In 2019, the weight-loss market in the United States of America, weighed in at a whopping $72 billion dollars.  The industry runs the gamut from meal-replacement drinks, all the way to diet drugs and exercise programmes. The market is forecast to grow annually at a rate of 2.6%.

Human beings are hardwired for food – it is both the means of survival, and a means of nourishment. However, the danger stems from how food has become an idol in a booming industry that fuels an insecure “need” for it, and yet eschews and condemns it with the promotion of fitness endorsements who have larger-than-life endowments and thinner-than-thin waistlines. This creates a fatal scenario where followers of these influencers feel intense guilt as they are unable to keep up with the impossible standards of Beauty that have been sucked in, airbrushed, and photoshopped. Food, rather than serving the original purpose as intended by God our Father, is now an idol upon which people project their fears, insecurities, and fetishes. It is an emotional substitute for real companionship, it is a replacement for real connection and authentic love.

It is important to go back to a sacramental and Eucharistic understanding of food. Food and sharing a meal has always been a prelude to the eventual Divine Banquet of the Bridegroom, Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the liturgical year is ordered with cycles of feasting and fasting to remind us of this heavenly banquet.

In using a sacramental and Eucharistic lens to view food, we understand that food is made by our Creator God, and every thing God made, He saw that it was good (Genesis 1). Food was created to delight our senses and to fill us, His creation, with a deep, and profound joy, as the food that we partake of today, points us and directs us to the Maker who made that food.

Robert Farrar Capon, a chef writes this: “Earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become.” The earth in all its rooted loveliness is merely a compass to a better place in Heaven. Our appetites therefore do not end with this world, but we are in fact thirsting and hungering for a world beyond this.

As Psalm 34: 8 proclaims,

“O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Our hunger and our thirsts are for the Lord, and the Lord states it clearly, “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4: 13-14)

With Jesus, food takes on a redemptive quality. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree that they had been forbidden to eat of, and “the eyes of both were opened,” (Genesis 3: 7) After His resurrection, we see Jesus waiting for his disciples with a meal of fish freshly cooked on a wooded fire. In this invitation, the disciples “knew it was the Lord.” (John 21: 9-14) and in Luke 24, in the sharing of the meal and the breaking of bread the disciples who were on their way to Emmaus had “their eyes opened and they recognised Him.” Furthermore, in assurance that He was truly alive, he asks his disciples, “Have you anything here to eat?” To which, they gave him “a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24: 41-43) While eating predisposed Adam and Eve to shame as both became aware of their nakedness and hid from God the Father, eating in the case with Jesus opened the eyes of those who ate with Jesus to His true identity as Resurrected Lord, removed their fear and shame, and gave them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus, Himself, in His humility, chose the simplest of food that was most easily available to the peasants of that time – bread and wine to be identified with. He could have taken everything else at the Passover Meal –the herbs, the lamb, but He took up the unleavened bread and the wine, what was essential to make up a meal.

In the Eucharist, as Systematic Theologian Regis Martin from the Franciscan University of Steubenville proposes in this analogy, Jesus is at once, the chef of the meal, the maitre d who welcomes the guests and runs the operations of the kitchen pass, and He is as well, the food which is served at the banquet.

The choice of the simplest of food is significant as attorney of the Banquet of the Lamb. It draws attention to the fact that God our Father took and takes delight in the simplest of things in creation, because it is He who made it. Man who is made in the image and likeness of God our Father, is thus invited to view the world as God our Father does. A grain of wheat or a tiny grape exists because God our Father created it, saw that it was good, and takes delight in it. Man was not made in the image and likeness of God for nothing.

In extrapolation, as posited by Robert Farrar Capon, if so much detail and finesse went into the making of an onion, “think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral.” Likewise, we are invited to think of how much loving attention God our Father put into making a simple ingredient and then expand that into an attempt of understanding the amount of time and thought that was put into making us. If a solitary ingredient is a reflection of God, what more a meal that is shared in solidarity with the Communion and the Community of the Holy Trinity?

Eating food and sharing a meal are important in reminding us of the hospitality and the love of God. Accordingly, St. Luke writes an additional 7 accounts of meals not found in the other Gospels. However, like the Pharisees, we may be fixated more on  the trying-to-impress part, rather than the building of meaningful relationships with the guests who are present. In this case, food became for the Pharisees, who were great entertainers, but not at all hospitable, an idol. Like the golden calf at Horeb, in making the statue the greatest point, the Israelites substituted their glory for a man-made thing, missed the point of the matter altogether and put a slur on God.

By Brian Bartholomew Tan 

Sources: Franciscan University Presents: Theology of Food;  Emily Stimpson Chapman, The Catholic Table: Finding joy where Food and Faith Meet; Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, A Culinary Reflection