by Hannah Eves, Katherine Martin, Andrew Phillips, Peter Redmayne
The following is an excerpt from our new research publication Thoughtful Eating: a biblical perspective on food, relationships and the environment, written by the four participants of Jubilee Centre’s SAGE Graduate Programme.
Eating is never a solitary act. However, the modern consumer has little understanding of how ‘every sniff,
chomp and swallow connects us to vast global trade networks, and thus to biophysical and social worlds far beyond ourselves.’
Today, the forces of urbanisation, industrialisation, and global markets have profoundly changed the landscape of economic and cultural life. To that end, they have transformed the meaning of food. The result of this shift has been the loss of practical connections between food consumers and the social and ecological contexts which make eating possible. ‘Food consumers end up having little knowledge or say about where their food comes from. Food producers, in turn, will face considerable pressure to grow what they do not want to grow and in a manner they may believe to be harmful.’ Global trade networks disconnect the individual from the complexity and reality of food production, and consumers have been uprooted from the source of their food. In this context, there is serious potential for injustice.
Put simply, the commodification of food and the industrialisation of eating practices has produced an end
result in which ‘people eat with a diminished sense of the depth and breadth of relationships that constitute a food item’, a narrowing which often leads to a limited sense of sympathy or care for fields, animals and farmers. Food is precious not only because of the human care that went into its
production but because it points to the divine creator and sustainer. ‘Eating is a spiritual practice that reminds us of who we are in the global ecology. Forgetting what food is means we also forget who God is, who we are, and the nature of the world we inhabit.’
One solution: gratitude
When food is received as a gift from God, the primary human response to food is best described as gratitude, which leads to joy. L. There are two worldviews which have very different perspectives on food. The first views life as a ‘business to be managed’, in which humans are primarily isolated individuals who, by managing their lives effectively, can generate their own happiness and joy. An alternative worldview understands life as ‘a matter of relationships.’ This second, more relational model emphasises that originally God created humans to enjoy life in relationship with the Creator and creation. The first worldview tends to approach eating as an uninspiring necessity, but the latter approaches eating as ‘an occasion for appreciation and enjoyment, something to be experienced.’ It is this second worldview that leads to a response of joyful gratitude for God’s gift of food:
‘He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate- bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.’ (Ps. 104:14-15)
Old Testament Law instructs the people to rejoice when they eat food as part of offerings to God (Deut 12:7, 12:18, 14:26). Prophetic texts use pictures of food production and consumption as images of future joy. For example, Isaiah states that the people of God will rejoice ‘as people rejoice at the harvest’ (Is. 9:3), and similarly Jeremiah predicts that the restored people of Israel will ‘rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—the grain, the new wine and the olive oil.’ (Jer 31:12) A utilitarian perspective on food and eating severely limits our understanding of how food expresses God’s provision and his delight, and current global food systems encourage reckless ingratitude (seen clearly in the sin of food waste). However, when food is understood as communicating God’s love, then gratitude and joy are ‘natural’ and right responses. The act of eating becomes ‘a daily invitation to move responsibly and gratefully within this given life.’
Eating characterised by ingratitude fails to see beyond one’s own plate. By contrast, joyful gratitude
encourages sharing with others, showing compassion, and working toward sustainable food systems across the world, so that all people can experience the joy of eating food as a gift from God. It encourages gratitude for God’s creation upon which all people and animals are dependent for life-sustaining food – a whole ecosystem of which each person is only one member.
Thoughtful Eating is our new book in three parts: the first describes the various ways our food and farming systems are socially and environmentally harmful, the second provides a biblical overview of food and the environment and the third proposes a framework for thoughtful eating - which is joyful, relational and sustainable.
Norman (2019), Food and Faith: A Theology
of Eating (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.43.
 Ibid., p.59.
 Ibid., p.61.
 Ibid., p.63.
 Ibid., p.72.
 Jung, L.
Shannon (2004) Food for Life: The
Spirituality and Ethics of Eating, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, p.6.
 Ibid., pp.6-8.
 Ibid., p.9.
 Wirzba 2019, p.xii.