The American Way of Eating

I had my first post on the Sojourner’s ‘God’s Politics’ blog–a review of Tracie McMillan’s American Way of Eating.

Here’s an excerpt, but you can click through to read it all here.

I love great food. Last night, I made fresh linguini with organic whole wheat flour and local, free-range eggs, and topped them with from-scratch meatballs made with organic beef, fresh parsley from my garden, fresh Parmesan–you get the idea. And in a few days, I’ll be celebrating a special occasion at one of the finest restaurants in the Northeast, where the produce is local and seasonal and sustainable and where the experience of eating is a little like visiting a museum of fine arts where you get to taste all the masterpieces. Yesterday, I planted the first spring vegetables in my garden. I’m a member of Slow Food USA, for cryin’ out loud.

I’m just waiting for the James Beard foundation to give me a badge for being such a morally superior eater.

Except I’m not.

(Read the rest here! And leave a comment, if you’re so inclined.)

It’s a Sin to Be a Foodie?

The current (March 7) issue of The Christian Century has a round-up review of 5 ‘food movement’ books by Christians; since I’m revising my own such book for InterVarsity Press, I read it with great interest and a touch of dismay.

Rev. Martin B. Copenhaver, the author, fears the moralism and judgmentalism in food talk, concluding that the “hyperfocus” on good food is a middle-class indulgence; that it’s possible that being “too mindful” of what we eat is itself the sin of gluttony:

“There are just so many ways to get food wrong these days and no shortage of people willing to judge the food practices of others.”

Rev. Copenhaver has sounded two of my favorite alarums:

1. Being overly fussy is a privilege of the middle-class

and

2. It’s not conducive to joy to eat with anxiety–or to judge others for their food choices

Our final analyses, too, are similar: Jesus eats imperfect meals with imperfect people, so it’s all grace and therefore all good. True enough.

But I think Copenhaver is, ultimately, unsympathetic to foodies; I get the sense that he’s much more “just eat the darn cheeseburger!” than “search for a grass-fed alternative…” He seems to think foodies are fussy for fussiness’s sake.

In a way, it is too bad that we have to have so many books decrying the industrial system of food production and pointing a different way forward. But food activist types (like me, I guess) would like nothing better than for the revolution to be done and dusted–wouldn’t I love to be able never to wring my hands over feedlots or government-subsidized processed corn and soy because these things don’t exist any more?

You bet I would. I fuss about food because there are real things to fuss about: the treatment of workers, of animals, of soil and water and air.

As to the charge of gluttony, yeah, I know St. Thomas Aquinas listed six ways to be a glutton, and being “too fussy” is one of them. But here’s where that whole “love God and your neighbor” thing trumps Aquinas’ rules: it’s okay to be fussy when it’s more loving toward your neighbor–and more honoring of God’s creation–to be so. 

Is it possible to be annoyingly picky about your food and judge-y about other people’s food? Yes, it is. But it’s possible to care about good food–and all that good food means–without doing either.

For me, gratitude is the best antidote both to over-fussiness and to judgmentalism.

{Oh yeah, and JOY, too.}

“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!