Graham Crackers, Corn Flakes, and Other Echoes of Christian Food Ethics

The most interesting section in Theology on the Menu, thus far, is the review of early U.S. history where Christian leaders were on the forefront of the healthy food movements. The authors highlight the religious justifications for 19th century justifications for vegetarianism, whole foods diets, and healthy eating.

For example Dr Sylvester Graham was a Presbyterian minister who spoke out against the delitorious effects of white bread and advocated for breads made from whole grains. He came up with his own healthy flour mix made with whole-wheat flour, bran, and wheat germ from which he developed the well known cracker that bears his name. Along with being healthy he claimed that the dryness of Graham Crackers curbed sexual urges, both of which modern civilization has counteracted by adding chocolate and marshmallows to make S'mores.

In another example of the strong historic connection between early health food movements and Christian faith the book highlights the development of corn flakes. John Harvey Kellogg was the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitortium, health center and headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventists who were strong advocates of vegeterianism. This close relationship gave birth to Kellog's breakfast cereals and the iconic corn flakes. Once again, modern America has taken this historic holy urge for health and added lots of sugar to transform them into Frosted Flakes. 

These are just two examples of many that point to the strong religious roots of modern food movements, but that really shouldn't be a surprise. Many secular food passions have an implicit, if not explicit, spiritual vibe. From vegans to raw foodites, to localists and bacon evangelists, there is something more going on than just calorie counts and fat content. These dietary regimens point to a way of life and possess hints of the meaning of it all.

The Philosophy of Food Project - Are we ready for food metaphysics?

I'm very intrigued by the newly launched Philosophy of Food Project. Here's the explanation by David Kapla, the director of the project and author of the forthcoming book, The Philosophy of Food:

The Philosophy of Food Project is housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. It aims to disseminate information about the philosophical investigation of food; increase the visibility of food as a topic for philosophical research; serve as a resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the public; galvanize a community of philosophers working on food issues; and help raise the level of public discourse about food, agriculture, animals, and eating.

One of the things that I have come to appreciate in my graduate studies is the important role of philosophy in understanding, interpreting, and acting in the world. While many dismiss philosophy as irrelevant abstraction, it is actually eminently practical in the sense that it makes a huge difference in the way we shape our lives and engage the material realities around us. 

The technical language associated with philosophy still gives me a headache. Sometimes it seems like scholars work really hard to make sure the uninitiated don't understand what they are talking about and the Philosophy of Food Project reflects some of this with its categories of Food Metaphysics, Food Epistemology, Food Aesthetics, etc, but it's worth wading through the swamp of technical language to get at the valuable insights of philosophical inquiry. 

Kaplan explains why food has essentially evaded formal philosophical inquiry:

But perhaps the real reason why relatively few philosophers analyze food is because it’s too difficult.  Food is vexing.  It is not even clear what it is.  It belongs simultaneously to the worlds of economics, ecology, and culture.  It involves vegetables, chemists, and wholesalers; livestock, refrigerators, and cooks; fertilizer, fish, and grocers.  The subject quickly becomes tied up in countless empirical and practical matters that frustrate attempts to think about its essential properties.  It is very difficult to disentangle food from its web of production, distribution, and consumption...

But things are starting to change.  The level of public discourse about diet, health, and agriculture in the US is remarkably more sophisticated than it was only ten years ago.  Food books are bestsellers, cooking shows are ubiquitous, and the public is more informed about food safety and food politics.  The mainstream media no longer tends to blame malnutrition and food insecurity on overpopulation but on poverty and poor governance.  And most people, I suspect, regardless of one’s take on animal ethics, would be sickened to learn that a staggering 56 billion land animals are slaughtered each year for food.  Philosophers are not immune from these facts and trends.  We are increasingly joining other academics, journalists, and citizens who take food very seriously.

I guess he can add pastors to that list too. I'm especially interested in Kaplan's metaphysical category of food as spirituality. He writes:

Food is central to religious traditions throughout the world.  Religions typically prescribe which foods should be eaten and which should be avoided; they assign significance to food production, preparation, and consumption; and they connect dietary regimentation with moral conduct and spiritual salvation.  Food on this model has a metaphysical – nonmaterial – dimension that is realized only in religious practice.  This spiritual dimension of food connects us to religious communities and to the supernatural when consumed appropriately.

Look for more on this from me in the coming year.

"Year of Plenty" Christmas Present Offer

If you live in the Spokane area and are giving Year of Plenty as a Christmas gift I wanted to let you know I would be more than glad to sign it and write a personal note in the book to the recipient. Email me at craiggoodwin2 (at) gmail [dot] com if you are interested and we can set up a time to connect. 

That being said here's a Wendell Berry quote on Christmas presents that I posted a couple of years ago on the blog that gets quite a few hits this time of year:

People who love each other need to have something they can do for each other, and it will need to be something necessary, not something frivolous. You can't carry out a relationship on the basis of Christmas and anniversary and birthday presents. It won't work.

You have to be doing something that you need help with, and your wife needs to be doing something that she needs help with. You do needful, useful things for each other, and that seems to me to be the way that a union is made...You're being made a partner by your partner's needs and the things that you're required to do to help...Love is not just a feeling; it's a practice, something you practice whether you feel like it or not. If you have a relationship with anybody - a friend, a family member, a spouse - you have to understand the terms of that relationship to do things for those people, and you do them whether you feel like it or not. If you don't it's useless...

This is what you learn as soon as you become a farmer, for instance. Once you get into a relationship with even so much as a vegetable garden, you realize that you have to do the work whether you want to or not. You may have got into it because of love, but there are going to be days when you are sick and you're going to have to do your work anyway. With animals, the work is even more inescapable. There's no way out if you have a milk cow, no reprieve...She makes the milk and you've got to go get it.


The Spirit of Food - A Book Review

image from blog.eighthdaybooks.comThe Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (Cascade Books, 2010) is a wonderful collection of essays by an all-star cast of gifted writers on the connections between food and Christian faith. 

The book reminds me of one of those summer food festivals that feature samplings from all the best restaurants in town. I remember growing up with the annual Bite of Seattle. We would pay an entrance fee to get in and then tent by tent we would make our way around the festival stalls, gobbling up appetizer-sized portions of gourmet mu-shoo pork tacos and blackened salmon. In the same way The Spirit of Food invites the reader in to sample the gourmet writing of Lauren Winner, Wendell Berry, Ann Voskamp, Amy Frykholm, Alexander Schmemann, Robert Farrar Capon, and Leslie Leyland Fields who edited and coordinated this event/book. Interspersed among the more well-known authors are unique perspectives from dozens of others, all organized around the themes: On the Way to the Table, In the Kitchen, The Ways We Eat, Fasting, At the Table of the Lord, and Feasting. 

Given the nature of the book I'm going to approach this review like it's a conversation in the car with a friend driving home from one of those food festivals. Let's call it "Bite of the Kingdom." 

Friend: So how did you like The Spirit of Food/Bite of the Kingdom?

Me: I don't think I've ever read so many tasty morsels of food writing. (yes, the puns are irresistable) Just when I was savoring the offerings in one chapter I was drawn to the next. They did a really good job representing different perspectives on how food intersects with faith. I like that each author was given the freedom to engage the topic from their experience. I could tell that the authors really enjoyed writing on the subject and that came through in the reading of the book.

Friend: What was your favorite chapter?

Me: I'm a sucker for Berry, Schmemann, and Capon but I'm familiar with their work so their chapters were like comfort food that is flawlessly prepared, and tasty as usual, but its familiarity makes me look elsewhere for a favorite. I really enjoyed Amy Frykholm's treatment of Orthodox fasting rituals in which she writes about her experience as an exchange student in Russia where she "witnessed a fuller understanding of the body and soul in communion." I resonate with her desire for this kind communion. Suzanne Wolfe's description of her struggle with an eating disorder was wonderfully honest and served up just the right combination of the sweet hope of hunger satisfied and the sour despair of irreconcilable hungers. 

Friend: But which was your favorite.

Me: Okay, if you're going to make me choose I'd have to say Lauren Winner's reflection on her experience with Kosher food laws as a Jew and the ways her experience with kashrut, as she calls it, might inform her foodways as a Christian. I was intrigued by her statement, "While Christians are not bound by the particularities of Deuteronominic dietary laws, we still may want to pay attention to the basic principle that underlies kashrut: God cares about our dietary choices." In summing up the provocative potential of Kosher food laws for Christians she says, "At its most basic level, keeping kosher requires you to be present to your food." She cites the "logic of kashrut" as she sketches the contours of a food ethic that includes paying attention and seasonal eating. She writes, "Food is part of God's creation. A right relationship with food points us toward him."

Her chapter really got me thinking about what other practices in the Bible and the history of the church might inform Christian approaches to food. It seems like an under-explored area in many church circles.

Friend: Yeah I enjoyed her chapter too. It sure is hard to choose a favorite.

Me: The only downside to The Spirit of Food is that you only get a small portion at each stop on the journey. Many of the chapters left me wanting a leisurely 10-course meal of reading to follow-up on the tantalizing appetizer. 

Friend: But it's nice that the authors provide a recipe to accompany each chapter. I bet you could make a nice 10-course meal from the recipes in the book. My only complaint is that their wasn't a beer garden.

I think food may be the next big topic among American Christians and The Spirit of Food is the most accessible guide yet to the potential of food to shape Christian faith, and a convincing argument that it should. It would make a great Christmas present for your foodie friends. Buy it here

See Eating as a Spiritual Practice: Is Food the Next Big Spiritual Discipline for American Christians for more on this trend. 

John Muir - Paying Attention to Nature as a Spiritual Discipline

image from John Muir's writing and approach to life have had a big influence on the way I see the world. Muir is the iconic naturalist who helped pioneer the concept of national parks, founded the Sierra Club, and shaped the early contours of America's appreciation for pristine wilderness areas.

I recently read his classic journal/book titled, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. The backstory is that the young Muir was injured while working in a wagon wheel factory, almost losing his vision. His eyesight returned and left him with a new resolve to live a life true to his passion for nature and plants. His thousand-mile walk from Indianapolis to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1867 was his maiden voyage on this new alternative path. He didn't plot out his course other than to take "wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find." The book is a fascinating window into the wilds of post-Civil War America.

Muir encounters all kinds of interesting characters on his journey including roving Appalachian gangs, displaced slaves, and desperate robbers, but my favorite interactions are his encounters with the respectable and reasonable folk. His commitment to wander the woods taking plant samples and rejoicing in the glory of wild places is most confusing to the people who are oriented in the economy and industry of the day.

Here is Muir's description of one such encounter with a blacksmith in the woods of North Carolina who was willing to take him in for dinner and a provide a place to sleep for the night. When Muir explained his adventure the man was baffled:

Looking across the table at me, he said, “Young man, what are you doing down here?” I replied that I was looking at plants.“Plants? What kind of plants?” I said, “Oh, all kinds; grass, weeds, flowers, trees, mosses, ferns, — almost everything that grows is interesting to me.”    

“Well, young man,” he queried, “you mean to say that you are not employed by the Government on some private business?” “No,” I said, “I am not employed by any one except just myself. I love all kinds of plants, and I came down here to these Southern States to get acquainted with as many of them as possible.” “You look like a strong-minded man,” he replied, “and surely you are able to do something better than wander over the country and look at weeds and blossoms. These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able. Picking up blossoms doesn’t seem to be a man’s work at all in any kind of times.”

To this I replied, “You are a believer in the Bible, are you not?” “Oh, yes.” “Well, you know Solomon was a strong-minded man, and he is generally believed to have been the very wisest man the world ever saw, and yet he considered it was worth while to study plants; not only to go and pick them up as I am doing, but to study them; and you know we are told that he wrote a book about plants, not only of the great cedars of Lebanon, but of little bits of things growing in the cracks of the walls. “Therefore, you see that Solomon differed very much more from you than from me in this matter. I’ll warrant you he had many a long ramble in the mountains of Judea, and had he been a Yankee he would likely have visited every weed in the land. And again, do you not remember that Christ told his disciples to ‘consider the lilies how they grow,’ and compared their beauty with Solomon in all his glory? Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ’s? Christ says, ‘Consider the lilies.’ You say, ‘Don’t consider them. It isn’t worth while for any strong-minded man."’

This evidently satisfied him, and he acknowledged that he had never thought of blossoms in that way before. He repeated again and again that I must be a very strong-minded man, and admitted that no doubt I was fully justified in picking up blossoms. He then told me that although the war was over, walking across the Cumberland Mountains still was far from safe on account of small bands of guerrillas who were in hiding along the roads, and earnestly entreated me to turn back and not to think of walking so far as the Gulf of Mexico until the country became quiet and orderly once more.

I replied that I had no fear, that I had but very little to lose, and that nobody was likely to think it worth while to rob me; that, anyhow, I always had good luck. In the morning he repeated the warning and entreated me to turn back, which never for a moment interfered with my resolution to pursue my glorious walk.

John Muir (2010-03-28). A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (American Classics) (pp. 10-11)

This conversation happened almost 150 years ago in a world without cars, airplanes, and limited electricity, but the assumptions and social pressures that underly it are just as relevant today. The blacksmith describes a world where "picking up blossoms" and dedicating yourself to what you find "interesting" doesn't have a place "in any kind of times." He can't imagine anyone paying attention to nature and plants unless they are working for the government or some private money-making venture. Besides all that, he considers it foolhardy to take the road less traveled where unknown dangers awaited. He even hints at an economy that needs all hands on deck to make it grow and thrive.

In response, Muir refers to Jesus' command to consider the lilies, a scripture passage that we drew on for inspiritation as we planned our Year of Plenty experiment. He makes the case for a life of paying attention to nature as a discipline, something worthwhile for its own sake. His brush with blindness had filled him with a passion to open his eyes, literally and figuratively, to the wonder of Creation at every possible turn.

The longer I am a pastor (and a person), the more I am aware of this need to nurture simple and subversive disciplines of paying attention in a world that says there is no room for considering such unproductive endeavors. I am reminded of Muir's words of advice to his friend Samuel Hall Young, a Presbyterian pastor who was preparing to serve at a mission outpost in the Kondike region of northern Canada during the Klondike gold rush days. Hall tells the story in his book, Alaska Days With John Muir:

"You are going on a strange journey this time, my friend," he admonished me. "I don't envy you. You'll have a hard time keeping your heart light and simple in the midst of this crowd of madmen. Instead of the music of the wind among the spruce-tops and the tinkling of the waterfalls, your ears will be filled with the oaths and groans of these poor, deluded, self-burdened men. Keep close to Nature's heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God's pure air. It will help you in your efforts to bring to these men something better than gold. Don't lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it." Young, Samuel Hall, 1847-1927. Alaska days with John Muir (Kindle Locations 1667-1674). New York [etc.] Fleming H. Revell Company. 

For a previous post on the topic of paying attention go here. 

FYI - almost all of Muir's writings are available for free download as pdf or Kindle versions here.

Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible - Paying Attention to the Land

I'm reading Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen Davis. In the book she argues that agrarian perspectives offer a helpful lens through which to understand the Bible, especially the Old Testament. She writes; "agrarianism is the way of thinking predominant among the biblical writers, who very often do not represent the interests of the powerful." (page 1)

I plan on writing several posts on the book but I wanted to highlight the theme that struck me from the first couple of chapters. In the foreword Wendell Berry lifts up the importance of local engagement in agrarian thought. He writes:

...this is one of the indispensable gifts of her book - she sees the similarity between this modern corporate colonialism and that of the ancient empires. She sees as well, and even more indispensably, the necessity and possibility of local resistance by means of local religion, local knowledge, and local language.

An agrarian reading of the Bible thus forces the de-specialization of one's thoughts about agriculture. With equal force it de-specializes one's thoughts about religion. It does this simply by seeing that the Bible is not a book only about "spirituality" or getting to Heaven, but is also a practical book about the good use of land and creatures as a religious practice, and about the abuse of land and creatures as a kind of blasphemy. (page x)

Davis picks up on this theme of local engagement and de-specialization in the opening chapter and argues that it's important for a Biblical scholar like herself venture beyond her specialty to explore agrarian perspectives that, it turns out, are helpful in understanding the Bible. It's a move away from de-contextualized specialization to locally-informed, locally adapted practices and thought.

The more I read Berry and understand agrarian perspectives, the more I see how a primary impulse of the movement is to re-integrate human thought and action that has been partitioned by the modern industrial project. For those of us who have been specialized away from land and agriculture we are invited to re-engage, to venture out as amateurs. Davis writes:

For me as a biblical scholar, engaging questions of contemporary social analysis means consciously working as an amateur, going outside my area of professional expertise for the sake of love. Augustine's famous interpretive principle of caritas may provide a theological warrant for such a move: reading the biblical text in a way that conduces to knowledge and love of God and neighbor is the touchstone for accurate interpretation.'

In our present intellectual environment, Wendell Berry advocates amateurism as a corrective to the tendency toward overspecialization and abstraction that afflicts all disciplines. He suggests widening the context of all intellectual work and of teaching - perhaps to the width of the local landscape....

To bring local landscapes within what Wes Jackson calls "the boundary of consideration," professional people of all sorts will have to feel the emotions and take the risks of amateurism. They will have to get out of their "fields," so to speak, and into the watershed, the ecosystem, and the community; and they will have to be actuated by affection. (pp. 3-4).

For Berry and other agrarians the starting place for this kind of integrative work is simply paying attention to one's "local landscape," and while I'm no farmer or soil scientist, I CAN open my eyes and pay attention to the land and agriculture that surrounds me. I can go to Steptoe Butte, like I did last night (see picture), and take some photos. And I can dwell on the abundance of our region and also wonder with concern about how this land came to be understood as "industrial." And I can reflect on the ways this land shapes my faith and practice, and how my faith compels me to advocate for its care.

"The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals" - A Book Review

image from While I dedicated a whole chapter in Year of Plenty to the topic animal dignity as it relates to faith and consumption, I am still a novice on the topic so I was grateful to recently come across Laura Hobgood-Oster's book, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals. It is a timely book on the hopeful and sometimes problematic relationship between the Christian faith and animals.

The heart of the book is three chapters on "non-human animals" as companions, in sport, and for food. Hobgood-Oster offers a compelling combination of scholarly research, historical review, and contemporary commentary on each of these topics as they relate to Christian faith and practice. While the emphasis on faith is the unique contribution of the book, I also appreciate it as a general resource of information about these topics. The sections on the evolving role of animals as companions in human history and the use of animals in blood sport in the ancient world are especially compelling.

The thesis that I took away from the book is that despite a rich history of animals involved in the unfolding good news of God in the Bible and in Church history, there is currently a troubling disconnect between Christianity and concern for the welfare of animals. Hobgood-Oster sets forth the goal of highlighting these many resources in order to "provide a foundation for contemporary Christian action and theological development" as it relates to animal welfare.

My general assessment of the book is that is delivers on this promise. It is a veritable treasure chest of stories about the role of animals in the Bible and church history. But Hobgood-Oster does more than just offer anecdotes, she takes this collection of disparate stories and passages and proposes a cohesive vision for animal welfare based on the Christian practice of hospitality in which we open ourselves up to the "the 'other,'"

Justly or not, we have, for all practical purposes, claimed the entire earth as our possession. We have taken over the homes of the many other animals who have lived here for millenia. It is in recognition of this reality that I chose the concept of hospitality as a way to consider our relationship to animals.

In a beautiful act of theological imagination she also speculates that humans are not the only ones with hospitality to offer:

If other animals are going to survive our presence, we must extend radical hospitality to them. I also wonder if we might not invert that idea as well. Might it be that for us--for humans--to survive, we must also find a way to live with other animals flourishing around us?

I love the idea of the flourishing of animals on earth offering hospitality to us humans. It adds a whole new way of understanding bees buzzing around the fruit trees and the bats swallowing up pests. For Hobgood-Oster it's not the "circle of life," rather it is a circle of hospitality with the image of the baby Jesus surrounded by animals as the icon.

Having offered an affirmative vision for the relationship of animals and humans within the Christian tradition, the author sets out in the concluding chapter to challenge the root causes of the disconnect. She argues that it can be primarily traced to overly anthropocentric understandings of Christianity that have proliferated in the western world where the earth is imagined as an incidental stage for the unfolding drama of human salvation. 

I offer my own version of explaining this disconnect in Year of Plenty, but I was very aware as I read this concluding chapter that Hobgood-Oster and I have different ways of understanding how the disconnect came to be and how people of faith might go about reweaving connections.

In a curious twist she points to central orthodox doctrines of the western church ("the Word of God" and "sacrifical atonement") as key developments in recent history that have contributed to the disconnect. Citing Karl Barth she writes of atonement theory:

This is the root of the turn to the human in Christianity. With all of God's attention focused on our story, there is little room left for any other creatures.

The references and historical background offered on these key doctrines of the Christian faith are too abbreviated and simplistic. For example I have an entire shelf of my library that is taken up by Karl Barth's Dogmatics wherein Barth lays out thousands of pages of complex theological perspectives (the joke is that not even Barth read all of Barth.) To sum up Barth's theology of the atonement in a few paragraphs and to suggest that this is a root cause of the problem is inadequate for the argument being put forth in the chapter. 

Hobgood-Oster's arguments in the concluding chapter regarding the influence of the Enlightenment on the disconnect are much more on target. The quote from Descartes regarding animals as unthinking "automata" is fascinating and informative. 

I highly recommend this book as a resource for discerning the relationship between Christian faith and animals. As someone who feels passionately that faith should inform the way we treat animals, I come away from the book feeling more deeply rooted in my conviction and more initiated in a wonderfully rich faith tradition of caring for animals.

Year of Plenty Book Update: Publisher's Weekly, Humane Society, and More Cowbell/Wendell Berry

Reviews keep coming in for Year of Plenty.

I really like David Crumm's review at Read the Spirit. More than anyone else, he grasped the way our focus on local living in Spokane opened us up to our global connection in Thailand. In describing the local-global focus of the book he writes: 

These two principles in their book make the “Year of Plenty” a work of genius—perhaps genius stumbled upon out of real-life necessity, but a work of genius, nonetheless. This Norman Rockwell family sewed together a patchwork quilt of principles that real people can duplicate—and that takes the century-old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” one step further. The Goodwins—with modest means—managed to “Think Locally, Act Globally”!

Along with the above article the site has also posted a interview, which was especially fun because Nancy was given a chance to share her side of the story.

Speaking of Nancy, she wrote an article that went live today at Her.meneutics: the Christianity Today blog for women.

Other notable reviews include:

Amy Frykholm at the The Christian Century:

Goodwin writes with humor and insight. In one of my favorite passages, he takes the reader step by step through the connection between American Christianity and consumer culture. His discussion is personal and unassuming but also incisively critical and deeply theological. While I've felt this connection many times, I've never seen it laid out quite so clearly.

Christine Sine at Godspace:

I thoroughly enjoyed Craig’s stories and the way that he weaves his family’s journey to learn more about the food they eat, the community they live in and the global community of which they are a part with lessons of faith, life and God....I heartily recommend Year of Plenty to anyone who is grappling with issues of sustainability, environmental stewardship and simplicity.

Publisher's Weekly:

...this little book cheerfully demonstrates to suburban Joes and Joans that sustainable consumption is doable. It also honors God's earth. 

The Publisher's Weekly review dinged me a little for including too much Wendell Berry in the book. In my defense, the reviewer couldn't help but quote Berry in explaining that I quoted Berry too much. Wendell Berry is like the cowbell in the SNL skit with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrill. In the tradition of the cowbell sketch, all I have to say is, "Guess what? I have a fever and the only prescription is more Wendell Berry."

I'm really excited about the connections I've made with the faith outreach arm of the Humane Society of the USA. Karen Louden Allanach of the Humane Society wrote a very nice review.

On that note, The Humane Society is working with others to get Initiative Measure No. 1130 on the ballot in Washington State. The new law "would prohibit, with certain exceptions, confining hens in stacked enclosures or enclosures that limit the hens' movement, and would prohibit the sale of eggs in the shell from hens so confined. I will have petitions at the Millwood Farmers' Market that you can sign to help get this measure on the ballot.

I'm hoping in the next week there will be a 6 week small-group discussion guide available as a free pdf download.

People have been asking me about sales and I think they are going OK. If you are interested in helping get the word out about Year of Plenty, the most helpful thing would be to write a review at and Good Reads. I would also appreciate passing on the book and my name for any speaking opportunities at conferences, gardening clubs, churches, etc. 

"Year of Plenty" Book News: Kindle Edition Now Available & More Reviews

In case you're interested, Year of Plenty is now available as a Kindle edition at

There are also some new reviews out recently: Eco-Journey Blog, Memphic Backyard Farmer, and Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living Magazine. (After almost seven years of living in Spokane I can now spell Coeur d'Alene without consulting Google. It has to be the hardest to spell city in America.)

Good Friday/Earth Day: How the Food Movement is Making the Church Green

image from
In a fluke of this year's calendar, Earth Day and Good Friday both converge today. I wrote an article for CNN Belief Blog arguing that these two events aren't such a bad pairing. The wider context of the article is that the Christian church and the environmental movement in North America have often struggled to cooperate and find common ground. Maybe the experience of sharing this day will be a trial run at a new future of collaboration. Go here for one of my many posts on this disconnect. 

It may not always be self-evident here on the blog, but I am a full-time Presbyterian pastor, and one of the motivations for this blog is to flesh out connections between faith and earth. Go here to see the "faith" thread on this blog. Year of Plenty is an extended exploration of the intersections of the environment and faith, especially the food movement. My experience with locavores, backyard farmers, and community gardeners makes me more hopeful than ever that despite past disconnects, the church may end up being the best friend of advocates for earth care.

Perhaps the greatest reason for a potential new future in this relaitonship is what some are calling the death of environmentalism and the rise of the food movement. 

Bryan Walsh wrote a provocative article in February describing significant shifts in the Go-Green movement. He says:

These are dark days for the environmental movement. A year after being on the cusp of passing landmark legislation to cap greenhouse gases, greens are coming to accept the fact that the chance of national and international action on climate change has become more remote than ever. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under attack by newly empowered Republicans in Congress who argue that the very idea of environmental protection is unaffordable for our debt-ridden country. Accustomed to remaining optimistic in the face of long odds, the environmental movement all at once faces a challenge just to stay relevant in a hostile political climate....

He even evokes the "death of environmentalism" mantra coined in a controversial essay from a few years ago. This decline of the traditionally framed debates about the environment may provide a helpful opening for the church. One of the reasons environmentalists and church leaders have often been at odds is that the issues fall so easily into the well-worn ruts of our cultural and political divides. I don't like that the Christian faith in America is politicized and held captive by powerful interests, but that is the current reality. As long as the environmental movement is robustly allied with one side or the other of American politics, I fear that it will remain a niche issue in liberal mainline churches, and fail to make real headway in more conservative evangelical circles.

Walsh says this so-called death of environmentalism may turn out to be a re-birth in the form of a thriving food movement.

Even as traditional environmentalism struggles, another movement is rising in its place, aligning consumers, producers, the media and even politicians. It's the food movement, and if it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years. That would mean not only changing the way Americans eat and the way they farm — away from industrialized, cheap calories and toward more organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables — but also altering the way we work and relate to one another. To its most ardent adherents, the food movement isn't just about reform — it's about revolution.

This shift away from a politically entrenched environmental movement toward a vibrant food movement opens up a new opporunity for the church to enter the conversation and even take the lead in some cases.

Food is not so easily politicized. Not that the usual characters don't do their best to turn food into a political football, but the food movement is too complex and the interested parties too diverse to easily pigeon hole. 

Here's how I put it in a previous post on politics, church, and food,

Concerns about food short-circuit political divides in some wonderfully mischevious ways. Farmers' Markets may be the most politically diverse gathering in the community, with Glenn Beck conspiracy theorists rubbing shoulders with neo-hippie peace activists. The recent Whole Foods CEO curfluffle highlights some of this diversity and forces the question, "Is it OK for conservatives and liberals, who disagree on so much, to agree on food and work together in that agreement?"

I sure hope so. In today's intense, hyped up political landscape, a good potluck with arugala and country style pork ribs (and of course grandma's jello salad) could do us a lot of good. There's something about gathering around food that makes us more human.

Not only does food allow for more diverse entry points, it plays to the church's strengths - theology, history, and practice. Here's how I put it in Year of Plenty:

The pattern in the Bible of forming community is surprisingly down to earth…The first words out of God’s mouth to Adam and Eve are, “You are free to eat.” Not far behind is the warning, “You must not eat.”

In the wilderness it was the manna, gathered daily in the dew of morning that forged the faith of Israel. Once the people were settled in the land, the warning loomed large from Joshua to serve the Lord alone and remember that God “gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Josh. 24:13). Joshua was telling them to nurture a deep connection between the harvest of the vineyard and the God who made them a people and gave them the land.

To a people disoriented by exile in Babylon, Jeremiah said, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (Jer. 29:5). In other words, they were to attend to necessary things and do necessary things for one another. In doing so, they would find their way to God.

This pattern continued with Jesus as he sent the disciples out among the people to proclaim the kingdom of God. He told them to enter the homes of the cities to which they were sent. “Stay there,” he said, “eating and drinking whatever they give you, for workers deserve their wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you” (Luke 10:7-8). The disciples had this grand vision of the kingdom of God to proclaim and live into, but the proclamation was always in the context of shared meals, working side by side with others, doing necessary things.

I think if you look closely, the shift in the American church is already evident. Churches are taking the lead in their communities starting community gardens, promoting Plant-A-Row for the Hungry, hosting farmers' markets, and teaching classes on food and health. Churches and Christians of all political stripes are becoming environmentalists, but be careful - some of them may not like the label. They'd prefer faithful foodie or sustainable backyard farmer or guerilla gardener, but those are just different ways of describing environmentalists. And this earthy move in church circles bodes well for the big debates about land, CO2, and going green.

As Walsh points out in his Time article, this emphasis on food leads us into the heart of issues dear to the traditional environmental movement.

As the food movement matures and grows, it could end up being the best vehicle available for achieving environmental goals. The industrialized way we farm today damages our land, our water and our climate. Reforming agriculture and promoting sustainability won't just help us get better and healthier food; it will also fight greenhouse-gas emissions and water pollution....

Environmentalists once thought that the only way to create lasting change in the U.S. and the rest of the world was by controlling our carbon emissions. Not quite. As Brian Halweil, a leading thinker on sustainable food, put it in Saturday's TED conference, "If the environmental movement is dead, then I say, 'Long live the food movement.'" Environmental and social changes are coming — and they will be served up on our dinner plates.

Not only will they be served up on dinner plates, but the church will say a prayer before the meal.

'Year of Plenty' Round-Up: Mother Nature Network, Beliefnet, Youthworker Journal & More

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Here is a round-up Year of Plenty book items for this week:

Mother Nature Network is featuring an excerpt from Year of Plenty on the front page of their site today. 

Beliefnet has a slide show on "Becoming a Family of Plenty" that shares some of the lessons we learned during our year. 

Youthworker Journal is also running an excerpt from the book.

I'm excited about some upcoming items, including an article in Spokane Coeur d' Alene Living magazine (May/June) and a podcast with Chad Crawford at Homebrewed Christianity. Chad works for the Regeneration Project where they are "deepening the connection between ecology and faith" and leading faith communities to engage climate change issues through their Interfaith Power & Light Project. The Examiner has an article about the upcoming book discussion at the Book Parlor on April 28. 

Some other recent items include a great review of YoP at Englewood Review of Books and a feature article at Pacific Northwest Inlander titled, "Faith on a Plate." There's an intriguing review by E.J. Ianelli at the Inlander. I'll be curious to hear more of what E.J. has to say at his Spokane Books Blog in his extended cut version of the review. 


New Report: 1 in 4 Packages of Meat at the Grocery Contain Multi-Drug Resistant Staph

A few weeks ago I wrote a post highlighting the book, Superbug by Maryn Mckenna. The book tracks the emergence of antibiotic-resistant MRSA and claims that the heavy use of antibiotics in industrial animal agriculture has contributed to the rise of these resistant strains of bacteria.

Mckenna has an article at today that reports on a new scientific study on the presence of drug-resistant bacteria in meat for sale in stores. She reports:

A team of researchers from Arizona bought meat and poultry in five cities across the United States, tested them for bacteria, and found this: 47 percent of the samples contained the very common pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, and 96 percent of those isolates were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Of more concern: 52 percent of those staph isolates were resistant to at least three antibiotics that are commonly used in both veterinary and human medicine.

That is: Roughly one in four packages of meat and poultry from across the US contained multi-drug resistant staph.

Here's the breakdown of how different types of meat compared:

Among the types of meat tested, turkey carried the most resistance, with 77 percent of the meat samples showing at least some; that was followed by pork (42 percent), chicken (41 percent) and beef (37 percent). Interestingly, it wasn’t all the same staph. Though there was a great diversity of staph types, each animal species seemed to carry mostly one sequence type or strain of staph: ST1 in pigs, ST5 in chickens and ST398 in turkey.

Perhaps the most important finding in the study is that the source of the bacteria was not human contamination, rather the bacteria came from the animals themselves. Mckenna quotes study team member Lance Price:

“There’s an important second point: We found that each of the meat and poultry types had their own distinctive staph on them. That provides strong evidence that food animals were the primary source of the resistant staph. The source wasn’t human contamination of the meat at slaughter, or when it was packaged for retail sale.”

This is an important data point in the debate about the impact of antibiotic use in raising farm animals. The Ag. community has argued for years that no one has been able to prove a link between such use and the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria that is harmful to humans. The evidence is mounting that concentrated animal operations are not only bad for animals, but they are bad for humans as well.

Go here for a previous post on safety issues with America's meat supply.

Year of Plenty at Barnes & Noble, in The Pacific Northwest Inlander

I'll be at the Spokane Valley Barnes & Noble tomorrow, Saturday April 9 from 11am to 1pm and at the Northtown B&N from 2-5pm, signing books and talking about chickens, turning lawns into vegetable gardens, and anything people want to chat about. I would love to see you.

In other YoP news, there is a nice article, Faith on a Plate, in this week's Pacific Northwest Inlander about Year of Plenty

"Year of Plenty" Book Release Celebration, Sat. April 2, 2pm at Auntie's Bookstore

I'll be at Auntie's Bookstore tomorrow, April 2 at 2pm. Along with signing books, I'll speak on the Mezzanine about the process of writing the book, and offer some thoughts about the importance of telling the story of our experiences in the Inland Northwest. Second Harvest Plant-A-Row for the Hungry will be there giving away seeds, and Spokane Community Garden folks will be there doing a seed planting activity with kids. It should be fun and I'd love to have you join us. 

Deadline Approaches for Sunset Magazine "One-Block Feast" Contest

image from There are still 5 days to enter this cool contest at Sunset Magazine. Here's the description at their One-Block Feast blog:


The One-Block Feast, our book based on this blog, gives you everything you need to grow a summer feast. It includes planting plans, gardening advice, and food project guides (how to make vinegar, raisebees for honey, brew beer, and more), plus over 100 recipes.

Here's the challenge: With the book as your guide, you and your family, and/or friends and neighbors, will grow a summer garden, following our plan—or planting whatever grows best in your area. Then you’ll throw a block party for yourselves, using (as much as possible) only what you’ve raised or made. For a preview of the book, which comes out March 22, visit our website.

We’ll tell your story and feature you in an upcoming issue ofSunset as well as on our blog. You’ll also get $500 cash to spend however you like.


Send us a brief paragraph about why you’d like to enter this contest, plus a list of:

• Plants you’ll grow
• Food projects you’ll take on
• Recipes (original) you plan to make for your party
• Names of those who’ll be involved in the project

Include a contact name, address, email, and phone. Then send your entry to or Sunset magazine, 80 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA, 94025 (attention: One-Block Party).

We’ll choose 10 finalists by April 8 and send each group a book (additional copies will be available for $10, a significant discount off the cover price of $24.95). Then it’s Go Time in your gardens!

This sounds like a good community garden project. I'm thinking of drawing up an entry for the Pumpkin Patch Community Garden. (FYI - we have a workday tomorrow, March 26, if you want to come and dig in the dirt for awhile.)

Go here for find out more about the One-Block Feast project or go here to get a copy. There is also a Kindle version. If you're in the no-man's land between print books and e-books you may find this Publisher's Weekly article interesting. They claim that print books are better in every case except cookbooks.

"Year of Plenty" Availability and Events in Spokane

Several folks have asked me where to buy a copy of Year of Plenty in the Spokane area. I just got word from Sun People Dry Goods that they have a bunch of copies that just arrived. They are located on Browne and 2nd Ave in downtown. The Corner Door Bookstore in Millwood also has a copy in stock. I'll be signing copies at SPDG tomorrow so let them know if you want a signed copy.

There are currently three events scheduled in Spokane around the release of YOP. 

April 2 at Aunties Bookstore, 2 pm - Spring Gardening Celebration
This will be a fun event celebrating gardening in Spokane, done in partnership with Second Harvest Inland Northwest and Spokane-Area Community Gardens. I'll do an author Q&A and book signing at 2 pm. That afternoon there will also be a Second Harvest Plant-a-Row for the Hungry seed giveaway for growing food to donate and kids gardening activities organized by Spokane Area Community Gardens.

April 9 at Barnes & Noble in Spokane Valley, 11 am - Spring Gardening Celebration
This event will be similar to the event at Auntie's. This may also include a Bookfair, with Second Harvest benefiting from the sale of books related to the event. Stay tuned for more info.

April 28 at the Book Parlor, 7 pm - Community Book Discussion & Reading
This will be a more extended discussion around the themes in the book as they relate to the Inland Northwest. Go here to RSVP on Facebook. 

Notable Books - Shaking Up the Consumption Status Quo

I look forward to getting back to my series reviewing books that share Christian perspectives on God, Green, and consumption. (See list below) There are some other intriguing titles that have been released recently that I look forward to reading in the coming months. 

Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet by Tracey Bianchi

The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen

The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul by Dave Bruno

Here is my original list of books in no particular order. Go here to see the full list on Springpad.

  1. Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, Michael Schut, Editor
  2. Farming As a Spiritual Discipline, Ragan Sutterfield
  3. The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, Donald B. Kraybill
  4. Living More with Less, Doris Janzen Longacre
  5. Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change, Jim Ball
  6. Planetwise: Dare to Care for God's World, Dave Bookless
  7. Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues [EARTH WISE 2/E], Calvin B. DeWitt
  8. Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship, Fred H. Van Dyke
  9. MISSIONARY EARTHKEEPING (Modern Mission Era, 1792-1992: An Appraisal), Calvin Dewitt
  10. For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care (Engaging Culture), Steven Bouma-Prediger
  11. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben
  12. The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, Norman Wirzba
  13. The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, Wendell Berry
  14. Food & Faith: Justice, Joy, and Daily Bread, Michael Schut, Editor
  15. Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, Ellen F. Davis
  16. Bread for the World, Arthur Simon
  17. Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God's Earth, Mallory McDuff
  18. Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food [Paperback], Lysa TerKeurst 
  19. Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess, Will Samson
  20. Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, Julie Clawson
  21. A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, Katharine Hayhoe
  22. Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action, Matthew Sleeth M.D.
  23. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, Ronald J. Sider
  24. Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet, Jonathan Merritt
  25. The Consuming Passion: Christianity & the Consumer Culture, Rodney Clapp, Editor
  26. Saving God's Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church's Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship, Tri Robinson
  27. Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God's People, Scott C. Sabin
  28. The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, Leslie Leyland Fields, Editor


Year of Plenty Featured in Spokesman-Review and Reviewed at Hillhurst Review

Year if Plenty has a nice mention on the cover of today's food section of the Spokesman-Review newspaper. You can go here to see it online (subscription required to view whole article.) The Spokesman has been very generous in their coverage. Go here and here for their two features from 2008.

There is also a nice review of the book at Hillhurst Review

I'll be on Doug Pagitt radio this Sunday from 11 am to 11:30 am Pacific time talking about the book.

In a bit of irony, the lead up to the book release has thrown me off my blogging game, which is what got me into the whole book thing in the first place. I look forward to getting back to my 28 books project and my ongoing reporting on food, environment, faith, and justice. 

March 1 - Year of Plenty Book is Officially "Released"

Amazon has officially changed their page and the book is no longer on Pre-order status. I checked my copy that I ordered on Amazon and they said it should get here by March 4. I think it started shipping from the central warehouse of the publisher on Monday so it should start showing up in bookstores later in the week. 

Here are a couple of assignments for those of you who want to help me get the word out about the book:

1. Recommend the book to your social network friends - Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc.

2. Call your local independent bookstore and tell them you hope they'll be carrying it.

3. Call your local library branch and tell them you hope they'll be carrying it.

4. Buy a copy from your location of choice, read it, and right a review at the Amazon page. 

I'll be at the Buzz and Cluck event at Sun People Dry Goods on Saturday from 10 to 3 pm to talk about the book and about local chicken ordinances. Come see me. 


Books on God and Green - "Green Like God" by Jonathan Merritt

Green like godJonathan Merritt's book, Green Like God, is next up on my list of 28 books on Christian approaches to the environment, food, and simple living. (Looks like I'm going to need more than 28 days but I'll get there.) Merritt is a Southern Baptist, the son of a former SBC president, and a graduate of Liberty University. I'm learning from all of these books that the author's Christian context is crucial to understanding the their approach to the environment, and it turns out this is more true for Merritt's book than others. It offers a very helpful window into Southern Baptist culture and theology as it relates to the environmental movement. 

Merritt shares the story of how, out of a mainstream Southern Baptist background where environmentalism was anathema, he came to less mainstream conclusions about the Biblical mandate to care for creation. His green conversion moment came in a seminary course where a professor said,

There are two forms of divine revelation: the special revelation in Scripture that is able to lead us to salvation and the general revelation we receive through nature. Both are from God. So when we destroy creation, which is God's revelation, it's similar to tearing a page out of the Bible."

In SBC theology, the authority of Scripture is above all else so Merritt's approach in the book is to start with this foundation by exploring what the Bible says about the environment and then apply the insight "directly to the environmental situations in which we find ourselves."

My favorite parts of the book are where Merritt challenges some of the assumptions that lay behind resistance to environmentalism among leaders in the SBC. In a telling passage he quotes from B. H. Carroll, cofounder of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who wrote in one of his commentaries:

In God's love neither man nor nation can hold title to neither land nor sea and let them remain undeveloped.... The ignorant savage cannot hold large territories of fertile land merely for hunting ground. When the developer comes he must retire.... mere priority of occupancy on a given territory cannot be a barrier to the progress of civilization. Wealth has no right to buy a county, or state, or continent and turn it into a deer park. The earth is man's.

Merritt points out that, despite what Carroll asserts, according to the BIble, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1) Merritt says, "It was difficult for me to believe that Carroll, a wonderful Bible scholar, would espouse this erroneous theology, common among Christians of his day, that nature is our enemy who must be conquered and enslaved." I'm intrigued by the disconnect that he points to here. How is it that Christians can have their noses firmly planted in the Bible and miss out on the important area of caring for the Creation?

Merritt's book is most helpful to the conversation around Christians and the environment in the way it makes the case that Christians who claim the Bible as the ultimate authority, must therefore take a stance of caring for creation. Merritt's approach to is to seek after a proper interpretation of Scripture as a corrective and I think this is very helpful and needed. 

But this corrective only goes so far in addressing the questions of why there has been resistance. Where Merritt focuses on proper interpretation of the Bible as the key issue, I find myself drawn to the complexities of the situation. The problem is not isolated to an improper interpretation of the Bible, but rather a complicated interaction of cultural, philosophical, and historical issues that have led to a disconnect between the modern expressions of the Christian faith and the environment. If the Church is going to make the transition from ambivalence to passionate advocacy, we're going to need a broad awareness of all of these issues, biblical intepretation included.

I enjoyed Green Like God and admire the work that Merritt is doing as an advocate for a biblical approach to creation care. His book is a pioneering contribution.