I visited the Trade Winds Asian Market on a rare summer evening where time slows and places itself like infinity in your hands. I wanted to make green coconut curry before the summer ran out; summer always seems to run out before it has any right to do so. A friend and I drove to the market and wandered the aisles of unfamiliar labels and food types. We pondered the notations in Chinese characters of which green stalks were lemongrass and which was the Thai basil. Some others in the shop helped us make our choices. The internet gave suggestions on which brand of curry powder made it taste closest to the restaurant favorites I ordered “to-go” when time seemed thin and fleeting. We took an hour to then prepare the veggies and cook them to a spicy glory on the stove. There was more than enough for seconds and thirds. Dinner had turned into a feast of taste and quality time.
My work was still there the next day. There was writing and reading to be done. My friend spent extra hours in lab catching up and running samples. Yet the time was worth it. We had been nourished in the extravagance of preparing food and sharing it together. My body felt stronger for the meal, giving me a sense of belonging in my body that comes only when I take care of the food that I am feeding myself.
It’s easy to say that time is what we truly lack, the killer that keeps us from eating well and feasting with others. “I forgot to eat today. Whoops.” More than one colleague has said this in passing as we reach the end of another workday. Time goes. Work is engaging, even consuming. And when do we eat? Then we joke that all you need to do to get graduate students in a room is to offer them free food. Money is always scarce and the time even scarcer. It takes investment to plan meals, an investment that feels like a fantastical luxury. And the free food that we joke about is often pizza or oddly stale cookies or pale fruit platters that somehow dim the hunger but never assuage it fully.
Beneath this normative hunger, there is a profound disregard of the body. We maintain the body as much as we need to in order to keep working. But pleasure and self-care and savoring in relationship to food is out of the question.
I have come to love the process of making food and sharing it. I look askance at diet plans that deny the body earthy, wild food in favor of synthetic substances. I am wary around diets that claim and require that we must disconnect food from our human events and needs: celebration, grief, comfort, friendship: and leave it as merely “nutrition.” A Lie to the Image of God within us claims that we can ever untangle our bodies and our hearts from the things we eat, that we should even try.
But Food has always been at the center of culture and community. It comes from the necessity we each experience every day: we eat or we die. Food, then, is an intimate gesture when we share it with others or receive it from others, binding us in ways almost nothing else can. It is the communal stage where we show what kind of people we are and want to be. It becomes the expression of our most intimate selves, both the good and the ugly. We reject eating with people we are angry with and invite blood kin for holidays and our best friends after long days. The people we eat with or choose not to eat with, and what we eat with them or choose not to eat become the key signal of social lives.
So it is no small thing when Christ says to feed your hungry enemies—it’s a terrifyingly effective way to come to terms with them, and heals our insides. And then we come to communion, the Eucharist, the Holy Supper, and we are fed by Christ Himself. We share in Christ and in each other in a shared meal that defines us as bought and loved. We participate in mysteries with our mouths and our bellies.
But what of our lives reflect this? What if we abandon shared meals or nurturing our bodies? We disconnect. We enter the public isolation that is the substance of our current time. Our bodies painfully manifest what we have abandoned. It is easy to make our lives about production instead of feasting. We produce instead of nurture.
Consider, to start, planning a meal two weeks away from today. Invite your dearest companions in the grad life to join you. Feed them and feed yourself with richness and goodness. Linger over the meal for a few hours. Laugh and feel the muscles loosen and sing in you. Complain away the darkness of endless work and toil. Celebrate the goodness of the God who Feeds.