Wednesday, 21 August 2013

What Would Jesus Eat?

Having recently blogged more on food than anything else, I was struck recently by Nigel Slater.  He didn't actually hit me, but the encounter left my head reeling a bit.
He seems to have written 20% of last Sunday's Observer, between his recent adoption of a rare breed of pig that he hopes to eat one day soon,
"despite its placid nature, its black patches and floppy ears, I'm not remotely attached to it, and am thinking only of its belly, chops and crackling"
and about 16 recipes for the likes of mushroom and blueberry pies.
One cookery show I don't watch is Slater's Simple Suppers.  In all honesty I find it a bit depressing.  A man wakes up thinking about what he'll eat that day.  His deepest conversations, indeed his only conversations, seem to be with the local greengrocer. 
In this programme, food doesn't invite friends and family round the table.  Instead, Slater sits dolefully gazing into the eyes of his sage risotto.
I sometimes feel a little embarrassed about how much I enjoy food - eating and cooking it, fair enough, but watching whole TV shows about it!  I suppose it has its place, and for me a very important place.  But to spend the day cooking for one?  (Apologies - smug married tone.)  In a grey London apartment, all minimalist, devoid of photos?
I think the reason I don't watch it is the fear that I, like many these days, could frighteningly easily become Nigel Slater!  Living to eat, pretty much.  (Sorry Nigel, I'm sure much of this is really unfair.  I'm using you as a metaphor for something bigger than you.  But you're a convenient and recognizable fit.  A psychologist would tell me this is projection or something.)
As an antidote, I have been reading some articles by David Grummett, Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh.
Grummett describes how food laws in the Old Testament actually limit the type and number of animals we humans can eat.  There are safeguards against factory-style farming providing daily meat with scant regard for the sacredness of animal life.  You can pretty much eat lamb and beef as an Israelite.  The vast majority of animals are not domestic and off-limits.
He also outlines how for Israel and, later, the Church, there were fast days and periods in order to limit food consumption.  Of course, people could enjoy feasts like Christmas - but after enduring an Advent fast. 
He talks of different fasts, mainly partial: one meal a day and a couple of collations (basically a cup of tea and a dry biscuit).  For centuries, Christians of most if not all shades considered gluttony as a serious sin, and refrained from eating meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The anti-nomian in me shudders at the thought of a Church telling people what to eat and when.  Yet my overly snug waistband and the ascending number of food-related posts on this blog are prodding me to think more about food and theology.
How come so much OT law concerns food?  (And so much NT teaching to, come to think of it, although NT material broadly concerns who with rather than what we ought to eat.)  What should I make of the vegetarianism of pre-flood human life?  The explicit torah on animal welfare and the link between sacrifice and slaughter?  The limitations on food types and combinations (meat or dairy, never both)?
'Food and drink' as a blog category isn't watertight, for as with everything, it could be labelled a post on theology.
So, for anyone who's interested, here are two articles by this food-theologian Grummett:

'Digesting the Word: a triptych and proposal on dietary choice', The Other Journal 19 (Fall 2011), 25–34
‘Christian attitudes to animals’, Compassion in World Farming website, March 2010

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