This article was originally published in my column at the Colson Center. It is republished here with permission. For a complete directory of all my Colson Center articles, click here.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Isaiah 25:6)
In Angels in the Architecture, Douglas Jones has an excellent chapter titled ‘Worshiping with Body.’ In this chapter Jones notes the prominent role occupied by feasting in the Biblical narrative.
Jones draws our attention to some of the many places in Scripture where fine food is talked about as being a blessing. For example, when Isaiah is prophesying about the time when God will bring salvation the ends of the earth, he speaks of “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Is. 25:6)
God gives His people blessings they can chew, and part of our ability to receive these blessings depends on our food preferences growing in maturity. It is on this point (food maturity) that Jones believes Americans are sadly lacking, and he points to the examples of the French and Italians to shame us.
It is difficult for modern Americans to get their heads around the fact that food is an area where maturity is even possible in any objective sense. Given our Gnostic assumptions, we tend to think the Lord is only interested in attitude issues, and that the actual stuff of our diet is a thing indifferent to Him. We easily understand that the Lord is concerned in how we eat (i.e., we must be grateful, we mustn’t grumble, etc.) but we instinctively feel He couldn’t possibly care about what we eat. However, if God promises to bless His people, not just with any food, but with good quality ‘rich’ food, then the quality of food cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to God.
Part of our ability to receive the blessing of good quality food is being able to identify and enjoy it. However, because modern Americans are so used to a diet of highly seasoned junk food, many of us do not even like the taste of good quality food. We would prefer cheap microwave dinners to the types gourmet described by Isaiah. However, it is not only healthier for us to learn to appreciate fine foods – to prefer well-refined wines to cheap beer, to prefer rich food full of marrow to pre-processed chicken – but in becoming more discriminating in our diet, we can actually grow to enjoy God’s blessings more.
“We can at least start” writes Jones, “with single meals. But even that will require a concerned pursuit of good cooking and delightful tastes. God has surrounded us with so many amazing tastes, and yet we Americans are barely scratching the surface.”
The key is being willing to retrain ourselves. Just as a person who has grown up on a diet of heavy metal music may find a Bach cantata heavy plodding at first, so a person who has grown up with a diet weighted to microwave dinners and soda pop may find it difficult to enjoy good full of marrow or aged wine well refined. But this does not mean that both are equivalent. A Christian is not allowed to be a culinary relativist any more than he is allowed to be a moral or aesthetic relativist. Some food actually is objectively superior to other food. Pure organic butter from cows eating real grass actually is objectively better than factory-processed margarine that flies won’t even touch. Yogurt made with rich creamy full-fat milk really is objectively better than a carton of yogurt with an inch of additives that only a scientist can pronounce. When Charlemagne ordered his men to wash their feet before treading out the grapes, the wine they began producing really was objectively better than before these reforms were introduced. It isn’t just that these foods are better for us, though that is certainly true; rather, they actually taste better.
Or at least, they should taste better, but many of us will need to retrain our palate to appreciate good quality food. As my friend Stacy McDonald has noted on her blog:
“Those of us who grew up on Frankenberry and Ding Dongs learned to love the taste of dirt. But, I’ve found that as we begin to eat right, we develop a taste for what is good, wholesome, and nourishing. Our palates “heal” and we learn to recognize and enjoy the “good stuff” from the pink sugared cardboard.”
- God Cares What’s in the Pot (Part 1)
- God Cares What’s in the Pot (Part 2)
- Food and Teleology
- Jesus, Junk Food, and Christian Charity
- Response to Doug Wilson’s Food Sectarianism