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Al’s Thoughts: The moral hierarchy for food


I ate no meat for nearly five years in my late teens and into my early twenties. My father always warned me that people either get  nutrition or religion. I got both. Even he, with little to no interest in spiritual things- at least in his conversation- noted the connection between food and faith. In the biblical tradition, the link is there as well. The sin of Adam and Eve is in eating what God had forbidden. The Mosaic dietary laws also play into this food theme as well as the manna and the quail in the wilderness. The food climax though is with the Eucharist, where we feed on the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. And finally to join him at the banquet table of the Kingdom and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. In this sense, “we are what we eat.” 

The great Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann begins his book on the sacramental view of life, For the Life of the World with this thought: “’Man is what he eats.’ With this statement the German materialistic philosopher Feuerbach thought he had put an end to all ‘idealistic’ speculations about human nature. In fact, however, he was expressing, without know it, the most religious idea of man.

“For long before Feuerbach the same definition of man was given by the Bible. In the biblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as a hungry being, and the whole world as his food. Second only to the direction to propagate and have dominion over the earth, according to the author of the first chapter of Genesis, is God’s instruction to men to eat of the earth: ‘Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed… and every tree, which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat…’ Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all embracing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It is the image of life at its creation and also the image of life at its end and fulfillment: ‘that you eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom.’”  

“Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him. To be sure, man is not the only hungry being. All that exists lives by ‘eating.’ The whole creation depends on food. But the unique position of man in the universe is that he alone is to bless god for the food and the life he receives from Him. He alone is to respond to God’s blessing his blessing.”

 Take a look at this attempt to weave spiritual and culinary themes together.

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