The Theology of food

“Our present ecological crisis… has a great deal to do with our failure to think of the world as existing in relation to the mystery of God, not just as a huge warehouse of stuff to be used for our convenience.” —Archbishop Rowan Williams

There’s this old statement of faith called the Westminster Confession that answers the age old question of “what’s the point of this all?” The purpose of our existence, the Confession states is to, “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s it. The meaning and purpose of life is to bring God glory.

Now, what would happen if we started to think about what we put on our plate in light of that question?

You see, the idea that we are primarily consumers is so engrained in us that a question like that probably seems a little awkward at first. This meal is about filling my gut with these tacos the way I like them, right?

If getting what I want at the price I like is the point of this all, then the system we’ve got is great. It doesn’t matter that in a world hurting with hunger, nearly one third of all produced grains are fed to animals being raised for slaughter, that by some estimates, nearly half of North America’s water supply is used in food production, or that the chickens whose wings I am chewing on were crammed tail to beak in cages their entire lives. If what I want is cheap coffee, unjust wages for those who cared for the plants and harvested the beans don’t mean a thing.

Trouble is, we were not designed to function as consumers. From the get-go, we were put together to care for God’s creation, and the job description still stands. The shift in thinking regarding creation in which we no longer view the earth as a big blue vending machine, but rather a gift from God which we were meant to enjoy and care for is a difficult one precisely because we live this side of Eden. We fight against this sort of me-centeredness in every area of our life, not only when it comes to food. But the more our hearts are turned on their heads by grace, the more they beat for the love of God and neighbour. What I am suggesting is that renewal ought to spill over into all areas of life, including agriculture, production of livestock, food distribution, and preparation.

There is a lot of talk about this kind of sustainability and ethical food production, and a lot of motivations are at play. Guilt can get a lot of people to do things. I stood in front of a grocery store refrigerator today, and thinking about some of the more terrible ways some of that food is produced was enough to get me to open my wallet a little further. The same goes for pride. I was a vegetarian for a while, and I felt really good about telling people about it, because it meant that I was doing something that showed I cared in a way that others didn’t. As author and activist Matthew Sleeth wrote, “Often, those on either end of the scale — people who insist on organic free range broccoli and people who salivate over pan-fried baby dolphin — care about nothing but themselves.” Not only do we need to make better choices about our food, we need to think about why we’re making these choices. God’s glory as a motivator for creation care, though, is something so completely countercultural and revolutionary because it puts the focus completely outside of ourselves — outside of creation altogether — and on the Creator.

If God’s glory is the point of this life, how does what you eat (which, when you think about it, constitutes a pretty huge part of living) come into play?


Flickr photo (cc) by Martin Cathrae