Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food
Rachel Marie Stone
IVP Books, 2013
208 pp., $16.00
Eat with Joy
In January 2009, Mary Eberstadt published an article in the Hoover Institute's Policy Review (RIP) called "Is Food the New Sex?" Eberstadt argued that adults in 21st-century America can—for the first time in human history—freely and abundantly fulfill two closely connected appetites: food and sex. Furthermore, she says that our culture's response has been to drain the morality from our choices about sex, while simultaneously infusing our food choices with that morality. "For many people," she says, "schismatic differences about food have taken the place of schismatic differences about faith." So though our civilization is "licentious about sex," it is "puritanical about food," depending on which schism you belong to.
A few years ago, I started reading a lot about food and the issues surrounding it—from locavorism and food justice to health, taste, and slow food. I read Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver and M.F.K. Fischer, Best American Food Writing and a whole stack of memoirs by people who quit their jobs to become butchers/farmers/Parisian pastry chefs. Those books still sit on my office bookshelf, and visitors often remark with awe on the pile—imagining, I suppose, that I am some kind of gourmand who sources all my ingredients within a ten-mile radius and turns up my nose at their Chipotle burrito.
But I found that all that reading left me in a culinary stalemate. I wanted to make spinach smoothies for my health, but spinach is out of season in the winter in New York. Then again, almost everything is out of season in New York in the winter. We can only eat so many potatoes and apples from cold storage. And what if they weren't organic? We went into an asparagus panic in the early spring, stuffing ourselves with it for the three weeks it was fresh. I couldn't even begin to figure out where my fish should come from, and when. And if I needed to drop a few pounds? What if we wanted butter? Was it imperative I start sprouting alfalfa?
Eventually time and necessity took over (local when we can, because it tastes better, but I have a weakness for avocados and use a lot of butter). I suspect this particular kind of food coma is a widespread problem, because we as a culture don't have an integrated view of how to eat well, a lack fueled by our puritanical impulse. On the one hand, we worry about how government subsidies and Big Ag are affecting our food supply, driving small family farms out of business, depleting our soil, and putting our future at risk. But we're also battling an obesity epidemic, and so we fixate on calories or carbs or eating things at the right time of day or fasting strategically to force our metabolisms into peak operation.
Yet everyone's a gourmand. The market for artisanal beer, bread, cheese, chocolate, and such is on the rise. Our superstars are on the Food Network, and one quick visit to Pinterest confirms that the kitchen is as much studio as hearth in the 21st century. The guy who thinks Olive Garden is gourmet Italian deserves one big eyeroll. In fact, everyone who doesn't get it is hopelessly gauche, and we all fear we might be in that category. Don't you care about the earth? Your body? Your family? The starving children in Africa?
This is a bewildering world to eat in. Thankfully, Rachel Marie Stone has written Eat with Joy. Stone cares deeply about food ethics, but as a wife and mother and student of theology, she tempers those concerns with a strong understanding of God's purposes for us and the food we eat. She is aware of and informed by the issues we care about today, but she also just likes good food. She cares about nutrition, but she's skeptical of rigid dieting. She draws on wisdom from all the voices of today—from Pollan and Kingsolver to Berry and Capon—and seasons it with a healthy dose of friendly common sense.
Eat with Joy is a primer on eating for those exhausted by trying to do it perfectly. In each chapter, Stone tells stories from her own experience and presents a well-researched examination of an issue that faces us today—obesity, eating disorders, family meals, food justice. Then she holds it up against the Bible to help the reader understand how God's gift of food is just that: a gift. We must cultivate and tend it—and, above all, we should be grateful for it.
At the end of each chapter, Stone includes beautifully crafted prayers to use before eating, drawing on sources from around the world and throughout history. She also includes a few simple recipes and points for action to help kickstart the reader's efforts at putting good ideas into practice.
Eat with Joy is a welcome voice of sanity, speaking into the cacophony, helping readers to integrate and balance the many voices. Stone provides resources to help us eat redemptively, restoratively, communally, creatively, and sustainably. No more culinary stalemates or food comas: instead, we can eat with joy.
Alissa Wilkinson teaches English and humanities at The King's College and is chief film critic for Christianity Today. She is a candidate for the MFA in creative nonfiction at Seattle Pacific University.
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