St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Food and Faith: Making Connections

Many Americans are not very mindful or conscious about eating. There are at least three reasons for this.

First, with the growth of the fast food industry, people tend to see food as fuel rather than festivity. Many families find it difficult to share even a handful of meals each week. Dinner is no longer the occasion of the main family gathering. Loss of connectedness around food is the result.

Secondly, we have lost connection to the sources of our food. We buy boneless chicken breasts in Styrofoam trays, and the connection between these and real chickens is lost. Some of us had a close connection to our food. We grew our own vegetables and killed chickens for Sunday dinner.  Some still do.

Third, many people are missing the spiritual connection to eating.

In biblical times, and for centuries thereafter, people were connected to and around their food. They ate little meat. Meat was reserved for festive occasions like weddings, or ritual occasions like Passover. The main diet was fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, dried fish, milk, wine and olive oil. There were reasons, among them lack of refrigeration.

In many religions and certainly in the Abrahamic Traditions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – diet is spiritually significant. Jews and Muslims have rules for the proper slaughtering of animals and for the kinds of animals and fish you can eat. This shows conscious connection to your food.

Orthodox Christians hold the fasting principles of the ancient church. Our rule is to abstain from meat and dairy on certain days. If you count every Wednesday and Friday and seasons like Lent and Advent, there are roughly two hundred days a year on which, at the very least, we must think about what we eat.  We don’t approach this legalistically: many people include dairy on days of fasting, and small children, the sick, travelers, and the aged are released from the rule. You have to decide how you respond. But there is connection.

The point is not to give up food, but rather to see all of life – and particularly sustenance – as gift from God. The point is to be connected to food as spiritual gift. That’s why we say grace before meals. Anyone can develop this consciousness. For some of us, the point is unavoidable. We have to become mindful of what we eat.

Muslims are now in the fasting month of Ramadan. We wish them Ramadan Mubarak! Blessed Ramadan!  Jewish high holidays begin with Rosh Hashanah in mid-September. Hag sameach! Joyous festival! All of us connect to food spiritually as well as physically.

When you get connected to food, you also think about the conditions under which that food is produced. If we are omnivores, we give thanks for animals that have given up their life for us and we pray that they were humanely slaughtered. We give thanks for millers and bakers who produce the bread we eat. Even if we are the end recipients of a long process, we share responsibility in the production.

In the past, every meal reminded us of our intimate connection with the animal and the vegetable worlds. We are part of the “great chain of being,” and we cannot forget the other links. When we partake of meat, we have to remember the sacrifice of life this animal made on our behalf. That is why virtually all meals in the past that featured meat were sacred occasions.

We can all make meals a sacred occasion when we remember the sacrifice and labor it takes to give us our daily bread. We can all give thanks to God.

published Sept 04, 2009