As a kid I didn’t have time for food, except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hamburgers, and an oatmeal-like breakfast cereal I called “Cooked Bird.” I liked it because it had a funny bird on the box. Eating got in the way of playing.
But my mom worried. So, the doctor said, “If all he wants to eat are burgers and PBJs, let him.” I loved that doctor. She wore galoshes and a dress that looked like John the Baptizer’s camel hair cloak. She was smart and well dressed. But I was really skinny. “Eugene the string bean,” my sister teased threatening to tie string to me and fly me like a kite.
Even when I was older, however, and gained weight, food was little more than a necessary evil.
That was then. This is now.
Today I not only eat healthily but I enjoy food. I even cook. Ask my wife, Dee Dee.
I wound up in God’s Kitchen.
First, I learned eating is a good way to stay alive. Dee Dee, taught me this. After we were married she said, “I don’t care what Dr. Thulin said. Eat what I cook or die.”
Dee Dee is a woman of her word and, fortunately, a fabulous cook.
Second, I’ve been surrounded by people who are gastronomical geniuses, including Dee Dee, three Dietitians, and several outstanding cooks. They’ve rubbed off on me a bit.
I’ve always been a little mystified and jealous of the above friends who really love food. At almost any meal not only did they savor
the same meal I was mindlessly shoveling into my gaping mouth, but simultaneously they recalled details of meals past.
“Remember the aioli sauce on the burgers we ate in 01? In that cafe in South Dakota?” one might say.
“Yes.” Lips pursed, eyes glazed, poised fork full of fettucine. “It was heavenly. So creamy but alive.”
What? I can’t remember my last bite.
Food is more than physical nutrition.
But the real turning point came when I discovered my eating habits were, in fact, going to kill me. In the spring of 2011, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Read about that here. In the process I realized eating is as much emotional as physical. In their book “The Insulin-Resistence Diet” Cheryle R. Hart and Mary Kay Grossman argue having a “food memory” such as my friends have, contributes to physical and emotional health. They say overweight people often overeat because, though they are physically full, not having paid attention to what they just ate, they are emotionally unsatisfied and go back for more. Many without a food memory read, watch TV, or work while eating. For many then, enjoying food can contribute to emotional health because it works to satisfy on multiple levels.
Pre-diabetes I had zero food memory, though I was not hugely overweight. And dissatisfaction raged in me. I did not so much overeat as I ate fast and moved on to the next experience.
Food is also spiritual
Though I am still a food connoisseur in progress, slowing down and savoring meals has expanded more than my palate. Food is spiritual. Most religions feature feasts and fasts as disciplines for growing spiritually. Some form of food (mostly chocolate) is the number one item people give up for Lent.
Enjoying food is becoming a main ingredient in my spiritual life, a metaphor for slowing down to savor all aspects of life. Instead of simply praying a blessing over my meal, I take the first bite of my omelet, fully tasting it, slowly, and say the prayer of thanks with the flavor in my mouth. As I wrote here, slowing down and paying attention to life in general is this year’s Lenten practice.
And I am beginning to better understand Jesus’ many references to food.
“Man cannot live by bread alone, but by everything that comes from God,” he said. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Eugene, branch out. There’s more to food than PBJs and there’s more to life than bread. Just as you sustain yourself on the bread that comes from God, do so with all of life. Pull up a chair in God’s Kitchen.”
Here Jesus seems to be trying to convince us that in God’s Kitchen, material and spiritual provision are not cooked up in separate bowls. They are one.
Then Jesus made an even bolder, stranger claim about food. One that had early Greeks accusing followers of Christ of being cannibals.
“Take the bread and eat. It’s my body, broken for you. Drink the wine. It’s my blood to wash you clean. As you eat, remember me.” Bread and wine then taken in the way Jesus prescribed fill the hungry void between us and God and mysteriously become sacramental, spiritual made material and material made spiritual. Communion, two worlds joined, becomes the means for God healing our souls.
This means when we are seated in God’s Kitchen, a meal is not merely a plateful of spices, textures, flavors, hot and cold, nor proteins, vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates, but rather a mysterious mixture of heaven and earth. Food is not a waste of time, but the redemption of it. I’m learning.
Of course there are still times, even in God’s Kitchen, I wolf my food and end with an embarrassing belch.
To that God usually responds, “Bless you. And cover your mouth when you do that.”
Eugene C. Scott usually eats with his mouth closed and believes hamburgers are humankind’s greatest culinary invention. He is attempting to see 2012 as “The Year of Living Spiritually.” You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the Facebook page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. God’s Kitchen, several good charities that feed the hungry go by this name.