“Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God” by Mary DeTurris Poust (Ave Maria Press, $13.95)
Three out of five stars
“Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food” by Rachel Marie Stone (InterVarsity Press, $16)
Four out of five stars
Reviewed by Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick
Food: a fundamental part of being alive, an important aspect of culture and a gift from God. Yet, food can become a source of anxiety for many people, from body-image issues and related disordered eating, to concern for those who lack adequate nourishment to sustainable agriculture and proper care for creation.
In recent years, many writers such as Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Sally Fallon have addressed many of these issues in popular writing. While informative, their writing lacks the essential link with the Creator, who gives us physical nourishment from the earth and spiritual nourishment in the Eucharist.
Two new books address the relationship between spirituality and food from a Christian perspective. Mary DeTurris Poust’s Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God (Ave Maria Press, $13.95) centers on the link between physical and spiritual hunger, while Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food (InterVarsity Press, $16) provides a chapter on all important food-related issues, from sustainable eating to food as culture-making to serving others through food. Both books provide important insights into our lives of feasting and fasting.
Stone writes from an Evangelical perspective and to the Evangelical world. Nevertheless, her overview of the major issues surrounding food would prove useful to any Christian, in large part because she’s been heavily influenced by a Catholic, sacramental understanding of God’s presence in the physical world. This sacramental worldview sees the earth as declared in Genesis: good.
Stone begins with a chapter called “Joyful Eating,” in which she uses Bible stories to show that food is a gift from God, from the story of the manna in the desert to Jesus giving himself as, literally, the bread of life. Though gluttony and overindulgence is a sin, the act of sustaining oneself should be pleasurable. Food, like our bodies themselves, is a gift from God. This truth lies at the heart of any discussion about food and eating.
Stone proceeds from this point to Jesus’ Gospel exhortation to feed the hungry—which she insists means ensuring that the poor have access to real, nutritious food, not just fast food and other highly processed food, what she and Michael Pollan call “edible, food-like substances.” Later, she discusses the importance of subverting industrial agriculture (which participates in the creation of these highly processed foods) from the perspective of caring for God’s creation—a principle of Catholic social teaching. Small farms and gardens are best able to respect the order of the natural world. Throughout the book, she argues that it is best to eat local, seasonal food whenever possible; however, she makes it explicit that this should not be done at the expense of “loving thy neighbor,” such as when your neighbor offers you food to eat that is not local or seasonal.
Poust’s Cravings explores the relationship between physical hunger and spiritual hunger. She affirms that eating is meant to be pleasurable when we are hungry, but she also acknowledges that, often, we eat when we are spiritually or emotionally unsatisfied: when we are bored, sad or lonely. Paradoxically, she reflects that, often, when she eats to fulfill a spiritual need, she is eating mindlessly and not fully enjoying her food. Her answer is to practice mindfulness in regards to food and hunger: to ask herself why she wants to eat, and then to savor each bite when she does eat.
The liturgical cycles of feasting, fasting and ordinary time are also very important, she says. The days of fasting and a Lent of simplicity help us to become more aware of the relationship between our physical and spiritual hunger. Feast days, such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and important saints’ days, remind us of the joy of eating. In ordinary time, we eat good food with enjoyment, but eating does not have to be an event; simple, nutritious meals suffice.
Stone’s more comprehensive thoughts on food and eating complement Poust’s exploration of the experience of eating and hunger. Both books suggest that readers cook as a way of becoming more aware of food. They advocate for simple meals made with good quality – ideally local—ingredients.
Additionally, both books include questions for personal or shared reflection at the close of each chapter. Stone includes prayers and recipes as well, while Poust provides suggested practices and meditations. The books lend themselves to be read slowly and reflected on, alone or in a small group, making them ideal places to start for someone with a growing interest in the subject so central to our humanity.
Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance writer and math tutor living in Oklahoma City.