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

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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.

What Happened to Christian Food Practices?

image from ecx.images-amazon.comI'm in the reading and studying phase of my sabbatical and one the my questions as I approach the reading is, "What happened to Christian food practices?"

Food is a prominent topic in the Bible and through much of church history but food seems to play a minor role in the lived faith of the Western Church, in great contrast to a secular culture that has passionately embraced food practices. My ultimate question relates to how the modern expressions of the church might embrace food practices but before I get to that I'm simply wondering what happened. Why is there such an absence of practical guidance around food as an expression of faith in today's church.

The best book so far in my research is Theology on the Menu: Asceticism, Meat and Christian Diet by Grumet and Muers. It's a scholarly work with original research that describes the history of food practices in the church.

Here are some choice quotes and observations from this book thus far:

  • Referencing Clement of Alexandria's attitude toward food in his work on Christian ethics, The Instructor, "Among the skills of cookery, Clement singles out for special criticism the 'useless art of making pastry' which, he contends, vitiates the tastebuds and imperils moral discretion. Based on my experience with doughnuts I think he might have a point. 
  • Benedict's Rule offers a more positive attitude toward food. According to the Rule the cellarer is required to "look on all the monastery's cooking utensils 'as upon the sacred vessels of the altar." 
  • As a Protestant I was surprised to read about Calvin's argument that the Lenten fast was not "divinely inaugurated" and that Jesus' 40 days of fasting at the beginning of his ministry was not a model for followers to emulate during the 40 days of Lent. According to Calvin, "It was therefore merely fasle zeal, replete with superstition, which set up a fast under the title and pretext of imitating Christ."(p. 30-31)

    The book points out that the Reformation did not automatically lead to the end of fasting and food rules in the Protestant expressions of the church, but Calvin and others planted the seeds of suspicion that continue to shape the Protestant attitude toward fasting. 

  • One line of argument they make in the book that I find especially intriguing is that certain rhythms of food practices, especially the Lenten fast, arose out of the context of the rhythms of nature. For example, during the late winter and early spring when meat was most scarce they abstained from meat as part of the regimen of Lent. It was seasonal eating incorporated into the church calendar and Christian conscience.

    The authors highlight this perspective as a neglected approach to the topic that deserves more attention, and I agree.

  • In their chronicling of the early church the authors highlight the debates about sex and food. Many argued that lust was the source of all sin, but there were many who posited that gluttony was the granddaddy of all vices. Gregory the great argued that the moral path began with the "fight against gluttony" and this logic led many to conclue that fasting was the most important and valuable practice in the monastic life.

    A cursory glance at debates in modern churches it seems clear that sex won out over gluttony as the most important moral issue, but perhaps it would be worth returning to this debate and giving gluttony another look. I can't remember hearing the topic gluttony ever mentioned in church debates about morality and ethics.

Feel free to chime in if you have thoughts about what happened to Christian food practices. I'll share more from the reading as I progress.

My Huckleberry Cleanse or What I Learned from a Week of Wild Foraging (Pt. 2)

 

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Tulip heads are cleaned off the plants at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

As I prepared for a week of eating only wild-foraged foods there was a lot of chatter online about the recent popularity of cleanses, where people go for a period of time only drinking juice, or following some other regimen of limited foods that supposedly cleans out impurities from the body. Much of the conversation in recent weeks has been driven by an article by Judith Shulevitz at the New Republic, "Jesus and Moses Went on Cleanses, That doesn't mean you should." The more accurate description of the article is visible in the web URL that titles the piece, "The idiotic-cleanse-craze-and-modern-theology-juice-fasts." 

What caught my attention is not just the controversy about the merits of calorie-depriving cleanses, but the strong religious streak to the movement. Shulevitz notes how similar they are to religious fasts and argues that this is really what drives the movement:

...people don’t afflict themselves for their health, or not only for that. I won’t be the first to point out that cleanses look a lot like religious fasts or that people crave the transcendence that comes from self-deprivation. 

According to Shulevitz it's an existential acting out in response to a world envisioned as poisoned. In the laymans terms, the world is full of $#@$ and therefore we are a full of $%@#, and cleanses are a way to clean out the you know what. It's original sin reduced to terms that even a middle schooler could understand and some would argue that the movement has the sophistication of junior high boys when it comes to the digestive system. The books apparently spend a lot of time on the topic of defecation.

Most mainstream doctors and scientists are highly critical of the cleanse movement as Shulevitz notes. As a pastor who sat at the bedside of a dead parishioner who chose homeophathic cleanses and diets to cure her cancer instead of chemotherapy I join with those doctors and scientists in their criticism. It is dangerous and irresponsible to make unproven claims about the health benefits and curative powers of diet and herbal remedies. When I see such assertions arise in the organic/slow food/real food conversation it drives me crazy. 

But I'm more interested in the spiritual/religious aspects of the movement. Should pastors and theologians be just as skeptical of these pseudo-scientific detox regimens as the doctors and scientists? I don't think so.

Shulevitz is right to identify the movement as primarily an expression of spiritual longing and we in the church ought to take note. Just as we have abandoned fasting as a spiritual practice the void has been filled by pseudo-religious movements that take seriously the real connection between body, mind, and spirit. This is the part the cleansers get right and the church, these days, mostly gets wrong.

I just finished a week of eating wild-foraged foods. Here in the Inland Northwest that means I spent a week eating mostly huckleberries, call it my Huckleberry Cleanse. I didn't go into it with visions of dirty toxins in my intestines. It was a personal challenge and I did have in mind the experience of Israel in the wilderness foraging for manna every day for 40 years.

I have to admit I come away from the experience feeling some affinity for the "Cleaners."

It did reset my body and mind and awaken my spirit in new ways. It did clear my body of the high-salt and high-fat diet I gravitate toward. I did lose 10 pounds and here on the morning after I'm not nearly as hungry as I was a week ago before my foraging began. It's easier for me to concentrate and I feel psychologically in a better place. The first coulple days were a hassle but after that there was a strange peace and quiet that settled on me as I experienced freedom from the tyranny of hungers that clutter my mind. In a sense I feel clean.

I've had a similar awakening every time I've fasted. Last year when I followed the dietary regimen of Ramadan, going daylight hours without food or drink, I felt empowered and peaceful. When our family joined with our local Greek Orthodox congregation for their Advent and Lenten fasts last year we experienced spiritual renewal and a strengthening of family and communal bonds. When we followed the Kosher food laws for a month we experienced renewal in our family life. In my experience, intentional fasting has the potential for spiritual growth and renewal.

It's been an important practice for most of the history of God's people in the Bible and in the Christian church, but in the modern west it has fallen victim to the spirit/body divide imposed on the church by the Enlightenment and modernity. (That's my assessment that I'll flesh out more later.) Not even Catholics do fish Fridays anymore and Protestants are mostly left to our own whims when it comes to Lent. We're missing out.

Shulevitz is wrong. "Jesus and Moses Went on Cleanses," and we should to.

The church in the west would do well to listen to the spiritual longings expressed by those who are turning to colonics and cleanses for help in this crazy fragmented world we live in. They are looking to put the pieces together, body, mind, and spirit. What does the church have to offer them? We have a treasure trove of resources if we dig a little into our history, and it's not based on scatologically obsessed pseudo-science, it's based on the Bible, on the life of Jesus, and on the experience of the early church.

And contrary to the Cleanse movement these practices lead us to embrace the body as good and holy, as sacred space. 

(This post is part of an ongoing inquiry into food practices in the church supported by a grant from the Louisville Institute. Find out more about the Tables of Plenty Project here.)

The Other Pew Poll - 1 in 5 Americans Now "Unaffiliated" With Religion

While the Pew poll on the Presidential election is getting most of the recent headlines, there is another Pew poll that came out this week on religion in American that is more significant. 

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five American adults — nearly 20 percent of the US population — now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage ever in Pew’s polling. 

This is a 25% increase in just the last five years.

As a pastor and leader of a religious organization this poll got my attention but it doesn't shock or surprise me, rather it confirms what I have experienced and observed in my 15 years of ordained ministry. More and more people are just not that into religion. The Christian church in North America used to function under the assumption that people wanted to be involved in a church, and if they weren't currently affiliated, they were actively engaged in looking to be affiliated. Those days are gone. 

I did a funeral yesterday for a 95-year-old saint of the church. As his widow described it, when they moved to Millwood 53 years ago, "Everybody went to Millwood Presbyterian Church," so that's where they went. In the conversations after the service with people from that generation, there was both a wistful remembrance of the deep friendships and strong community connections that were forged at the church in those years, but also a frank recognition that things have changed dramatically. The Pew survey confirms what they intuitively understand, "everybody" doesn't go to church anymore.

Of the roughly 20% who are unaffiliated with a particular religion, most are not looking to find their sacred niche.

The vast majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans are not actively seeking to find a church or other religious group to join.  Of those who describe themselves as “nothing in particular” (as opposed to atheist or agnostic), 88 percent say they are not looking for a religion that is right for them.

If you're not already a little disoriented by this news, check this out. Most of these comfortably unaffiliated folks still believe in God:

Two-thirds (68 percent) of those who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God or a universal spirit.  More than half (58 percent) say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth, and more than a third (37 percent) describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.”

Anytime someone says "I'm just not into you," it's natural to ask, "Is it you or is it me?" Is this a problem with religious institutions or is it a problem with the people who are opting out?

Some of my ecclesiastical friends are pinning the blame on the growing ranks of the unaffiliated. Pastor Lillian Daniel's critique of the spiritually-but-not-religious crowd is probably the most prominent example of this approach. She writes:

On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo....Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.

Her critique has hit such a cathartic chord that it is on tap to become a book in 2013. As much as I appreciate Lillian, and as much as I like to bemoan the shallow, self-indulgent ethos of our culture, I don't think this is a helpful posture for leaders in the church who want to engage these current realities. It has an air of superiority to it that is likely to push even more from the ranks of the religious membership rolls.

Just imagine the billboards for the marketing campaign that national denominational offices can roll out in support of this approach: "Do you consider yourself spiritual but not religious? What a loser." or "Are you unaffiliated with a religious institution? Good! We don't want shallow, self-centered people anyway."

Instead of pointing fingers at those who are leaving, we in the church need to listen to what they are saying. There is a legitimate critique that church leaders need to grapple with if we are going to have some relevance in the future. The unaffiliated in the survey put it like this:

Overwhelmingly, they [the non-affiliated] think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics...

No wonder us religious folk are inclined to diminish this trend and the people who are a part of it. It's hard to look that critique in the face and not blush. 

There are some glimmers of hope for religious institutions in the midst of the growing exodus:

More than three-quarters (77 percent) say religious institutions play an important role in helping the poor and needy and bring people together and strengthen community bonds (78 percent).

These are challenging times for religious organizations like the Presbyterian church I am a part of, but also times of opportunity for innovation and change. Instead of dismissing this news I hope our congregation will respond with humility to listen and the courage to adapt and change.

Wendell Berry, the Inhabit Conference, community gardens, and the kingdom of God

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Inhabit Conference, a collaboration between the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and the Parish Collective, a network of faith leaders equipping churches to live out the gospel in their neighborhoods. It was a wonderful collection of people seeking an alternative imagination for being the church in this modern, commodified, flattened cultural moment. In a fitting convergence of events, Wendell Berry gave the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on Monday. The Inhabit Conference and National Endowment for the Humanities lecture both expressed a prophetic call to reconnect with a sense of place and a responsibility to people.

The Chronicle in Higher Education had the following report on the Berry lecture:

Mr. Berry's speech was a discussion of affection and its power to bind people to community. It was also a meditation on place and those who "stick" to it—as caretakers and curators. "In affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy," Mr. Berry said.

The opposite of the "sticker"—in the words of Mr. Berry's mentor, the writer Wallace Stegner—is the "boomer," those who "pillage and run."

"That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated," Mr. Berry said. Our relationship to the land and to community is increasingly abstract and distanced.

"By economic proxies thoughtlessly given, by thoughtless consumption of goods ignorantly purchased, now we all are boomers....." 

The antidote, Mr. Berry said, is affection, connection, and a broader definition of education—to study and appreciate practical skills like the arts of "land use, life support, healing, housekeeping, homemaking."

Berry's comments echo much of what I heard at Inhabit. In the midst of the growing wreckage of "boomer" models of church in North America, people shared stories about what it looks like to be a "sticker" church that specializes in affection, connection, and homemaking. As someone who battles mightily with my boomer instincts in leading the church, the conference refreshed my vision for a different, stickier path of leadership.

Part of the gift of the conference was to help me see the blessing of the stories that have unfolded in our community over the last couple of years. (The test of a good church conference is whether you go home feeling envious of God at work in other people's stories or encouraged by God at work in your own stories. Inhabit provided me with the latter.) Many spoke of starting community gardens, so I thought I'd share part of our story here as an example of how community gardens can serve as a living alternative to the "pillage and run" pace of life.

The story of the garden goes back four decades to the start of an iconic neighborhood pumpkin patch on the shores of the Spokane river, located next to a major north-south thoroughfare in the Spokane valley. Generations of children grew up in our vicinity making a seasonal pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect pumpkin and pluck it from the vine. Not only that, they got to see the field plowed, the seeds planted, and the plants growing as their family station wagons drove by the site in the spring and summer. It was a community-sustained umbilical to the land and a constant connection to the rhythms of springtime and harvest that have been lost in most communities.

Ten years ago Spokane County set out to widen the Argonne bridge and the pumpkin patch was designated as the lay-down area for all the heavy equipment and machinery required for the year-long construction project. I was told that tractors came and shaved off the two feet of black humus that had accumulated from the years of growing pumpkins in order to level the land. After the construction was completed the land was left as a hard-packed abandoned lot that served as a turnaround area for school buses and a shortcut for people walking through the neighborhood. The land was so hard it took a pick-ax to loosen enough soil for a soil-test. 

Four years ago people in the church and in the neighborhood started a conversation about the potential of recovering the land and the story of the land by turning the site of the old pumpkin patch into a community garden. I had only known that plot of land as an abandoned lot and it was only after these conversations started that I learned its history. The loss of connection to the land is like that, we not only lose the use of the land we lose the stories that at one time gave life to the neighborhood.

We knew we couldn't do it on our own as a church so we reached out to the neighors and other community partners. The paper mill that owns the land agreed to let us use it and they even donated the water and facilitated the donation of lumber and compost through their connections. We enlisted neighbors, the school district, a local group home, scouts, local landscaping businesses as co-conspirators in reclaiming the land. We even had a bunch of guerilla gardeners from the Twitterverse that came to help us get started. We joined together and named it the Pumpkin Patch Community Garden.

I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story:

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The garden has become a gathering place for families and neighbors.

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One of our goals with the garden is not only to let people have a plot to use for personal use, we wanted to bring back the pumpkin patch. So along with individual raised beds we have some area for row crops for Second Harvest and a place for pumpkins. Last summer we had a bounty crop of pumpkins and invited children from a local group home to come over and choose a pumpkin. The rule was that they had to pick a pumpkin that they would carry to the car. 

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Some of them pushed the rule about carrying the pumpkin to the limit. 

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Others tried to find the perfect pumpkin. It took this little girl 15 minutes wandering the patch to find just the right one.

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It was a wonderfully redemptive moment to see kids once again walking on this land with anticipation in their eyes and joy in their hearts about finding a pumpkin to call their own.

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I imagine that when these children now drive by the pumpkin patch they remember the fruit of the land, they remember the richness of the soil, they remember the rhythms of the seasons, and the joy of the harvest. To use Berry's words they have a new sense of affection, for a land that sustains them and a community that is committed to a place, which serves as a tangible sign that they are part of a community that is committed to them. 

Along with this I think they have a better sense of God's redeeming work in the world and we in the church who have been involved with the garden have a better sense of this work as well. We better understand that the kingdom of God is not some abstract notion, it's like a community garden -- putting down roots in a place, redeeming abandoned places, and renewing affectionate relationships.

Thanks to those at the Seattle School and the Parish Collective for putting on the Inhabit Conference. It helped remind me of the God who is at work in our neighborhood.

My Take on Ethics of Eating - More grace needed in current food debates

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Last week I was a panelist on an Ethics of Eating event at Sante' restaurant in downtown Spokane and today's edition of the Spokesman Review has an article on what transpired. The in-person event, pictured above, was organized in response to a heated virtual debate on Facebook over the fact that Sante' serves foie gras. You can look on the Sante' Facebook page for a run down of the debate. Local TV news even did a story on it. Here's one of the critical comments posted on Faceboook:

You will never have our business/patronage because I now know you serve foie gras. And we will never recommend your restaurant to local friends or out of town guests. In fact, we will tell them about your inhumane offerings and I'm sure they will decide the same, as our friends are all animal caring people. In your quest to serve haute' cuisine and be a Cosmo restaurant, you have shown us that you have made unethical choices to seek your customers. With many other dining options, our money will be spent elsewhere. Shame on you for putting money above the suffering of ducks and geese.

I personally really enjoyed the event, especially hearing from Jeremy and other leaders in the Spokane sustainable food community. There were not any strident critics in the audience but there were some good questions from vegans about the justification for killing animals when other alternatives are available. I explained that I find those arguments a lot more compelling than I used to, although I am not yet convinced. I appreciated that the audience expressed a genuine desire to learn about food systems and the my fellow panelists responded with a gracious desire to inform and inspire people to learn more. I guess the big surprise was that the in-person event was such a pleasant dialogue compared to the rancor and bitterness of the online lobbing of accusatory grenades. The online ethical debate around food has taken on an almost religious character, with the puritans on one side and hedonists on the other.

This is one of the reasons I have been compelled to explore actual religious traditions around food. I have suspected that the religious-like debate around food systems might actually have something to learn from actual religious food practices. We've spent the last four months following kosher food laws and Orthodox fasting rules. We celebrated the end of the Orthodox Lenten fast last Saturday with the midnight Pascha service at Holy Trinity Orthodox church. 

I plan on writing extensively about what we have been learning but there is one aspect of the Pascha service that I found especially helpful for current debates around food. In the Orthodox church the fasting rules for Lent are very strict. On most days there is no meat, no dairy, no oil, no fish, no eggs, and no alcohol. On days where there is an evening celebration of the eucharist the strict rule is that you abstain from all food and drink until receiving the communion elements at the evening service. We followed these rules closely but there is a wide range of observance in the Orthodox church, with many loosely observing the rules and many not observing them at all. One of the ethical questions around these food rules in the Orthodox church is how to deal with the diversity of practice given an ethical ideal. This is the same question that faces locavores, slow-food advocates, vegan evangelists and the rest. 

At the Pascha service I learned how they deal with this diversity of practice as they prepare to gather around tables and celebrate the Paschal feast. Their approach is summed up in their reading of the famous sermon from St. John Crysostom which opens with these words:

If any be a devout lover of God,
  let him partake with gladness from this fair and radiant feast.
If any be a faithful servant,
  let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord.
If any have wearied himself with fasting,
  let him now enjoy his reward.
If any have laboured from the first hour,
  let him receive today his rightful due.
If any have come after the third,
  let him celebrate the feast with thankfulness.
If any have come after the sixth,
  let him not be in doubt, for he will suffer no loss.
If any have delayed until the ninth,
  let him not hesitate but draw near.
If any have arrived only at the eleventh,
  let him not be afraid because he comes so late.

For the Master is generous and accepts the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour
  in the same was as him who has laboured from the first.
He accepts the deed, and commends the intention.

Enter then, all of you, into the joy of our Lord.
First and last, receive alike your reward.
Rich and poor, dance together.
You who fasted and you who have not fasted, rejoice together.
The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it.
The calf is fatted: let none go away hungry.

When it comes to sharing in the abundant feast of lamb that follows the Paschal service they make no distinction between those who come first and those who come last, those who fasted strictly and those who didn't fast at all. (See Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard for the theological background to this.) My orthodox friends model this approach throughout Lent by not talking openly about their individual fasting practices so as to avoid pride and the divisions that it cultivates. In the midst of the most strict food rules I've ever encountered they somehow manage to offer grace instead of judgment. 

The fullness of the gospel expressed in the invitation to the table at the Paschal service can't be reduced to a simple lesson, but it does offer a provocative vision of what it looks like for a community to gather around food practices, which might be helpful for food activists filled with religious zeal for their cause:

Instead of identifying all the people (or chefs) that they'll never share a meal with, how about a grace-filled invitation to gather around the feast table, seeking community and relationships, knowing that these relationships are the foundation for more ethical practice.

Instead of exalting the puritans and hurling accusations at the unfaithful, how about an acknowledgement that we are all sinners caught up in a fallen food system. 

Instead of prideful proclamations of approved practices, how about a humble stance that lifts up ideals but avoids creating a culinary class system. 

I'm glad for the face-to-face gathering at Sante' last week. It felt like a generous invitation to gather around the table in the diversity of our practices to learn and grow together. I look forward to more such conversations.

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.