“Food matters because it’s one of the things that forces us to live in this world — this tactile, physical, messy, and beautiful world — no matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals. Food is a reminder of our humanity, our fragility, our createdness.” - Shauna Niequist
I am a re-reader of books. I love to come back over and over again to well-worn volumes and read familiar words. I still do this today, especially with “Bread and Wine” by Shauna Niequist, which I am re-reading for the second (or maybe third) time. Shauna’s three books (her fourth, “Savour,” will be released this spring) are about food and life and the beauty and heartbreak of each. Her words remind me all over again why food is important and why community is important and why the table brings those two things together. Her words are also chipping away at some places in my head and heart that need reminders of why we are created with hunger and a need for daily sustenance.
From my youngest years, I can remember loving to cook and bake. My mom would put me on a step stool, hand me a spoon and give me a task. I loved mixing, stirring, seeing words on pages come together into something warm and delicious. In high school, I attended classes at a local culinary school, had my own baking business, and cooked for my family on a regular basis. When I turned 16, my parents gave me their debit card and let me do some of the grocery shopping. I loved finding food and creating something for dinner from start to finish. Today, I cook as a side business, but also as a form of therapy. I find stress relief in making a loaf of bread. I see the creativity of God in the vegetables I buy for a pot of soup.
But, I also have an internal fight going on with food that started when I was about 11. I struggle with how my body looks and how nothing I seem to do shifts it. Over the past few years, I have made some significant changes to my diet. I stopped eating most fast food (I still need an occasional Chick-fil-A fix), stopped eating most processed foods, stopped drinking cokes (oh, I miss you Dr. Pepper!). I have tried to cut out things I can’t pronounce, or that have a million ingredients. Going for fresh, simple, more veggies and fruit, less carbs and sugar. But, my body hasn’t really changed. My weight is the same that it was a few years ago. My skin and hair are healthier. My eyes are brighter; I feel better. All good things. But I struggle with this voice in my head that says everyone is judging me based on weight. That people must assume I eat junk all the time because I am not a size 4. It’s a battle to remind myself that I don’t eat healthy just to change the way I look, but to impact how I feel. It’s more about doing what’s right in the world, such as not supporting harmful food practices. It’s about living in a healthy way. But, that nagging voice is still there.
Re-reading Shauna’s words brought some joy back to food — reminders of why I love cooking, baking, and eating with people. Why gathering around the table with people is important.
Shauna sums it up perfectly:
“We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.”
So let us take off the masks. Let’s allow other people to speak truth over us. To nourish us with words of love and acceptance. Let’s enjoy healthy food and healthy community without guilt or pretense. Let’s love each other well in our fragility. I pray this over my table. I pray when I eat and when I gather with others that we find this kind of safety with each other. Thank you, Shauna, for such life-giving words.
Written in March 2015 for Chatter a publication of Irving Bible Church.