Some links on food, ethics, and religion

Brian McLaren writes about a pray-in at a Publix in Florida, supporting the rights of and improved working conditions for, migrant farm workers: We’re connected by what we eat . – Brian McLaren.

In a similar vein, Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, talks about their Food with Integrity program (all of their pork is raised sustainably, for one thing):

If you look at the last nine years since introducing Food with Integrity ingredients and having to make modest price adjustments along the way, during that time, we had double digit same store growth, year after year, while bringing these quality store ingredients. So yes, I think it’s something that customers are starting to want more, and I think the demand is going to go up as they continue to understand the ramifications of not having a sustainable food supply. Not only on the taste of our food but also on our health.

In a similar vein, Mark Bittman argues that the cost differential between conventionally-raised and organic or sustainable production would vanish if subsidies were removed and the cost to the environment included.

The Other Journal continues to post conversations about food.

Stephen Webb’s essay, “Against the Gourmands: In praise of fast food as a form of fasting” is a lengthy attack on those who seek religious meaning in what and how we eat. It begins provocatively: “Food is fuel in much the same way that wood is fuel,” and goes on to take potshots at Babette’s Feast and William Cavanaugh.

Of course food is fuel, but it is also so much more. Cavanaugh’s response is here. He points out that

Webb denies that food is sacramental and subscribes to a kind of dualism in which, as he says, “fine dining is to the tongue and nose what a sexual orgy is to other bodily organs. In both cases, sensations have to be carefully paced and systematically parsed if satiation is to be postponed.” We can agree that overindulgence of the senses is certainly problematic, but I don’t have the same qualms about a sacramental view of food or the world in general. In principle, at least, it is entirely scriptural to see all creation as an icon of God and a potential window to God’s grace. Gluttony is a sin; Webb is surely right to say that Christians should not elevate the self-indulgent aesthetic appreciation of fine cuisine into a virtue. Just as surely, however, there is a distinction to be made between a properly sacramental point of view and an idolatrous one that simply collapses the divine into the material.

Perhaps even more importantly, Cavanaugh offers a scathing rebuttal to Webb’s conflation of the gourmand with social justice and concludes:

If Christians are attentive to our economic practices, we can help to create eucharistic spaces on earth that prefigure the fullness of the Babette’s feast that God has prepared for us. This does not mean gluttony. Insofar as Webb’s essay warns us against self-righteousness and self-indulgence, it is a salutary piece. Insofar as Webb encourages us to disregard the theological import of our practices of consumption, he is out to lunch.

Sam Rocha is somewhat more sympathetic to Webb than Cavanaugh but his criticism is much the same:

Webb’s tortured conservatism aside, his biggest mistake is to try to speak of food without recourse to the phenomenological experience of food and eating. (Babette’s Feast and fried catfish both immediately come to mind.) And what about the body? Surely we are not cars that run on fuel, surely our bodies are not combustion engines. For Webb, there is little difference. He invokes platitude after platitude about this thing called “food” to the point of making the laughable claim that, since the only non-utilitarian meal is the Eucharist, we might as well eat McDonald’s the rest of the time.

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