Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food
Stone, Rachel Marie
February 1, 2013
208 pp., $11.58
"Eating with joy means accepting food as God's gift …. It means choosing food … that affirms a flourishing life for the land, for the animals and for the people that bring us our food. It means eating food with others in ways that lead to our mutual health and flourishing. And it means embracing our creativity as people made in the image of the Creator God to prepare food in ways that celebrate God's gift while bringing enjoyment to all our senses."
So writes Rachel Marie Stone in her debut book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food (InterVarsity Press)—but Stone hasn't always eaten with joy. For 10 years she struggled with an eating disorder "only slightly more dramatic than the eating disorder that most North Americans have." Today, however, she's a joyful wife, mother, gardener, meal-maker, and writer—often about food.
Writer LaVonne Neff corresponded with Stone about connecting with God, his creation, and his people through the way we eat.
You've written that your decade-long fear of food was tied to your theology. What changed your attitude?
For many Americans, food is connected to morality. Menus describe chocolate desserts as "sinful," and labels describe healthier choices as "guilt-free." People speak of being "bad" when they've broken their chosen dietary rules and "good" when they haven't. I believed that keeping my weight down and my intake "pure" was crucial to keeping the rest of my life ordered and in check. I believed this meant not caring about food—or pleasure—very much, that apathy toward food, except as healthy fuel for the tank, was what pleased God.
As to what changed my attitude and allowed me to eat with joy—a lot of things. I'm a reader, and so I always turn to books when I'm trying to figure something out. But finishing school—and thus leaving the student life of cafeteria and meals-on-the-run—and starting a family helped, too. I realized that I loved to cook, and that, in spite of all the dieting, I loved food. I had always wanted to have a vegetable garden, and as a young married person, I finally did. Through these things I began to see food as a gift of the earth, and thus a gift from God. It was not something God was holding out to tempt me. It was something God was holding out to entice me, to invite me to taste God's goodness.
Eating with joy is great, but lots of us get downright giddy—and our joy eventually becomes diabetes and heart disease. Shouldn't we worry about that?
Diet-related illness is serious, and it disproportionately affects people who are poor, so it's something to worry about on multiple fronts. Childhood obesity is a problem, too. But I don't think joy and that old word temperance (meaning moderation) are mutually exclusive. Joy in food should include awareness of the things God cares about. God cares about those who are hungry, those who suffer the effects of a nutrient-poor but calorie-rich diet, those who must work in farm fields and slaughterhouses at low wages and in unsafe conditions. Thinking about the real people and serious issues involved in food can encourage us in temperance.
Joy isn't a free-for-all. It's the deep pleasure that comes by slowing down, recognizing God's gift, remembering those who don't have enough, appreciating the labor and resources involved in bringing the food to the table, and purposefully eating with others. If other cultures can blend pleasure in eating with relatively low rates of diet-related disease (as do the French, as do the Italians), so can we.