I Support Mix It Up At Lunch Day BECAUSE I am a Christian

One of my current writing projects has me spending a lot of time in the Gospels, especially the Gospel according to Luke, which may be my favorite Gospel (are we allowed to have favorites?) not least because of its astonishing reversals:

It’s the Gospel where a poor, uneducated girl–Mary–has more faith than an educated, aged, male priest–Zechariah.

It’s the Gospel where a widow’s two pennies amounts to more in God’s eyes than fat donations from wealthy pockets.

It’s the Gospel where Jesus says: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Invite the people who can’t pay you back by conferring social prestige on you, because that is the where the real reward is.

Yes, Luke’s Gospel is a Gospel that proclaims love for the marginalized. And out of the four, Luke has the most meals.

(It’s the Gospel in which Jesus is accused, among other things, of being a “glutton and a drunkard,” who eats with “tax collectors and ‘sinners.’”)

In other words, it’s the Gospel that Mixes It Up At Lunch.

Do you remember lunch in middle school? And high school? I do, because every year, when I’d get my new schedule, I’d have a gnawing sense of dread, wondering who I’d have lunch with and where I would sit, and fearing that I might end up alone.

There were always sharp divisions at lunchtime, weren’t there? The cheerleader table, the ‘artsy’ table, the ‘brainy’ table, the athletic table, and so on, and so on; divisions so definite that may well have been clearly marked on the tables themselves.

Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center–an organization dedicated to “fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society” (sound familiar?)–says that in their surveys, students “have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn.” That’s why they’ve initiated “Mix It Up At Lunch” day, which is October 30 this year.

On this one day,

“we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.”

The Times article noted that Mix it Up has been particularly effective at one school at pairing special needs students with those outside their usual (sometimes isolating) circles.

Have you ever experienced that–especially over a meal? Eating with others is, in virtually every culture, a profound act that indicates acceptance and belonging and mutual care. It’s why a new husband and wife feed one another cake. It’s why we bring casseroles for families with new babies and when there’s a death. It’s why children who eat together with their families tend to do better than those who don’t.

It’s why it was so scandalous that Jesus did all that eating and drinking with tax collectors and prostitutes and other ‘questionable’ characters–because eating with others breaks down the walls between people.

It meant that Jesus was intimate with people that the religious elite regarded as unacceptables.

But this was not some New Testament innovation. All throughout the Hebrew Bible respectful generosity–hospitality! sharing food!is a mark of righteousness. As the writer Marilynne Robinson writes:

“When Jesus describes Judgment, the famous separation of the sheep from the goats, he does not mention religious affiliation or sexual orientation or family values. He says, ‘I was hungry, and ye fed me not.’”

Is it that much of a stretch to extend that to “I was lonely and awkward and confused, and you ate with me not?”

So I’m more than a little grieved to read the headline “Christian Group Finds Gay Agenda in an Anti-Bullying Day” in the New York Times. The American Family Association encouraged their millions of subscribers not to send their children to school on October 30, calling Mix It Up day “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools,” a baseless and hurtful claim.

By now I think you’ll see why I happen to think Mix It Up at Lunch Day expresses some important Christian values–values that come from Moses, are affirmed by the Prophets, and are lived out by Jesus–

values that, often enough, reveal themselves in the people we’re willing to share a meal with.

Wouldn’t it be better to open the Times to read something like “Christian Group Finds Christian Agenda (as expressed in Luke’s Gospel) in an Anti-Bullying Day”?

Because eating with people from outside your circle is what Christians are about.

{I haven’t forgotten that it’s World Food Day. Click here to take action!}

“People like you are why everyone thinks good food is elitist!”

For your weekend reading pleasure I insist that you read Tracie McMillan’s wonderful piece, “9 Things You’ve Never Heard About America’s Food.”  Here’s a taste:

“It drove me mad when I started to hear foodies wax rhapsodic over local produce, going on to imply, not-so-subtly, that to buy it was a measure of character and moral standing. I grew up eating processed food during the week, fresh stuff on weekends–that’s how it works when you’re being raised by a working, single dad–but that didn’t mean my family didn’t care about food; it was just what was easiest. And the families I now reported on? They cared about their meals and health, but they were mostly eating what was easy–readily available, affordable, tasty. My family and the ones I reported on weren’t immoral. We were just broke and stressed.”

Read it all here! And then get Tracie’s book!

Paula Deen’s Diabetes

So, Paula Deen, the TV cook, restaurateur, and cookbook author, has Type II diabetes.

And, apparently, she’s known about it for quite some time. There’s speculation that she’s kept her diagnosis quiet to protect her lucrative career as Queen of Southern Cooking. Of course, now that it’s out in the open, she’s announced that she’s teaming with NovoNordisk to promote a new diabetes drug.

In a USA Today interview, Deen noted that she was sad, because she thought she’d have to change her whole lifestyle. But thanks to the drug–and the addition of some moderate exercise in addition to cutting out the gallons of sweet tea–she’s doing just fine.

While Deen has been criticized by Anthony Bourdain for her super-rich recipes (he called her the “most destructive influence on the Food Network”), she says that she doesn’t cook her high-butter, high-sugar recipes every day. And while I’m never excited about pharmaceutical answers to lifestyle questions (it makes so much sense to prevent Type 2 diabetes, because it’s largely preventable), I have to say I’m just not sure that Paula Deen deserves as much criticism as she gets.

And that’s because I am pretty sure that cooking–even somewhat heavy cooking–is more of a cure than a disease–even when we’re talking about Paula Deen’s cooking. Let’s not forget that Julia Child cooked with “slabs of butter and glugs of cream,” too.

To me, even “unhealthy” home cooking is nearly always healthier than preprocessed food for a few simple reasons:

1. Preprocessed food is engineered for hyperpalatability–meaning that it’s designed to be appealing, addictive, and to go down easy (more on that here.)

2. (related to #1) Preprocessed food has profit-motive in mind.

3. Preprocessed food is too easy. If you make French fries or doughnuts from scratch at home, you won’t make them that much, because they’re a major pain in the butt. So you’ll only make & eat them at reasonable intervals


4. The effort that goes into home cooking–if recognized properly by everyone involved in the eating--brings it’s own kind of reverence, which helps moderate appetite. (I think.)

That’s one reason why I like everyone to play a role in making family meals happen. When we have a strong sense of time and effort and cooperation it takes to get a meal to the table, we’re apt to eat more reverently and less mindlessly.

So while I would rather Paula Deen not capitalize on her diagnosis to make pharmaceutical endorsements, I can’t bring myself to “hate on” her. Neither she nor her recipes are responsible for childhood obesity or for the preponderance of preventable diet-related disease.

Because that’s a problem that’s bigger than any one person.

When Foodies Marry Non-Foodies…

Here it is, your Saturday Eating Reading!

…from Elizabeth Bernstein at the Wall Street Journal comes this look at what happens when Ms. Adventurous Eater marries Mr. Bland-and-Boring…

“Sharing meals is one of the most enjoyable things couples do together, a regularly scheduled time to relax, have an intimate conversation and recharge the relationship. But when one person is an adventurous eater and the other has simpler tastes, meal times are often divisive.”

So when a foodie and a non-foodie fall in love…

” ‘Non-foodies feel left out or even judged, and foodies feel that an important part of them isn’t fully understood,’  says Drew Ramsey, a Manhattan psychiatrist, Columbia University professor of psychiatry and co-author of ‘The Happiness Diet.’ “

sorry, this photo isn't exactly relevant but it's just too awesome in too many other ways...

What do you think? Does food bring you and your partner together, or highlight your differences? Is it important enough to matter?

{I’m no longer posting on Sundays, so I’ll see you on Monday!}

What Chefs Feed Their Kids

One of my favorite things about blogging is the free books. I’m not much of a book-buyer–being that my library system is well-stocked, efficient, and user-friendly–but sometimes it is nice to have one’s Very Own Copy of a book. And last week I received two lovely books for my perusal (and possible review) in the mail, one of which was this:

Fanae Aaron is an art director, not a chef, but when it came time to feed her son, she wanted more for him than rice cereal, that staple North American “first food” for babies–the “blandest and least exciting food ever created.”

She writes:

“I wondered if there was a way to feed kids that both nourishes and stimulates them. Our brains are wired to burst to life with new sensations. They light up and chemicals are released in our brains as we experience the pleasure and delight of something new and interesting.”

I love how her artistic sensibilities shaped her motivation for this project: she wanted food to be what it truly is–a creative sensory experience and an experience of love, care, and nourishment–not merely ‘healthy fuel.’ And so Fanae interviewed twenty or so very different chefs–from Ana Sortun to Zack Gross–to illustrate their strategies and attitudes in feeding their children.

Though it’s got gorgeous illustrations and fabulous recipes, this is more than another cookbook–there’s a lot of child development in there–examining why adventurous eaters suddenly become picky, for example, and explaining why certain foods and combinations simply don’t appeal to kids. Plus, the recipes are recipes that can be made for the whole family–not simply for the baby–with simple modifications for the young ones.

Son #1, with sweet potato

And there’s plenty of advice on how to get kids interested in trying new things–from cooking with them (with the aid of things like the learning tower) to reading books involving food and cooking.

(Our favorite children’s book involving cooking is Eddie’s Kitchen by Sarah Garland.)

Whether you’re a seasoned foodie with kids or a newbie foodie with kids or simply a parent who wants to start your kid on something tastier than rice cereal (we started with avocado!), I think this book will appeal to all your senses. It’s lovely.

Son #2, with avocado

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other.”

~M.F.K. Fisher


Many thanks to Jessica at Globe Pequot for the review copy of this book! You can buy yours here or here.