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Have you ever read a book and wished you had written it yourself? Well, Rachel Marie Stone’s, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food is that book for me. Eat with Joy takes a very ordinary topic—food—and helps us figure out just what is so extraordinary about it. Rachel helps us see how eating is redemptive in nature. How it’s communal in nature. How we can be more joyful, generous, creative and sustainable in the way we eat. Essentially, it’s about the deep connection between our food and faith.
This connection is a topic close to my heart. Like Rachel, and like many of us I’m sure, I grew up with what Rachel calls the “eating disorder most North Americans have:the psychotic notion that we can have it all, eat it all, do a minimum of physical labor and still look both thin to the point of undernourishment and “healthfully” toned and tanned.”Yup, that was me, casebook definition of the American dream when it comes to food and our bodies. I wanted to have my cake and lose a few.
Since then, I’ve had a change in perspective when it comes to food. That change started after I met Michelle.
I was connected to Michelle (name changed) through the volunteer program Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I was in a new town, newly married and lonely, and I thought volunteering in some way would help take my thoughts off myself. Michelle was a sweet, shy 11-year-old who loved the Twilight series and had a penchant for fast food. The later was totally unsurprising, seeing as both her mother and stepfather worked at Long John Silvers. I would often pick Michelle up at Long John’s, which was only a block down from my apartment. She’d normally have a large soda in her hand and would carry it around with her, back to my apartment or the park, or wherever we’d go that day. She’d often ask to go to a fast food restaurant, and I’d gently but firmly tell her that we wouldn’t be going out to eat during our hang out times.
Before Michelle, I’d distanced myself from fast-food, from the sugary candy and cookie isles of the grocery store. Having lived the repercussions of unhealthy eating as a child (I would never have called myself ‘thin’ in grade school), I had vowed in college to eat healthier. So I replaced Lucky Charms with oatmeal, replaced fast food with salads, and tried hard not to walk too close to the ice cream dispenser at my university’s cafeteria (ok—that I was not so successful with). But it wasn’t until I started hanging out with Michelle that I began to realize just how fortunate I was to even make the choices I did about the food I ate.
Unlike me, Michelle doesn’t have the option to choose oatmeal over Lucky Charms. Her parents bought whatever cheap cereal was on sale and that’s what they ate. If dinner was made, it was fish sticks or frozen pizzas. More often than not, though, they ate at Long John’s, because both parents worked around the clock and no one had time to make dinner. Michelle often fell asleep in a booth at the restaurant—the school bus dropped her off there, and she’d stay until her parents got off their shift at 1:00 AM to take her home. Her life literally revolved around fast-food. What choice did she have but to eat what was given to her?
Michelle’s parents barely scraped enough money together to pay the bills. I would often try to call Michelle or her mom, only to get a “sorry, this number has been disconnected,” recording. They moved four or five times in one year, jumping from one double-wide to another, or staying at a friend’s place when the power was cut off. They made their money stretch by buying cheaper food—and processed food is always cheaper than fresh.
Rachel writes in her book, “In terms of energy value, processed foods are some of the cheapest items in the supermarket. Calculating by cost-per-calorie alone, carrots are four times more expensive than potato chips, and sodas contain some of the cheapest calories in the place.” Given stats like that, it’s unsurprising that Michelle’s parents opted for fried fish and burgers for dinner, instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A lot of young people—people in my generation—are kind of obsessed with eating healthy. I’m guilty. As one of my friends recently mentioned, we live in a “food-obsessed culture.” In some ways, that’s fantastic. We’re demanding more natural, organic produce, which in turn gives the local farmer a leg up. We’re watching our waistlines and living longer. We’re more informed and healthier for it.
But, sadly, a lot of this focus on healthy eating only goes one way. We’re eating better personally, but how often do we think of others that might not have the same choices as us? While I was with Michelle, I’d often try to teach her simple, healthful recipes and tried (unsuccessfully) to convince her that water was a viable drink option with meals. But about a year ago I moved to a new town, and I’ll admit that while I’ve continued to try and eat healthfully, I haven’t really done much to change anyone else’s life for the better.
Wherever Jesus went, there food was. He was always eating and drinking with people. And as Rachel shared in our interview below, that changed people’s lives. If Jesus were physically present here in America today and walking around, I think he’d still be concerned with feeding people. I think he’d also be concerned that a few apples are more expensive than a dinner at McDonalds.
Not everyone has the choice between a dollar menu and fresh food. As Rachel shares below, there are a lot of factors that keep people from making healthful choices, and it’s not all about will power or self-control. Knowing this has made me want to take the focus off my own healthy eating and do more to help others who don’t have the same choice. Rachel shares several good thoughts in the clips below how we can look beyond ourselves and see food as a way to serve and, ultimately, show others the love of Jesus.
For more about Rachel and Eat with Joy, visit Rachel's blog.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and enjoys reading, writing, and spending time in the great outdoors.