What’s Your Theology of Food?


Who knew that chocolate plantations in Ghana profit from child slavery and that mercenaries terrorize, maim, and kill to control the banana trade in Central America? And now that we know, what do we do about it?

These thoughts began the conversation of a group of women interested in spiritual formation at my church recently. We were discussing an article from Conversations, a Forum for Authentic Transformation* by Lisa Graham McMinn about “eating as an act of justice.” McMinn’s position is that a “full, embodied spiritual formation” includes “loving, enbright-and-beautifulgaging, and tending God’s creation and honors “the One who commissioned us to be God’s representatives on Earth.  We are physical beings, and spiritual formation happens as we engage our physical world in just and loving ways.”

Two major ideas came out of that discussion.  The first is that Christians need  a theology of food. What we eat, what we spend on food, who grows our food, how far it is transported, who doesn’t have enough food, how can we assure that all people have the food they need? All of these questions help us form our belief systems and behavior – our theology of food.

The second idea is that money is behind basically all decisions about growing, buying, and eating food in 2014. Money is behind the decision to use and abuse  children and poor people to produce our food. Money informs the ethics of agribusinesses and multi-national corporations who shut down small farm operations and deprive families who have lived on


these lands from feeding their families or making a living. Money drives the ecological and human damage done by companies who level forests to grow food cheaply and efficiently or overfish the seas or experiment with genetically modified foods (GMOs).

Money also drives the political decisions to provide farm subsidies and mass production of food. Buyers in America are trained to look for bargains.  We demand and buy cheap food; as McMinn says, “cheap food seems like a social good.”  But is cheap food really life-sustaining food?  And is cheap food worth the human toll and the nearly irreversible environmental toll on the land?

As our group discovered, our lack of a theology of food and our spending decisions (buying lattes at Starbucks regularly instead of fair trade foods) keep us supporting conditions that harm God’s creature – including human creatures – and God’s world.

As part of this conversation, we heard a delightful story from Trisha from Minnesota whose childhood experiences include hunting to provide meat for family dinners, gardening for  fresh fruits and vegetables, preserving their own jams and jellies, and trading excess food with  their neighbors.  Trisha’s story prompted Nhu from Vietnam to describe peas--pea-pod--vegetable-marrows--vegetables_3223719daily trips to food stalls run by her neighbors to buy fresh food and the  coconut and banana trees that shaded her childhood home. Most of us had our own stories to tell about canning or freezing food that we grew or picked. We agreed that “sourcing our food” was a part of a theology of food.  In fact, one member of the group reserved “drive time conversation” with her husband on their next trip.  Topic? Sourcing our food.

If you live in West Michigan, you can begin to take advantage of many resources for healthy and nutrition food produced locally. Visit the  Farmer’s Market  or Eighth Day Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture farm both in Holland to stock up on fresh food. Buy “fair trade” products at The Bridge in Holland or at Otavalito market in Saugatuck. (Learn more about fair trade markets from the Fair Trade Federation.) And then there is always Divine Chocolate, produced by an African-owned company that ensures that everyone involved in producing the chocolate is treated well and receives a fair and livable wage.

Purchasing food is a spiritual transformation decision. Care and love of others can motivate us to pay attention to what we eat.  Do we eat at compassionate tables? What is the one thing we can do now to change what we eat and how we source our food?

*Fall/Winter Issue, 2010 (pages 40-45)

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