Saturday, August 25, 2007

Reflecting on what the NY times found newsworthy

Do we (Episcopalians and other moderate to liberal Christian denominations) care about the ethics of food? And if not, why not? I have been musing about this since I posted the link to Wednesday's Times story.

On the one hand most of our congregations have or participate in some sort of program to get food to the food insecure. An emergency food pantry, a community meal, a weekly food handout, or in some parishes a large scale effort. On the other hand, my observation remains - that few want to go beyond that - to look at the ethics of our food system. Example: a few years ago when I did a program on Measure M (our local initiative to ban GMOs) I had half as many people attend as worked handing out food on a weekday afternoon when it's Episcopalians' month to do it.

It seems to me we won't care about food system issues if we don't care about our own practices around food. I haven't been to a coffee hour in some time around here when there was homemade food on offer. Oops - I take that back - there were homemade toll house cookies two weeks ago at Thanksgiving Lutheran. But mostly it's stuff bought in quantity at Costco.

It's not that there is better food at the Eucharist, either. Two weeks ago an appeal was made for folks to bake bread for the Eucharist. "How many of you have a bread machine at home?" was the opening question. I just sat there. I have taught folks in more than one congregation how to make good uncrumby bread for the Eucharist - but I don't have a bread machine and don't much like the product.

In the Los Angeles diocese in the 90s my experience was that if you wanted anything to eat after the liturgy, you should go to a congregation where English was not the primary language or get two hours away from central Los Angeles. There are congregations in some places which do not even have kitchens where you can prepare a meal - and I am not talking about old and tiny small town churches, or buildingless congregations. We have fewer and fewer communal meals at our congregations, it seems to me. And we feed our youth a steady diet of take away pizza. Why don't we teach them to cook?

And when is the last time I have heard anyone talk about fasting? I've noticed that those who have been to seminary or something like it and those who have been among the more Catholic Episcopalians for decades do exercise some form of fasting, at least on the two required fast days. But it's been years since I ever heard it mentioned in a sermon, or even an announcement.
I think most people's piety around food is strictly secular - whether the South Beach/Weight Watchers kind or Mickey D's/Costco or Slow Food. We don't want to bring back dietary laws, by any means - but surely our eating practices ought to be begin with the many meanings of our Sunday meal together, and flow from them?

There are also the time pressures of too many people's lives which cause eating to be hurried and food prep to be minimal. And I think we also have some class issues, wedded to a strange asceticism, that cause us to not want to make too much of food, not to pay it too much attention (except for individuals who are labeled "foodies"). And our disregard then gets mapped onto our thinking about food system issues.


John Leech said...

Eucharistic bread - I am working on a friend who bakes sweet loaves of whole wheat... and ask if anyone has a good recipe for a host of corn (maize).

Hmmm... Johnny Carson was a 'host of corn' - I mean communion bread.

John Leech said...

Speaking of fasting didn't Abraham Lincoln call for a couple of national days of fasting, as well as the feast of Thanksgiving the fall after Gettysburg & Vicksburg? I wonder what would happen if the president called for a national day of fasting & prayer now......

Good point about hospitality - I feel much more comfortable with congregations that share meals as well as those who offer visiting preachers a place to stay, instead of leaving you on your own at the local motel......

Phina Borgeson said...

Corn meal and flour are tricky. Corn has no gluten - hence the crumby mess of corn bread. Some maize can be used in combination with wheat for yeast bread. If the need is to use the grain of the Americas, that is what I would suggest. If the need is to avoid gluten, I'd just use a good quality corn tortilla. Not necessarily the most expensive: the cheap ones I bought at Trader Joe's today are made with corn, water and lime - that's all - and they hang together well when fresh.

John Leech said...

Thanks Phina - the best corn bread I ever tasted, made by Mrs Hooks from rural Mississippi, mixed corn meal with some wheat flour. So I will go that route - for the grain of the Americas. Or just get some tortillas.

"There's no tortillas; there's only bread..."

John Leech said...
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