Last week I enjoyed meeting and hearing from Dr. Norman Wirzba during his visit to Nashville. Norman teaches theology and ecology at Duke Divinity School.
In his writing and lectures, he invites Christians to think more deeply and theologically about our relationship to creation and specifically our relationship to food. As he put it, if you want to examine any sort of justice issue, food will connect you to that issue, whether it’s climate change, global health, domestic poverty, or any of the facets of our industrial agriculture system and what it means for animals, plants, and for the humans who are hired to grow, harvest, transport, and serve our food.
I find it bewildering to try to wrap my mind around the edifice that is the industrial agriculture system in this country, and to understand how any of us can make a difference. (Have you watched any bewilderment-inducing documentaries, like “Food, Inc.” or “King Corn”?) I was encouraged and inspired, though, by the elegant and compelling way that Norman invited us to focus on the changes we could make by simply investing some time and thought into our role as eaters. Beyond even just thinking about where our food comes from, how far it was transported to get to us, and who had a hand in that process, it’s crucial that we also examine how our attitude toward food reflects our posture toward creation as a whole. It is there for our pleasure and convenience; does it consist of natural resources that can be entirely commodified? Or is it a sheer gift, one we ought to accept with a posture of gratitude instead of grasping? Norman pointed out how the practice of gardening helps us bear in mind that creation is not under our control—we are literally on our knees, doing our part to cultivate the soil and optimize conditions for things to grow, but what will ultimately grow is beyond our control.
I’m looking forward to reading Norman’s book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating and hope others will check it out too. You can also check out some of his talks on YouTube. Meanwhile, I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving next week, and that we will all find ways to be creative and grateful eaters in the midst of a culture of consumption.