The Spirituality of Food

Far from the quick fix of today’s dominant culture, food occupies an important spiritual place in scripture.

Food in contemporary Australia is often a commodity that is not always even consumed before being disposed of. All too often, restaurants and stores instruct their employees to throw away unused food at the end of the day.

In the West, our meals are so often eaten alone and on the go, something that we must ‘fit in’ between other priorities. Often, these revolve around work and commercial imperatives: In Insights’ office, so many of us are guilty of this, pushing back taking our lunch breaks well into the late afternoon.

The politics of who gathers to share a meal is a common theme in the Bible, throughout both Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament, Israel’s commitment to Yahweh is repeatedly tested by the forces of empire that offer them food, among other symbols of riches. In these stories, the simple sustenance that God provides is an antidote to the temptation offered by those in power. God’s provision in these stories is so often simple but nourishing food, a symbol of Israel resisting the riches of dominant kingdoms of the day.

American Protestant Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Brueggemann observes that God provides Elijah with the food, carried to him by ravens:

The food he is offered is not very tasty food, for it tastes like the dribble of the birds. It is not very reliable food, not as reliable as the king’s sumptuous table…His food supply seems tenuous, but God gives him enough. His food supply lies outside the administration of the king. His is not a government grant.

Here, God’s provision serves as an alternative to that of the King in Elijah’s story. The same can be said for the Jews in the desert who Yahweh provides with Manna.  

For Jesus, who he chose to eat with was more than a simple dining choice. The politics of association in the first century near east revolved around the shared meal and who people were willing to dine with. Doing so with prostitutes and tax collectors was enough to see Jesus labelled a glutton and a drunkard.

Margaret Feinburg went on a globe-crossing journey to examine the Bible’s relationship with food as part of her research for the book Taste And See. In an interview with Relevant, she says that food is an important part of scripture.

Despite all too often being an afterthought, food is such an important part of communal life and within scripture. In carving out its place as an alternative community, the contemporary church often uses food as part of its ongoing mission. One of the central points of the church’s life and worship is the Eucharist, itself a meal through which we physically experience something of God’s grace. As Feinberg writes:

Jesus ate that bread at the communion table. It was not done in isolation. It was an act of a family who had created that bread. When we come to the communion table, and we realize that this is not just about me, this is not just an individual act. What I am partaking of is not an individual gift; it is a confession of solidarity with the poor. It is a confession of the fact that I am not my own. I live in community. I need others. And it starts to really deepen the way that we approach the table.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor




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