Controversial Food

Who knew food could be so controversial? I know people have likes and dislikes. I certainly have particular food likes and there are things I will not eat.

However, a picture I posted Instagram and Facebook on the first day of January created a flurry of comments. I have a few food related groups I post to, including the Not the New York Times Cooking Community. I really hadn’t anticipated such a reaction.

I am not a fan of black eyed peas. I know that in some communities it is traditional to eat black eyed peas for luck on New Year’s Day. I certainly have had my share of them cooked by terrific cooks. I didn’t grow up with that tradition, so I don’t have any skin in the game in terms of having them New Year’s Day.

I pulled a ham bone out of the freezer and popped it and pinto beans in the instant pot after sauteeing carrots, onions and celery. This is what I posted with the picture:

I know, I know blacked eyed peas are traditional but I don’t like them, I think they taste like dirt. So instead I used a leftover ham bone and made ham and pinto beans. #newyearsday #deliciouswichita #2022 #roembachhouse #chezcindylee

In one thread someone was offended I said black eyed peas tasted like dirt. I responded I didn’t mean any disrespect. I feel the same way about beets. I can eat a bite or two, then all the sudden if tastes like dirt to me. One person years ago said to me, “well they can be earthy.” Yup, that’s what I said, “dirt.”

Others weighed in “you haven’t tried mine,” “pinto beans don’t count,” “come on, taste isn’t everything.” Others noted that in their tradition sauerkraut is traditional or oyster stew. I really hadn’t meant to stir up such deep feelings and yet….food does that, doesn’t it?

We have deep and strong roots to food. Our heritage, ethnic backgrounds and cultures are windows into what we expect for holidays, for important meals and what flavors we expect. I am midwestern, from German and English stock. So it’s ham for Christmas and Easter, Turkey for Thanksgiving, fried chicken or hamburgers for any summer celebration.

When I posted I really didn’t mean to disrespect any tradition. All our tastes comes from experience positive and negative. As the comments swirled I realized that traditions are important for our identity and our understanding of how we move through time and space.

In the community of faith, many of our traditions are similar. How we experience and how we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion is a case in point. Thousands of books have been written on the scriptural and theological understandings of the Lord’s Supper.

As a United Methodist, I understand Holy Communion as a sacrament: a visible sign of an invisible grace. I believe, in the bread and cup Christ is present in a real way. I do not have adequate time or space to delve into the theology of it.

The “how” we do the sacrament often seems more important than the “why.” When I was little, we passed out trays with little tiny crackers and little tiny cups. The wafers were tasteless and the grape juice was not quite enough to rinse out the chalky taste. In other traditions the wafers are round and the small individual cups hold with real wine.

More recently (as in the last thirty years or so) I have used “intinction” as the way to serve the sacrament. Each person is given a torn off piece of bread and they dip it in a common cup. I love communion this way as it allows me the opportunity to serve. In another blog post, I will spend some time going deeper into the hows and whys of the way we serve and what we serve.

Today, I want to note that our traditions around communion affect how we receive it. During the pandemic many of those traditions have changed and I, for one, am very aware of how I prefer to serve communion is not the best or safest way to serve it in a medical crisis.

I miss the big loaf of bread, but I have changed my focus to using small individually wrapped wafers and cups to proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! I remind myself that these tasteless wafers are a promise the time is coming when we will feast at the heavenly banquet. Perhaps more importantly, the time is coming when we can feast together with whatever preferred elements we choose.

I believe that food isn’t really controversial, food comes with preferences because of our traditions, our memories and our backgrounds. Holy Communion comes with preferences as well, but the sacrament always comes with grace.

Food and Faith 2022

As I enter 2022, I have once again been bombarded with advertisements for self-improvement. Depending on which social media site I am perusing or which email account, the ads invite me to eat better, look better or be better in the new year. Those advertisements filling my inbox and social media feeds tend to focus on food, or fitness or faith.

A new gym membership or fitness app will help me look better and be stronger than I ever have before! This or that diet, or app will help me melt pounds easily! This book or app or group will help me read the Bible in 365 days or deepen my relationship with Jesus in three easy steps.

Between the focus on food as a problem and diets and exercise as the solution, my life would be fulfilled and perfect. All I need do is identify the “bad” foods and eliminate them, or better yet take one of those “miracle” pills and the pounds would disappear.

When did food become the enemy? In the book of Genesis, God creates and blesses all the earth as good. In the second chapter humanity is offered enough to eat from the fruits of the garden. Now our failure of course was that we always go for what we are denied and Adam and Eve were driven from the garden to sweat and toil in order to live and eat.

Food is necessary to live, but food also brings joy and connects us one to another and to the God who created us. Food has the capacity to break down barriers, offer healing and hope and bring differing sides to a common table. In Christian tradition, the sacrament of Holy Communion points to this powerful truth, Christ is present at a table where two or three gather. 

Our rituals are a window through which we can see the incarnation, God with us.  In those rituals the intersection of food and faith point to that truth. We gather at a table for a birthday and the one being honored is offered a cake with candles to celebrate another year of their unique and unrepeatable life. A couple at their wedding share cake and a sparkling beverage celebrating this union and the hope and promise of years ahead of them. Even funerals offer food gathering family and friends together, for comfort and peace and a time to share stories as the deceased is remembered and celebrated.

Food is not the enemy, but perhaps our relationship with food is what we do not always understand. We eat to live. Sometimes we eat because we are bored or sad or are trying to fill some ache inside of us.

Eating food with little nutritional value doesn’t help with any of those feelings or experiences, but can be a quick fix. For me, Kettle Potato chips are my downfall. I love the taste and the crunch and the salt and the fat and when stressed, I eat way too many of them. It is easier for me to not have them in the house or I eat every one of them.

That is not the fault of the potatoes or the salt or the fat or the company that makes them. There is nothing inherently wrong with potato chips. In fact, in terms of ingredients, at least I can pronounce them and the list is short. It is my use of this particular food to deal with my stress or sadness, rather than my faith. I need food, but I also need food for my soul and spirit.

Cooking can provide a spiritual component to my day. Sitting at the table with my husband, savoring a meal, reconnecting adds to a sense of centeredness and peace that no potato chip offers. As I begin this new calendar year, I am reminded that food and faith belong together. A table where love and laughter and even heartache are shared is gift from God. I pray that this year is filled with many tables, with many friends accompanied but love and laughter.