catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 21 :: 2010.11.19 — 2010.12.02


In feast or fallow

Mindful eating can be a burden. This, I have learned from applying the metrics of the socially conscious Christian to many meals. If I forgo this glass of merlot with dinner — and I should, since it’s a Tuesday, for crying out loud — I would have about 80 cents to give to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, whose recent Thanksgiving appeal brought to mind the two million Illinois residents who live at or below the poverty line. In light of this, surely tomorrow’s lunch could be altered: trade the Gruyere and whole grain crackers for some American slices and saltines. Do this for several lunches, and I could have several more dollars to buy someone else a meal. And, really, am I that hungry? Think of the resources I could save, then donate if I were to forgo lunch altogether two or three days every week. Downsizing knows no bounds.

Like my attitude toward my job and friendships and God — the things in life to which I feel obligated — my attitude toward food teeters on the brink of more: “You could always do more,” tsk-tsks the super-ego as I head for seconds on the homemade mac and cheese. This will dismay food advertisers, but the more that haunts me is not the more of amount. I cannot feign ignorance about the excess and waste built into our relationship with food. Like most middle-class Americans, I have heard the cries of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, those popularizers of the wisdom of economists and ethicists who for decades have said: Americans eat too much. Our serving sizes are bloated — just look at the diameter of our serving plates. We heap said plates with food we physically cannot eat. We throw away the leftovers. And we do all this to the hum of flickering TV screens. This is wrong. Their warnings are not lost on me.

No, the more that haunts me is not the more of amount but of morality, the striving to do more good, which is why a friend’s suggestion that we host a Mediterranean feast became, ironically, an invitation to less.

It was clear from the early stages of planning that Sarah and I had communal, not alimentary, goals in mind.  We invited 10 people who spanned three generations and who did not know each other well or at all. The point, we made sure, was facilitating the enjoyment of others, not collecting information or networking around a shared hobby or reinforcing staid cliques. Friendship was the end. We looked forward to watching people we liked start to like each other. And they did.

But, truth be told, we did seek aliment, and lots of it. Novice cooks, Sarah and I enjoy reading home-cooking blogs and trying out new recipes. We viewed a feast as a biblically sanctioned excuse to clutter a dining-room table with our experiments, waiting to see if they would produce mmmms or polite nods from recipients. All 14 or 15 dishes prominently featured fresh ingredients, and we made sure the three meat dishes did not become the centerpieces of the meal. (You know I love your pot roast, Mom.) The colors of lemon rice soup and blood oranges and radicchio and stuffed peppers dazzled atop our colorful but simple everyday dishes. Bottles of red and white wine brought by the guests decked a side table. They didn’t run dry. They also facilitated an impromptu two-hour story time in which each guest recounted his or her most interesting summer job. The winner, based on the unusualness of their line of employment, received a loaf of olive bread to take home. Even with several pairs of hands, clean-up lasted till midnight. I wanted it to last longer.

Sarah had opened our meal with a prayer. “Thank you for the opportunity to enjoy this food and to enjoy each other. Thank you for the abundant blessings you have given each of us. Let our feasting remind us of the feast we will enjoy in your eternal kingdom.” Let’s eat.

Later, amid the whir of passing plates, an annoying thought bubbled to the surface: Isn’t this all a bit — perversely — privileged? Due to economic and historical factors largely beyond our choosing or control, we 12 had the luxury of drawing theological themes from our shared eating. Do the sunken-cheeked and swollen-bellied have any similar tangible signposts? Do they know that all of creation’s hunger pains will cease, including their own? I wondered. Do they know God is preparing “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the fines of wines,” after which he is going to “wipe away the tears from all faces” and “remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth” (Isa. 25:6-8)?

I do not have answers to these questions, and I hope their nagging doesn’t fade away. I do know now though, after a feast, that I can make do with less — less of the economics of scarcity, and more of the economics of abundance. God’s economy knows no bounds.

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