Letter from the Editor: Food Is More Than Food

One of my favorite things in life is traveling and eating food that is new-to-me in new-to-me places. Of course, food that is unfamiliar to me is not so for others—it’s merely the usual fare. Just because I’m eating someplace for the first time doesn’t mean I’ve discovered it or the cuisine. And part of the joy in these personal discoveries is knowing the world is a much bigger place than I know. The wonder of the world comes served on plates and platters to those who see food as a gateway to humility.

To me, food is a grand adventure. It takes me into another world—someone else’s world, full of flavors and aromas that awaken new senses in me, gifting me with new experiences, new understandings, even new curiosities. Adventurous eating nourishes both my body and my soul, even as it leaves me hungry for more.

Food provides both the grounding and the disruption of our cultural experience. Whatever food is, it is more than just what we eat.

And yet, I have several beloved dishes that tether me to home and define me. These are family recipes I’ve eaten my whole life. It’s the fourth-generation recipe for spicy chicken paprikash (my version is heavy on the paprika and includes all the starches: potatoes, noodles, and dumplings). These are the go-to dishes my husband and I crave that have become our comfort foods. It’s the chicken mole (of sorts) that we now eat almost once a week (an easy version; someday I want to make a traditional version, when I block out a full day for the essential simmering that makes a true mole).

Our familiar cuisines shape us and root us, just as the unfamiliar ones shape us while uprooting us. Food provides both the grounding and the disruption of our cultural experience. Whatever food is, it is more than just what we eat. It is history. It is tradition. It is earthy and raw; it is beautiful and broken.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and curated support articles dish up the powerful place of food  in our formation. Our first feature from Kendall Vanderslice, “Dining Our Way to Neighborly Love,” peels back the layers of how food connects us to each other and the world:

We are also created for communion, to need close relationships with others, both friends and family. All of these needs are met most fully at the table, where we deepen intimacy with one another and also address our physical need for food.

When we attune ourselves to the intimacy of our deep reliance on food and on one another, we have the framework to recognize the intimacy of our relationship with the created world. When the world around us aches, we suffer the consequences as well. But when the world around us thrives, we thrive too.

Gathering around the table is an act of deep intimacy. It is here we feed the bodies that designate us as creatures, as humans created and dependent upon God and each other. CJ Quartlbaum speaks to this dependency and how our lives are codependent in his feature, “Grieving the Gentrification of Food.” Since nothing happens in a vacuum, we must be mindful of how we affect each other and communities we form together:

Communities are formed around food. If there is one thing we all have in common as people, it’s that we eat. All of us, for example, eat chicken—we might cook it a little differently, but at the end of the day, it’s the same bird. Food can connect us. It is a look into culture, life, relationships, everything. Yet what we continue to see in these gentrifying neighborhoods is food separating us.

Experiences vary in different establishments but many locals generally feel unwanted in these new venues. One man shared a story about a bar he went to that recently opened up in his section Staten Island:

“There was one occasion recently I went into this new spot which is right down the street from where I grew up, and when I walked in the bartender stared at me a few times, and never once asked if I needed help, didn’t ask if I needed a table, so I sat at the end of the bar and waited to see how long it would take for her or anyone else to come serve me. Eventually I was served but it wasn’t a good experience, and I probably won’t go back there.”

It’s stories like this that make you cringe. Stories of people of color just trying to live a regular life like everyone else but constantly being reminded they are not everyone else, or at least, the right everyone else.

Yes, food is more way than food. It defines our lives as they intersect and bump together. Food is powerful because of the way it pulls and pushes on us. Michael Morgan speaks of this refining push-push in his feature “The Aroma of Home: In Praise of a Korean Table”:

I had never tasted Korean food before I met my wife. Her omma was born in Korea and moved to the United States after marrying an American serviceman. Widowed when her children were quite young, she raised a daughter and son on her own in a home filled with the aromas of her homeland. Though my wife jokes that as a rebellious kid all she wanted was hotdogs and hamburgers, those Korean foods were always going to become her home table; meals she turns to as an adult, lighting her path back to childhood.

In many ways, the story of Korean food and culture in my life, with its Kentucky Baptist roots, is the story of how we travel through the world. A reminder that while some of us leave our first culture quickly, others drift slowly and imperceptibly—and some get yanked out kicking and screaming. Whether we go out into the world or the world comes looking for us, we all eventually look up and find what was once a sun is now more the size of a star.

Making room at our tables is a beautiful, living-giving act. When we eat together, we pull others into community. This welcome echoes the one all of us long for, the table in God’s kingdom that has room for us all. In her feature, “The Lord of the Millennial Dinner Party Feasts,” Amy Gannett points to the dinner party trend gaining ground among Millennials who are searching for a place of belonging and a people to feel at home with, and how that beautifully mimics the feast in the age to come:

Our generation’s version of hospitality may not mirror the Sunday family dinners valued by Baby Boomers, but around our tables you will find intentionally diverse groups of friends who are connecting in truly meaningful ways. We’re not throwing dinner parties just because we don’t like to eat alone, but because we crave friendship, community, and sense of belonging in our more nomadic lives. And so, we’ve cultivated a space that reflects these values: the food, the friends, and the flatware (and we’re pretty pleased when it all looks particularly good on Instagram), as we open our homes and our dinner tables to those we love.

As Christians, we can’t help but notice the ways that this generational shift rightly reflects Christian truths about the Kingdom of God—the ultimate, final dinner party around the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Christ, both in his earthly ministry and in his coming Kingdom, exemplifies what it means to feast around a table that is set with the very best.

When we share the foods that we love, we share the essence of our very lives. This is sacred ground, an offering, a beautiful sacrifice, a welcome to all who will come and enjoy it. By eating together and honoring the way food shapes us inside and out, we become the people of the God who is preparing the ultimate dinner party. One day, when we gather around the table in the kingdom to come, we will feast in full. And there we will be fully satisfied and finally at home.

In This Issue

Dining Our Way to Neighborly Love

When we eat with attention to the role of food in creation, by taking the physical world around us into our own bodies, we come to know more fully the God who created us and who created the world that feeds us.

by Kendall Vanderslice

Grieving the Gentrification of Food

It is over food that we relax, share our stories, our hopes, and often our dreams; we debate politics and argue sports over drinks and snacks; it can be argued that when food is present, we are most human.

by CJ Quartlbaum

The Aroma of Home: In Praise of a Korean Table

In many ways, the story of Korean food and culture in my life, with its Kentucky Baptist roots, is the story of how we travel through the world.

by Michael Morgan

The Lord of the Millennial Dinner Party Feasts

When we look ahead to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, we don’t just seen affinity-based friendships around the table; we see a family dinner.

by Amy Gannett

Cooked, Slow Food, and the Allure of Beauty

Cooked highlights the good in preparing and enjoying food.

by Collin Huber

The Great British Baking Show: A Lesson in Image Bearing

The Great British Baking Show depicts what it looks like to embrace our unique identities and give them shape.

by Abigail Murrish

‘Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate’: Authentic Faith and Confused Consumerism

Does the hand-crafted movement shape faith to culture or shape culture to faith?

by Erin Wyble Newcomb

Anthony Bourdain and the Dangerous Empathy of Food

Maybe, if we are willing to share a table with somebody, we will understand them. We’ll love them. “They,” who ever they are, won’t be other after a meal—they’ll be “us.”

by Nick Rynerson