Now and again when dining in Italian or French restaurants, you will see on the menu a dish titled “Frutti di Mare” or “Fruits de Mer.” Both the Italian and the French mean the same thing: literally “fruit of the sea.” In this case, of course, it is not “fruit” as we normally think about it but rather things like clams and shrimp and lobster and all other edible things from the ocean. In English we rather blandly refer to it as “seafood” and while that is accurate enough, there is something really attractive about referring to these treats as “fruit.”
Maybe it is because of vendors like Harry & David or Edible Arrangements but somehow the word fruit carries with it the sense of a delight given as a gift. Even metaphorically we refer to “the fruits of our labors” even when the labors in question have nothing to do with edible produce. If someone shares a particularly clever idea in a business meeting, someone will later describe that idea as having been “fruitful” or as a notion that “bore some good fruit.” Fruit is rarely associated with bad things unless one spells it out. Bad apple. Sour grapes. But the negative only proves the general rule of fruit being positive.
Years ago in Perspectives I wrote an “As We See It” column that I titled “Theology of Paella.” I don’t seem to have access to that article anymore but I know I wrote it at a time when I was taking gourmet cooking classes at a now defunct (alas) northern Michigan restaurant known as Tapawingo. That wonderful Ellsworth, Michigan, restaurant and its James Beard nominated Chef Harlan “Pete” Peterson created a food mecca during the spring and summer months as people would drive from as far away as Chicago and Detroit to dine there.
But in the slower winter months when they were open only on weekends, they would devote 2-3 days during the week to hands-on cooking classes. I took three or so of those over a five-year period and the most delightful dish I learned to make at the first class was the Spanish classic paella. Paella as I learned it is definitely a celebration of the fruits of the sea. In fact, some of the ingredients in paella were not only things I had never before attempted to cook but some of them I had never before attempted to eat! Clams, mussels, shrimp, lobster, monkfish, and assorted other sausages and meats and vegetables all come together in a saffron-infused rice whose aromas alone can transport one into lovely culinary realms. (The picture above is of my latest paella cooked up for a family gathering.)
In that “As We See It” piece I wrote years ago, I noted the fact that paella—like many fine food recipes—celebrates the fruits of God’s creation. It is definitely a dish to make one thankful for Peter’s vision in Joppa of the sheet let down from heaven with lots of previously forbidden fruits of the sea now being declared available to followers of Christ! Paella is the better for it!
In the United States, November means entering the season of Thanksgiving. Already in church this past Sunday we sang “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” which is one of many hymns that are deeply associated with Thanksgiving Day. Of course, we are right to be thankful about far more things this season than just gustatory ones. And I recognize that we can be as thankful for God’s gifts of food whether we are vegan or more in the omnivore camp. But if the pandemic has reminded us of one thing, it is that being thankful for the fruits of the sea or any other creation fruits is not a given. Food for many has been in short supply the past year-and-a-half and abiding supply chain problems have all come home to roost of late making some foods unavailable and other foods almost unaffordable for many.
When I volunteered to help with the food truck that comes to my church’s parking lot once a month, I knew that everyone who drove through to get a box of assorted food stuffs had to have previously shown need to the local social service agencies. Yet some of them drove through in very nice cars which reminded me that people who had not worried about food before the pandemic now suddenly were short on food due to job loss or job downsizing or other crises that a lot of those good people probably never saw coming.
Food is definitely a gift of God. Whether it is the metaphorical Frutti de Mare or actual fruit from a tree or a vine, food has a gifted quality to it. It is a grace to receive it. As we enter a season where among other things we give thanks for the food we have, we should also pray and work and donate to make such gifts as widely available as possible during these abiding difficult times.
The more we recognize something as a divine gift, the more we should pray that this gift can come to all.