The husband-wife team, both veterinarians, were speaking on God's concern for animals. At the end of the Sunday school class, they explained why they were vegetarians. They clarified that vegetarianism wasn't required of all Christians, and presented their case in a gracious tone. Yet between the sarcastic asides and the hostile tone of questions, it was clear that the carnivores in the room had been threatened.
Food is so personal! Christianity Today editorial "discussions" on the topic have been intense and energetic. At my own dinner table, harsh words have been spoken and tears shed as children and parents have exchanged views on the matter.
We Christians do not like people telling us how to eat. This goes way back.
The Jerusalem Council told Gentile Christians not to eat food sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29), but the admonition was ignored almost immediately (Rom. 14:2). In the end, Paul told believers to let their consciences guide them (Rom. 14:12).
But food is also a corporate enterprise. Every meal we consume has come to us through a complex chain of events—from fields to trains to factories to trucks to stores to the refrigerator—and each stage has an ethical dimension. Along the chain, workers are to be employed justly, animals treated fairly, the environment preserved wisely, and bodies fed nutritiously. And then there's this: food is to be enjoyed and celebrated as one of God's finest gifts.
The problem is that when we get serious about ethics, food becomes more of a problem than an occasion of praise. When we celebrate the joy of food, we tend to get lax about ethics. Who will deliver us from this alimentary tension?
Leslie Leyland Fields, for one. In this month's cover story, she lays out the contemporary ethics of eating without flinching on the basic Chris tian presupposition: Food is a gift from God to be celebrated in freedom. And in Fields's new book, The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God (Wipf and Stock), you will not find a finer collection of essays that reflects Christianly on the subject.
Note to subscribers: Christianity Today has launched a digital replica edition of the magazine as a bonus for print subscribers. Digital editions arrive sooner than the paper copy and are searchable. To receive a free digital edition, visit ChristianityToday.com/ct/CustomerCare and register your e-mail address.
Next month: Scot McKnight wades into the question that many biblical scholars are debating: Did Jesus and Paul preach different gospels? John Wilson makes a case for a practice we dropped long ago: memorizing Scripture. And John W. Kennedy looks at one of the most successful short-term missions organizations in modern history: Youth With A Mission.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See this month's cover story on food.
Read more from Christianity Today's November issue.