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Margaret Feinberg on the Secret Spirituality of Food

Margaret Feinberg on the Secret Spirituality of Food

Margaret Feinberg recently returned from a globe-crossing journey to figure out why the Bible is so obsessed with food. She traveled to salt mines in the holy land, baked bread from ancient ingredients, went to a Croatian olive harvest, visited Texas’s “meat apostle” (a guy dedicated to ancient, biblical butchery) all to figure out why God seems to want us to understand food—from the smallest portions (like manna and mustard seeds) to everyday staples (like the bread of life, milk and honey and the “fruits” of the spirit.)

We talked with her about her journey, her book Taste and See and why all Christians should care more about what they eat.

What gave you the idea for the concept? Because it’s interesting, it makes the case that God is kind of a foodie.

If you start looking at food in the Bible … it pops, and it sizzles on every page. It just comes alive in this profound way. You start to see food at really pivotal moments.

A “foodie” is really someone who takes a particular interest in food, and if you take a look at Genesis the creation story, it’s really played out like a heavenly buffet: Adam and Eve are there, and they’re just invited to nosh on everything that is good and delicious, and there’s just one food that is off limits. The original couple, of course, take a bite of that in temptation.

I think there’s a side of me that thinks, ‘Well, maybe God would make food this dark thing, this thing that we should stay away from, this thing we have to be really careful about.’ And instead it’s almost as if God redeemed food just as He does us.

There’s so many miracles that involve food. When Jesus arrived He’s constantly identifying Himself with sheep and vines and living water and the bread of life, and He says when He comes back we are going to have the biggest baddest banquet of all time.

That just wets our appetite to say, ‘OK God who are you? Give me a fresh appetite. Give me fresh lenses to encounter You, to experience You, to love You and interact with You, even around the table with friends and family and people coming over.’

 To many modern Christians, communion isn’t about food. It’s a ritual they do at church with grape juice and a cracker. What are they missing out on?  

 I mean, let’s just be honest, most of the juice that is served, it leaves that icky taste in the back of your throat, we pass around those little flat pre-processed crackers.

Back in the time of Christ, this was unleavened bread that they were serving during the passover and that bread was not white flour. White flour was reserved for the wealthy. Most likely, when the Egyptians left or the Israelites left Egypt they had their bread that was unleavened that they rushed out with, because they didn’t have time to wait for it to rise it was likely a barley and an emmer flower.  

Why is that significant? Because barley and emmer were the flour of the pour: It was easier to grow; it was more drought resistant, and it would produce a higher yield. Where as white flour was difficult: It was prone to pestilence and it was prone to disease.

Jesus could have taken any bread when He was feeding the 5,000, and instead, He takes the loaf of the boy, and it’s barley bread. So He’s aligning with the poor. The very “Bread of Life,” who was born in Bethlehem, meaning health of bread, takes the bread of the poor and in essence says, ” I am with you. I didn’t come for just the rich, and those who have it all together. I came for all of humanity.”

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.

There’s something very disarming about eating together.

There’s this vulnerability in all of us who live these lives that are so individualistic right? In a cubicle, in an office … But, when you eat, you’re saying, ‘I cannot survive on my own. I must have food.’

When we start to think about it, is connected to people who spent their lives sacrificing to grow a seed, to produce that food, to then prepare that food, to then be shared among you.

It’s vulnerable. It’s saying I am not my own I am part of you all and that’s just embedded in the experience.

 (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

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