by Kristyn Komarnicki
My friend Jenny is a gourmet cook who takes food to a spiritual level, and I don’t mean that figuratively either. She pours her love for people into meals and then watches with delight as they are astounded, elated, comforted, fortified, and healed of whatever heaviness they might be carrying that day. Having experienced the effect her food has on people, I was not surprised to learn that she prays while planning the weekend menu for the women’s retreat group we both belong to and feels genuinely led by the Spirit as to what to prepare. Cooking is both her spiritual gift and her ministry.
Jenny has helped transform my opinion of food from simply enjoyable to central, celebratory, and deeply restorative. That doesn’t mean that every night is a feast at our house—to the contrary, we’re as likely to pop a frozen pizza in the oven as the next 21st-century family. But it does mean that I have come to consider fresh food shopping and an afternoon in the kitchen two of the best perks of being a sentient creature. From the Italian street market in South Philly and the nearby Asian supermarket, I can gather such treasures as fresh artichokes, butternut squash, lemongrass, tofu, and coconut, returning home to whip up a batch of roasted vegetables or a steaming pot of Tom Ka Gai for family and friends.
I get stuck in ruts, however, and sometimes get so delighted with a successful dish that I repeat it ad nauseum. Not so at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., which I visited last weekend on a getaway with my husband and some friends. When I asked the waitress what she liked best on the menu, she couldn’t tell me, because they change their entire menu every day. Every day something new. Now that’s variety on a divine scale!
What variety there must have been back in the very first garden, when God told the first humans, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it … will be yours for food.” I can see God’s hand gesturing lavishly and lovingly over the world’s first all-you-can-eat salad bar. Sweet potatoes and pomegranates, bok choy and boysenberries, maize and mangoes.
But what do we contemporary humans do with this gift of food? “It’s complicated” is the fastest way to describe our relationship with food. We often feel compelled to pursue the food that treats us worst. Most of us have so little appreciation of how much time and sweat goes into bringing food to our tables that we are more likely to throw an overripe apple into the trash than into the blender for a smoothie.
Our first-world problems—deciding what to eat for dinner or trying to locate a Tupperware lid so we can store the leftovers—are painful only in the stark contrast they provide for the real challenges we should be confronting. Many of these are covered in the May/June issue of PRISM, and include getting healthy food to the hungry instead of letting it rot in dumpsters, feeding people who can’t cook for themselves because they have no homes, and training subsistence farmers so they can better nourish their families.
GMOs are a perfect example of just how complicated our relationship with food is. Do we have Dr. Frankenstein-sized desires to control and manipulate our environment? Absolutely. Do our efforts produce good things? Sometimes. Are our motivations wholesome? Depends on who you talk to. Do we take the long view, carefully analyzing what today’s decisions will mean for tomorrow? Not usually. You’ll read about the drama and uncertainty in this issue’s cover tale, “Jack and the GMOs.” You’ll learn to beware the old man offering magic beans in exchange for your traditional way of feeding yourself, no matter how alluring a future he paints. Don’t dismiss him out of hand, but do beware.
And while I know we can’t go backwards (and doubt that anyone really wants to), I do think we subconsciously yearn to return to the Garden, to a time before our selfishness and shortsightedness earned us this souring of the pre-Fall smorgasbord: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:17).
It’s a bummer, but “painful toil” pretty much sums up what’s involved in moving into a healthier, saner relationship with our agriculture, distribution, and consumption of food. But because we serve a God of joy and bounty, we can also count on some good times along the way. Here’s what I propose: Host a mini film festival in your home or at your church, interspersing food justice documentaries such as Dive! and A Place at the Table with such diverse and deliciously foody films as Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Today’s Special, Big Night, Ratatouille, and Like Water for Chocolate. Make sure to serve celebratory munchies, like Maple Pecan Popcorn and Lavender Chocolate Bars. Getting informed about and equipped for food justice doesn’t have to mean being bored or ill-fed or lonely.
How do you bring fun and fellowship to your cooking, hospitality, and justice work? If you have ideas, please tell me. (firstname.lastname@example.org) I’ll share them on the PRISM blog.
Sorry, gotta go. My husband just called from the kitchen that my Portobello and brie omelet is ready. Mmmm. Is there anything better than a homemade meal served with love?
Kristyn Komarnicki loves to watch her seedlings sprout each spring, try out a new recipe every Thanksgiving, use food to decorate the Christmas tree, celebrate female bonds around the teapot, host potlucks, and do pretty much anything that involves good food and friends.