The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2010. 284 pp.)
Residing on Kodiak Island Alaska, Leslie Leyland Fields and her family operate a commercial salmon fishing business. On top of the family business, Fields teaches Creative Nonfiction in the Master of Fine Arts program at Seattle Pacific University. She has written seven books and numerous essays.
When I was dating my wife, I would often hear the question, “What do you two have in common?” While we enjoy similar bands, movies, and comedians, we do not have a “thing” that defines us. Some couples’ “thing” is theater, for others, it is season tickets for a pro sports team. We, on the other hand, just enjoyed spending time together. Is spending time together a “thing?” Perhaps. But if so, it is a rather boring “thing.”
However, I loved cooking with Tara. We would find a recipe and spend our evening combining ingredients and hopefully presenting something edible at the conclusion of our efforts. In my mind, cooking was our “thing.”
The Depth of Food
Although I spent little time considering the deeper meaning behind our prepared meals, introspection tells me that our time in the kitchen provided valuable formation in our relationship. Simply put, there is more to cooking than assembling ingredients and eating them. The Spirit of Food offers answers to the deeper questions behind our food.
|Photo by Sidious Sid|
Throughout the book, authors inquire about the theological significance of food. Of course, at its basic level, humanity needs food for survival. But, could food function at a deeper level? Does it connect humans together in community and in communion with God? With chapters from novelists, theologians, poets, priests, chefs, and essayists, The Spirit of Food approaches this subject from diverse views and disciplines.
Beginning with gathering food, this book explores the significance behind preparing food, eating food, fasting, communion, and feasting. We read of the joy food brings, the depression of food disorders, and the unity around a communal dinner.
Food as Miracle
From the first chapter, The Spirit of Food suggests that a divine miracle occurs when a person prepares a meal. Essayist Patty Kirk writes,
“Just as God combined parts of his creation – lights and dark sky, dirt and breath – to make other things, we also combine things – berries and sugar and lemons and heat – to make other things and pronounce them good” (5).
As Kirk states, the central thesis of this tome orbits around the notion of food transporting humans into a closer relationship with God.
Food as Metaphor
Discussing hollandaise sauce, Chef Fred Raynaud suggests,
“In the first step toward making hollandaise, which is also the first step toward redemption, the shell is cracked and broken open, and the yolk is separated from its rightful place. The yolk is tossed into a cold stainless steel bowl. Lonely and isolated, with one mission in mind: the yolk must unite two substances that chemically cannot be united, our sinful nature with a Holy God. In order to do this, the yolk must endure terrible suffering” (86).
While in the kitchen, the actions we take in preparing a meal carry profound symbolism. As a necessary part of daily life, the “breaking of bread” provides opportunity to understand the depths of spiritual analogy in our food.
Food Leads Us to Jesus
The Spirit of Food, also, contains the famous passage from For the Life of the World by Theologian Alexander Schmemann. In it, he writes,
“We offered the bread in remembrance of Christ because we know that Christ is Life, and all food, therefore, must lead us to him” (207).
Food Can Be Inconsistent
Sadly, the format of this book leads to an inconsistent read. With each chapter penned by a new author, the quality of the content varies significantly. Also, I found a few glaring typos that missed the editor’s eye.
Nevertheless, The Spirit of Food suggests that our daily meal is a time to remember the life and death of Christ. Just like my wife and I found joy in cooking during our dating years, many people throughout the world understand a special connection between preparing food and the deeper meaning of life. Despite the inconsistency from chapter to chapter, if you are interested in diving into the spiritual aspect of food, I recommend this book.