Healthy food habits aren’t just good for the body: They renew the family, protect God’s creation, and invigorate the soul.
Throughout history, the Church has been at the forefront of “food movements.” Monks began brewing beer in the Middle Ages for their own consumption and then sold it to the public. Religious Orders all over Europe made wine, cheese, bread, and other products. This tradition continues today in Religious communities that farm the land, roast coffee beans, make wine and beer, raise animals, and sell gourmet food items. In fact, Catholics are the perfect people to champion the rebirth of a culinary culture. Here are five good reasons you should join the effort:
1. Preparing and sharing a meal is the most intimate thing we can do together.
While sexual intimacy belongs to married couples, eating is inclusive: It’s the most intimate thing we can do with other people. We give and receive love across the table. It is a place for conversation and building relationships, for giving thanks and replenishing our energy to fight another day.
Think of the women and men who, over countless generations, have warmed bellies and lightened hearts with their home cooking. Take the simple sandwich — nobody could make one like my grandmother. I swear it was the love she put into it and the way we sat together as I chewed away, a tall glass of lemonade in hand.
Sitting at the dinner table together is one of the most important things a family can do. The ritual has been so lost that new ministries are springing up to address the problem — such as Father Leo Patalinghug’s “Grace Before Meals” (gracebeforemeals.com), which encourages families to sit down for home-cooked food. This one program alone has renewed many family relationships.
2. We’re called to treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit dwells within us; we are truly houses of God. We’re told in Scripture that we are Christ’s hands and feet here on Earth — through us He touches people and continues his saving work. Shouldn’t we be giving our bodies what they need in order to do God’s work?
Treating ourselves with reverence and respect means we not only use our bodies for good but also that we don’t pollute them. Our bodies and minds need the right fuel to function at optimum levels — and that begins with knowing what we’re putting in our mouths.
If we’re temples of the Holy Spirit, we owe it to ourselves, to God, and to others, to feed ourselves real, wholesome food.
3. We are charged with being good stewards of the Earth.
One of the major themes in Catholic social teaching is stewardship. It goes back to Genesis, where God entrusted the Earth and all its resources to man and woman. The Earth’s bounty is meant for everyone, and we have a responsibility to care for it as trustees and stewards.
For a Catholic, this isn’t just talk. It means we have to be active stewards, supporting efforts that replenish and sustain our environment. Issues like animal welfare, recycling, cleaning up waterways, and finding alternative energy sources are important. Catholics need to educate themselves and get involved in finding solutions.
Of course, stewardship begins at home. If you’re like most Americans, the majority of the food items in your house have been shipped at least 1,500 miles. That’s a lot of fossil fuels and a lot of time in transit.
Our grandparents didn’t have strawberries 12 months of the year or tomatoes in January, unless they were canned or frozen. When you eat according to the seasons, you lower your carbon footprint and enjoy fresher, tastier food. Not only that, but buying from local producers puts money back into your local economy.
Of course, creatures deserve our attention too. Catholics need to be advocates for the ethical treatment of animals. The chickens and cows we eat today are not lounging around green pastures somewhere in Iowa. Most chickens are in pens so tightly packed they must have their beaks chopped off, be fed antibiotics to ward off disease, and receive growth hormones so they’ll grow faster and fatter. The way the average animal comes to our dinner table is not a sign of good stewardship.
4. Food is a key to renewing culture.
Food is one of the fundamental building blocks of culture. Humans have always organized themselves around food. How and what a nation eats tells you a lot about it; and a country that can feed itself is more stable and secure than one that cannot.
Our food system is an intertwining network of relationships. The heath of our land and waterways, the well-being of small farms, our agricultural policies, and the biodiversity of our ecosystem all have an impact on our culture.
But there’s more to the issue than legislation reform or political activism. When you sit down as a family for dinner, when you keep the food traditions of your heritage alive, when you support the small farms in your region — all of this renews the culture.
Culture is built on core virtues and principles. Patience, civility, manners, good conversation, kindness, tradition, and moderation are all learned around the table.
5. God intended for us to enjoy food.
Some argue that food is simply for physical nourishment. It’s true that not everyone has the same palate or interest in culinary matters. But food nourishes more than our bodies: It feeds our hearts and minds and senses. It puts us in touch with our own mortality and reminds us of our dependence on God and on each other. It connects us to the natural world and to the rhythms and cycles of life that ground us in who we are as human beings.
For Catholics, food is at the center of a good life. What and how we eat will change us and the world we live in — for better or worse. CD