Ruminations on Eat With Joy

photo by Patrick commons I love to eat.

I come from a family that does food.

The kind of family who has Thanksgiving dinner, pronounces themselves stuffed, and then trickles into the kitchen for a turkey sandwich a couple of hours later.

My memories of the Fourth of July always include my aunt's seven-layer bean dip and my uncle's baby back ribs, and when it's your birthday, at my house, you get to choose what you want to eat and my mom will make it for you (even when that means buying artichokes, (my favorite) in February).

Food is my heritage, in many ways, and not just on special days. The normal meals as a family may be what I remember best about growing up. No matter what was happening in life (and plenty did) we always sat around the table, eating together and finding a little connection.

Even my difficult food memories: struggling with an unknown dairy allergy for much of my life, having a college boyfriend suggest that I lose a little weight, making it almost impossible for me to eat in front of him and nights playing "fear factor" at youth group, are inextricable from who I am, showing the other side of food, the side that brings division, rather than communion.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when I went on to be a writer, I found myself writing often about food. In my fiction classes in college (and poetry, and non-fiction) it became a standing joke that I always had some sort of food or beverage, or both, in my stories. Now, I write occasional essays here about food, and restaurant reviews for a local magazine.

Last fall, I was listening to a writer speak about writing the same book over and over again. Her theory is that we all do this, though the characters, story, and book itself change, the heart of the book is the same.

This got me thinking. I realized that if I had to boil it down, I write about connection. I also write about food. After reading Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone, I'm tempted to think that these are almost the same thing.

photo by Cara Strickland

This book is layered and diverse (much like a bean dip) and the scope was part of why I was so excited to read it. But Rachel is more than her topics, and she approaches all of them with care. She writes about eating disorders with grace and compassion (convincing me that we all have them in one way or another). She writes about sustainable and examined eating with no bitterness or guilt-tripping. She writes about eating with friends, family, and the Body of Christ with such fluid, passionate words, that I couldn't help thinking about the countless hours of true communion I've experienced while breaking bread with people I love, and people I grew to love as a result.

She made me think about my busy, single life which doesn't have much real food in it. Certainly not much cooking. She made me think that cooking is a form of rebellion because I am refusing to buy into the culture that tells me that real food and real connections are not worth as much as convenience and speed. Even if I'm not cooking every day, even if my starts are shaky, and my food doesn't turn out, it is still meaningful to spend time putting real food together, to share.

photo by Frederic commons

It is clear that Rachel has spent countless hours researching this work. I found myself constantly writing down other books that she would quote or mention, eager to continue the conversation. Each chapter included recipes, prayers and suggestions for integration into life.

More than all of this, I loved this book for the reminder that food is a gift of God. It is not merely fuel, or calories. Food is beautiful and diverse and splendid and holy, and, unlike almost everything else, common to us all.

I'll leave you with a quote from the introduction to "whet your appetite."

"this book is for you, because you are God's beloved, made in God's own image, and you eat. As a fellow traveller in learning to walk with Jesus, to feed on him who is the true Manna and the Bread of Life, I am hoping — even praying — that my words may be a blessing to you; that whatever your story, you may come to eat your bread with ever-increasing joy." 

I hope that you'll read Rachel's book for yourself, and let me know what you think.