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Food, Culture, and True Communion

Sometimes I am reticent to invite people over for dinner. I wish I weren't, but I am. This is why: I am tired of people talking about their personal food preferences. Any given day, I can easily list off several friends or acquaintances who are following some sort of individualized diet - weight loss or not. There's the standard vegetarians, vegans, all types of intolerances, simple likes and dislikes, and now, the winner of the Oxford University Press Word of the Year 2007, "Localvore." Localvores are people who eat only food produced within a hundred-mile radius of their home.

Funny thing: I'm kind of a localvore. My husband and I own a share in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, own another share of a dairy herd, and purchase meat from local farmers. But when I go out, I keep my localvore locked in my house.

Why? Because I love communion.

In my church, we take communion every Sunday, standing in a circle, passing the bread and the cup to one another, saying, "Christ's body, broken for you," and "Christ's blood, shed for you." I love communion. I love that we share ubiquitous foodstuffs, bread and wine. It's nothing fancy - caviar, say, or imported limoncello.

In the New Testament, communion was utterly counter-cultural because Jews and Gentiles would sit and eat together. And they would eat the same food. These shared meals became quite controversial, too, as the early church navigated issues of eating food sacrificed to idols and whether or not Gentiles should become circumcised.

But communion, or a sort of communion at least, depending on your tradition's theology, can happen at more places than just church. Anytime we share a meal with others is communing. We commune with our brothers and sisters in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

And as important as I believe food is - and I believe it's very important and very socially and spiritually significant - I believe relationships with others are more important. I believe God has called us first to love others. Our preferences or ideals - even those made with sound Christian ethics or concern for environmental and physical health - should take a distant second to the first. Why? Because relationships matter and truly sharing a meal means sharing a meal - not just sitting together picking at individual plates of food, but passing a dish, and enjoying the same fruits of creation.

I lock my localvore in the house because I am not, really, a localvore. I am a Christian. My identity in Christ far exceeds my ideas and ideals about food.

So I challenge you to eat well and healthfully, but moreover, to show that you love others more than you love your ideas about food. Start by receiving any type of hospitality with open arms and an open mouth, if applicable.

Will you? What do you think?

March11, 2008 at 5:35 PM

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