by D.L. Mayfield
The other day I walked into a grocery store, saw local free range pork bones for a dollar a pound, and literally squealed with excitement. I grabbed my husband’s shoulder as I shrieked: “Aren’t you excited? Just think about the pot of beans we could make with these beauties!” He looked at me strangely, but it barely registered in my glee. All I could think about was my next meal—beautiful black beans bathing in the rich fat of happily raised pigs, the satisfaction of feeding my family well, by hand, with ingredients I knew the integrity of—all on our rather sparse budget. I clutched those pork bones in their cellophane case close to my chest and smiled in happiness, and it was only then that I realized how far I had come.
Less than a year ago, and this never would have happened.
I haven’t always done a happy dance for sustainably raised pork bones. In fact, nearly all my thoughts about food have changed radically. It started slowly with questions gnawing on the back of my brain, aided by excellent books and authors, propelled by friendships with people from agrarian cultures, and brought to the point of desperation by moving into a low-income urban environment. As I learn more about the tortured animals we eat, the tax-subsidized fast-food industry, the addictive nature of processed food, the lack of diversity we seem to celebrate with every packaged food purchase, the human rights violations in the food industry, the amount of oil consumed to bring me my cereal, and the struggles with obesity-related diseases that many of my neighbors face—well, it all started to feel like it was a really big deal.
But how do I explain to my friends and neighbors why I shop at the co-op? Why I spend $5-7 dollars a pound on meat now (and subsequently, eat a lot less meat than before). How do I explain that I am doing this out of love for God, our world, and for them? That I feel like every dollar invested in local agriculture and economy will help my low-income neighbors in a myriad of ways? That I feel, almost to the point of desperation, that the way modern consumers live their lives is terribly destructive, unhealthy, and due to the ever-higher price of oil, destined to end soon?
It’s hard to communicate all this, without sounding sanctimonious, paranoid, or decidedly middle class. And it’s also hard to explain why I believe other people should care about their food choices, as we are all impacted by the same system.
Enter Rachel Marie Stone. In her new book, Eat With Joy, Stone does an amazing job of laying out nearly every single important issue with food using language that invites the reader into the discussion, instead of barring them from it. She uses copious amounts of Scripture (her interpretation of the story of Ruth as one of food justice is insightful), uses language that is familiar to the average American Evangelical Christian, and ultimately comes to clear-headed and hopeful realizations that we need to make some fundamental changes in regards to our eating habits. Despite a title that sounds a bit like a diet book, Eat With Joy is a comprehensive look at how far we have taken the pleasure of God’s creation out of our food. From gluttony and obesity to anorexia and body dysmorphic disorders, to slave labor and factory farms, to bleak meals eaten alone in front of the TV, to addictions to sugar, white bread, and the oil needed to bring bananas to our tables year-round—it all falls far from the tree of God’s glorious intentions.
While I enjoyed every chapter, I especially resonated with the chapters on food justice (Generous Eating) and food as a relational action (Communal Eating). Both of these points have played a large role in shaping my own relationship with food, as I struggle to not only think of myself (and my budget) when I shop but rather embrace a larger ethic of “is this good for my community? Is it good for the people who produced this food? Is it good for our earth?” The introduction alone is worth the price of the book, as it succinctly sums up why all of us should care about our current food system. Stone writes that “the number of people worldwide suffering the ill effects of too much food nearly equals the number of people suffering the effects of too little food; as many are obese to the point of illness as are undernourished to the point of illness.”
Our choices, our consumption, and our unwitting acceptance of a system built on capitalizing on both biology and greed have contributed to great evil around the world. There is no reason for people to die of starvation in our world, yet it happens every day. There is no reason for the poor in America to feel trapped in a system where they have few local or fresh options, and where their diet (aided by science, advertising, and shareholders) is literally killing them. And the longer we allow this type of system to continue on unchecked, the more complicit we are in the sin.
The good news, of course (and with God, there is always good news) is that it doesn’t have to be like this. Once we face the facts square in the face, once we take deep breaths and allow ourselves the luxury of guilt and horror and outrage over the way the world is, we can move on to the business of living out God’s design. We can search out animals that have been treated with respect, shepherded with dignity, led to our table with honor—eating less and learning to enjoy it more. We can relearn to savor. We can eat seasonally, with expectation, praising God for the good things in each time: strawberries and asparagus, tomatoes and peaches, apples and kale, pumpkins and potatoes. We can invest locally, supporting farmers and enterprises that directly support our communities, which will in turn hopefully create more choices for the poorest in our inner cities.
Finally, I love how Stone gives practical tips, recipes, and prayers at the end of every chapter. One prayer in particular stuck with me, and will stay for a long time. Originally from Nicaragua, it reads:
“Oh God, bless this food we are about to receive.
Amen and Amen.
For more information on Eat with Joy, please check out Rachel Marie Stone’s website. For other resources, please see the “What We’re Reading” tab at the top of this site.
Full disclosure: I did receive a promotional copy of this book. However, the views are all my own.
D.L. Mayfield loves food, talking about the kingdom of God, and her little family. Her life is 90% mundane and 10% absolutely cray-cray. She lives and writes in the exotic midwest. She curates a blog here and can sometimes be found on Twitter.