Food and Eucharist

Food, Faith and Eucharist 

by Sandra Menteith (Christian)

Eating is a moral act

While the saying ‘You are what you eat’ seems to give an obvious message for health and nutrition, at another level, it says much more.  By our food choices we shape not only our bodies, but also our world. Our spoons and forks are thus powerful levers by which we shape the structure of our agriculture and our food system, our society and its relationships – with many implications for the environment and social justice. Food in fact, represents one of the most basic entry points for evaluating our companionship with God, with others, and with the earth.

The root meaning of the word companion is ‘one who breaks bread with another’ and so welcomes and enables others to join in the journey of life. Our Christian liturgy is centered on food images, as are many of the parables, with heaven itself is presented as a banquet. What is the significance of the push to fast food and industrialised agriculture? What does the prospect of genetically engineered food mean for the Christian community that gathers each Sunday to listen to the Word of God and break the bread?

Eating is a spiritual act

Pope John Paul II, shortly before his death, spoke of food as being at the heart of our human and religious experience, calling for a ‘vast moral mobilisation’ to enhance life and respect the blessings of creation. In the central significance of the Eucharist we see the profound spiritual dimensions of eating. When we make Eucharist– the bread that is broken and shared – at our common table, we don’t want the bread that has been stolen from the mouths of the poor, or come as a result of destroying our lands or diminishing biodiversity, produced as a result of unfair trade or labour without a living wage, laced with toxic elements or threatening the integrity of creation.

Eating is a ‘communal act’, an act of communion.

Through participation in the Eucharist when we lift up Creation to God in offering and thanksgiving, our relationships and sensibilities are reordered: the imagination, the mind, and the heart are offered a vision of the whole of the created order as one of communion and connectedness in Christ.. This vision functions as a genuine counter-balance to a popular culture that emphasises consumerism, individualism and a ‘throw-away’ lifestyle The sacramental elements become part of us with the effect that ‘old patterns of exclusion, violence and injustice are replaced with new practices of welcome, hospitality, and service’. [1]

There is a huge role for faith communities to reset the terms of the debate by placing the concerns of social and economic justice, local food systems, and sustainability squarely on the global table. We can reject Genetically Engineered food, taking the power and profits away from global agribusiness.  We then strengthen our local food community as well as supporting the rights of small farmers around the world, and people’s rights to information and health. Upon our common table rests a smorgasbord of new ideas, and hearts full of hope that we can transform our food system into one that guarantees a place for everyone. ‘In the commitment to transform unjust structures to restore man’s dignity… the Eucharist becomes in life what it means in celebration.’ [2]

[1] Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God

[2] Propositions of Synod on the Eucharist, #48