For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘food

Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Broadway Books, New York, 1998, 282 pp.

When I saw the description on the back of the book about a memoir based on a life of food—complete with recipes—I imagined beautiful stories of mothers and grandmothers cooking up a host of delicious dishes and passing on family wisdom along with secret ingredients. Imagine my surprise when the opening chapter was all about how Reichl grew up rescuing her mother’s party guests from food poisoning by altering her dangerous recipes, removing moldy ingredients and making things disappear from the table. This was not the memoir I expected, and it was a delightful surprise.

After the chapter about her mother and mold, Reichl opens the second chapter with “I had three grandmothers and none of them could cook.” (20) Nevertheless, she falls in love with food, and learns how to cook and prepare and appreciate it from odd sources—maids, classmates’ parents, a co-op in Berkeley and more. She cooks up all kinds of recipes to entertain her teenage friends, encounters the world through recipes in college, travels North Africa, works in restaurants and eventually evolves into a professional gourmet travelling across Europe drinking wine and sampling cuisine.

From a family food culture that was bizarre at best, Reichl grew into Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine. The story of how that happens is fascinating and unique, and beautifully written in Tender at the Bone. I devoured it in just a few days, and you will too.

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Take This Bread: A Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-First Century Christian by Sara Miles, 2007, Ballantine Books, 294 pp.

This book was so rich and full it is hard to describe. The pink pen I was using to make notes and stars and underlines seemed to bleed across every page. Sara Miles is a beautiful writer with a powerful story and a profound witness of faith to share.

Take this Bread is a spiritual memoir centered around the experience of feeding and being fed and developing a theology of the Body of Christ. Miles’ story begins with an atheist childhood and early adulthood spent as a reporter covering left-wing radical revolutionaries, who shared whatever scant food they had with her. The turning point comes one day when she stumbles into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. She receives her first communion there, unprepared and uneducated, and finds her life transformed by the sacramental experience. She experiences a mystical encounter with Christ’s body in the bread and in her connection with the bodies of those around her. With joy and trepidation, she launches on a quest to understand this experience and share it with others. This pursuit leads her to found a food pantry at St. Gregory’s, and then more pantries across the city.

Take this Bread is her interpretation of those experiences as a journey of hunger and its satisfaction, and the deep connection between the hunger of the body for food, the hunger of the soul for God and the hunger of the creature for community. Miles makes a passionate argument, grounded in mystical experience and biblical theology, that our mortal bodies matter, that the Body of Christ is all about our bodies connecting with other bodies we might not choose to know or love, and that God blesses all of it when the hungry are fed.

This summary does not do justice to the beauty and passion of her writing. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

From her war reporting years:

What I learned in those moments of danger and grief informs what I now call my Christianity. It was a feeling of total community with others, whether or not I was like them, through the common fact of our mortal bodies. We all had bodies that could suffer and be killed; we all had hearts that could stop beating in an instant. In war, I looked at other, different people and saw them, face-to-face—and in seeing them, felt a we. (p. 39)

From her first communion at St. Gregory’s:

There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and loved without reason. (p. 64)

From her experiences at the food pantry:

This was where I found my faith: a faith expressed in the wild conceit that a helpless, low-caste baby could be God. That ugly, contaminated and unimportant people embodied holiness. That my own neediness and misfitting, not my goodness or piety, were what God intended to use. … The kingdom was the same old earth, populated by the same clueless humans, transformed wherever you could glimpse God shining through it. (p. 222)

Throughout the course of her memoir, Miles talks about sacraments beyond communion (baptism, anointing, marriage), about her disappointment with the imperfection and rigidness of the church, about the various people she comes to know through the food pantry, about family tensions and forgiveness. Take this Bread is a treasure trove for preachers, an affirmation of social justice and social service Christianity, a witness to the mystical power of the sacraments, a moving spiritual autobiography and a bold theology of the Body of Christ. I can’t say enough to describe it, and I can’t recommend it to you highly enough. As Anne Lamott is quoted on the cover, this is “the most amazing book.”

 

Appetites: On the Search for True Nourishment by Geneen Roth, Dutton Books, 1996.

This post feels like an act of courage.

I’ve never talked or written openly about my struggles with eating. I don’t usually read self-help books, or anything that could be found on those shelves in the bookstore. I ardently refuse to consider any materials on dieting, and I loathe the culture of thinness that prizes an impossibly unhealthy body type for women.

But the truth is that I don’t have a good relationship with food, and I am trying to work on that relationship, for the sake of my physical and mental health. And this book doesn’t talk about how to get thin, or why we should want to eat healthy food, or an eight-step program to a better you, or BMI or exercise or clothing size or body image or even addiction. If it had, I probably would not have continued reading it.

This book talks about exactly what I am working on—a relationship with food, which is about a relationship with ourselves and with our bodies. Geneen Roth chronicles her own difficult relationship with food in a voice that is so raw and honest that it almost feels like you are reading someone’s well-written personal journal. Her brokenness and craziness and twisted thinking and self-doubt are right there, exposed to the light and thoughtfully captured in language. But so are the words of forgiveness and healing and rationality and sympathy and advocacy. They are right next to each other—brokenness paired with healing, good thinking intertwined with continued bad choices, reasonable perspective mingled with crazy old tapes full of negative self-talk.

Which is exactly my experience of my relationship with food. Ah, companionship! (Ironically, a word derived from sharing food—com, with; pan, bread; companion, one you break bread with.)

Roth’s raw honesty and good writing are the great gifts of this book. She captures my experience and that of so many other women, and somehow just seeing your thoughts and feelings reflected on the page, organized and articulated, helps sort through them and even let go of some of them.

The other great gift is Roth’s own brokenness. For me, my relationship with food cycles through good and bad. I keep thinking I have found healing, only to end up right back where I started in a bad place. Roth, in spite of having written bestselling books and held thousands of seminars, does the same thing. And she doesn’t just say, “Now, I still struggle sometimes,” and cover it over with slick presentations of the way forward—she takes us right with her to the crazy place that still lives on in spite of books, seminars and success.

There were particular moments of crazy—and accompanying insights of healing—that especially touched me, but I feel vulnerable enough already without exposing my particular crazies. I wish I could be as honest as Roth is. Daylight in itself is healing. But for now, I will continue my search for true nourishment with the gift of companionship, and a reminder that healing in relationships is not a once-and-for-all, one-and-done experience. Just like healing in relationships with people, finding healing in my relationship with food is an ongoing journey, fraught with obstacles and setbacks, yet still a journey well worth taking.

One small, crazy step at a time.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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