into the diet-culture mentality–this idea that food, and our appetites for it, were basically bad and had to be overcome–at age 14. When I was pregnant with my first son—who’s now seven and a half—I realized that I had to eat in order to feed him, and when he was born, I think I caught a little glimpse of God’s pleasure in feeding us. Here was a context in which weight gain was an unqualified blessing! I realized that the cultural messages about food were really at odds with so much of what God cares about: God wants us to receive food as a gift, to share it with others, to care about stewarding the land, and more.
JM: When many of us shop for food or dine out, we’re navigating a complicated balance of finding food that’s affordable, nutritious, flavorful, and more recently, food that’s been produced justly. With all that trouble, why bother?
RMS: It does feel like a bother, doesn’t it?! Food is so basic to our existence, and most of us aren’t connected to the food we eat in an organic way—we didn’t raise it ourselves, we don’t know where it came from. I think we have to be honest and realize that a lot of the time we aren’t going to be able to find food that’s ‘perfect’ all, or even most, of the time. We just can’t do it. However, by becoming aware of the different justice issues involved in food, we can become advocates of policies that seek justice for workers and help protect God’s creation. We can and should seek to make changes on the personal level while working for the common good.
JM: Your book has been called “a practical theology of eating.” What’s theological about eating, and how does eating engage us with God?