I struggle to think of anything more plainly relational than eating. This act confronts us with the complexity of life-giving exchanges. For many, eating exposes complicated relationships within themselves and their own self-images. Further, when we eat, we are clearly connected to “the other” who has become sustenance as food. Beyond this, our eating highlights whole webs of relationships that span the cosmos. Biologically and culturally, I, an eater, am united with others in practices of preparation and consumption of a meal.
In its fullness, Christian faith is the holistic habit of living in loving and faithful response to Jesus Christ’s whole life. If “the profundity of the Christian faith lies in its particular commitments that can bring healing to a diverse and hurting world,” then I wonder what particular Christian commitments about food can be used as active tools in creating a more loving, beautiful, and just world with God.
In its fullness, Christian faith is the holistic habit of living in loving and faithful response to Jesus Christ’s whole life.
How might a Christian ethic of eating in the Lord’s world emerge for today?
I think the ethic has to be rooted in the crucial recognition that we humans are woven within the cosmos, dependent upon our fellow creatures and God while also being creators with our fellow creatures and with God. In other words, dependence is natural. Specifically, interdependence is natural. This recognition, however, stands in stark contrast against the ways that Western Christians have related to other humans and creatures in recent centuries.
For nearly 600 years, human life on this planet has been increasingly shaped by the commodification of God’s creatures. Such commodifying activity has been multifaceted, but it has been exemplified by the shipment of humans as cargo and chattel in the European colonial enslavement project.The expansion of European cultural influences beyond their home continent depended upon the creation and elevation of a particular modern identity: The White, Christian, Heterosexual Male (WCHM) as “truly human” over and against all other creatures. Initially supported by a papal bull outlining the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” the legacy of this modern commodification continues to drive many current patterns of human life, including how we relate to the land, water, and food sources.
A theological commitment to absolute conceptions of power amongst many Christians has been part and parcel of the destructive commodifying of modern life. Classical conceptions of power and its exercise have held that “absolute determination is the greatest conceivable power.”The human, more particularly the WCHM, is the great exception to the brutality and mindlessness of the world. The human, particularly the WCHM, has been created in the image of the All-Powerful God and can express his faith by dominating others in God’s name on a global scale. Someone’s capacity to objectify – to turn into an object – another and offer them for sale – as a commodity – became lauded throughout the modern period as an expression of ingenuity, discovery, and creation from nothing. The wilds of nature were tamed; the Savages were given civilization; the world was controlled by a king. The logic of dominance was codified in a hierarchy of life: some lives mattered inherently while other lives only mattered instrumentally. The Christian theology of creation which emerges from cultures of dominance is rife with subjugation and suffering in human communities and in species across the planet.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, offers a different way of living from cultures of domination. Becoming a disciple of Christ provides the opportunity to live counter-culturally to economic and ecological systems that exalt the few at the cost of the wellbeing and life of the many. Current commodifying culture not only allows but needs underpaid and enslaved labor, needs cheap and fast monoculture that strips soil of life and nutrients, needs to overcrowd and overfeed livestock, annihilating any holy quality of life, and needs to expose and dominate every single aspect of the process of life.
The Gospel of Christ, however, is that the cosmos belongs to Love, not domination. Church happens when people come together in a loving response to Jesus’ life and ministry, enacting the justice of the Reign of God and revealing the creative power of love. Church happens when Love becomes the culture of relationships throughout the world. And what better way to grow into a culture than to eat together?
The Gospel of Christ, however, is that the cosmos belongs to Love, not domination.
In our eating, we have innumerable opportunities to embody the God of all creation, who is Love and who became incarnate in Jesus Christ for the life of the world. Practically, a first step we can take is to write down everything we eat. This is not to shame particular foods or portion sizes. Rather, by recording our eating, we may increase our awareness of all of the various lives that contribute to our own. Acknowledging the relationships each of us cultivate when we eat can be a humbling practice, sparking profound experiences of gratitude, confession, and repentance, and opportunities to live more just and holy lives.
Only when we become aware of our relatives can we give thanks for their inherent goodness, for their life, for their gift of themselves in death. Only when we awaken to our interdependence can we confess our sins of commission and omission that have contributed to the needless suffering of our relatives. Only when we become aware of our relatives and confess our sins against them can we bring God’s justice, revealing and enacting divine Love-in-action for the life of the world.
If the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, then may we who call ourselves Followers of Jesus eat in Christ’s Love. May we work for justice in our world so that all who are hungry may be fed, all who are thirsty may drink, and all who are our relatives may live in God’s abundant life.