March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” I love this theme because it is all about enjoying the various foods from the many cultures around the world. And who better to enjoy food and celebrate the flavors of the world than the people who worship Jesus, who ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9-10)?
It strikes me as a little ironic that National Nutrition Month, a celebration of food and nutrition, coincides with Lent, a season often associated with fasting. But thanks to a recent Rooted blog post on Lenten resources for teens and families, one resource, The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter, has helped me think about and enjoy the irony.
Author Malcolm Guite writes, “He (Jesus) refuses to turn stones into bread for himself at the devil’s behest, but later, in the same wilderness, he takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and feeds 5,000 with all they want, and 12 full baskets are left over!” As parents and youth ministers, we can point teens to the truth that fasting and feasting are less about our diet, food, and health and more about opportunities to remember the one who fasted for us and prepares a feast for us.
A Feast for all Peoples
Like many of you, I have been moved by the Ukrainian people in recent weeks. As a dietitian, I have been especially touched by the stories of chefs preparing food for refugees in Poland and Ukrainian women, including teenagers working side by side with their mothers and grandmothers, cooking meals for men and women who are defending their country. I was encouraged two years ago by a friend who owns a restaurant preparing meals for first responders and residents displaced by tornadoes. And I recently attended a funeral of my childhood Bible study teacher and was reminded by one of her former Bible study girls how she taught us to be “clique breakers,” especially in places like the school cafeteria.
In Isaiah 25:6, we are told that the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast. All of God’s children will be welcome at His table. Many pastors and theologians speak of the “already, but not yet” of God’s kingdom. While war, tornadoes, and cliques remind us all too often of the not yet, chefs, restaurant owners, and sitting with a lonely classmate in the lunchroom can be hopeful signs of the already.
Physical hunger and the need to eat are shared human experiences. The need to eat is a shared human experience and food is a means of common grace, for believers and unbelievers alike. Differences in ability, age, creed, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, size, and socioeconomic characteristics become irrelevant when we are hungry. Too often these demographic differences separate us, but as followers of Christ, we can allow our dinner tables to be places where we sit together and listen to one another. For Christians, physical hunger is a reminder of spiritual hunger, and that from starvation to salvation, God is the provider.
My Global Table
Running a household with two parents who work full-time outside the home, I rely heavily on meal planning for feeding our family. I typically plan meals for one to two weeks at a time. I find it fun and helpful to adopt food trends like Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday to guide my meals plans. During the pandemic, when racial disparities were being highlighted, one small way I felt like I could raise my children to be more loving towards persons different from them was to learn about and enjoy foods from a variety of cultures. I called it Around the World Wednesday. I asked my neighbor from Sweden and my colleague from Iraq for favorite recipes. I relied on the Food & Nutrition magazine series called My Global Table. And I purchased some books, like Children Just Like Me, for us to read about how children around the world eat, learn, and live. I didn’t make a big deal about it, I would casually mention where the recipe came from or something I had learned about the country, such as a popular ingredient. If my children asked follow-up questions, we might pull out a map or a book and talk about it more. Middle and high schoolers have likely studied the various regions of the world in school, so they make great teachers for younger siblings (all while doing dishes together). Occasionally these new “friends” in new places would make it into our bedtime prayers.
Our church also hosted “Christmas Around the World” this year, where adults and teens who had traveled to or lived in other countries hosted rooms that featured activities and foods for the school-aged children to learn about how the birth of Jesus is celebrated in countries on every continent. Enjoying global cuisine at home or at a local restaurant and finding ways to incorporate global Biblical education in our churches are tangible ways that Christians can teach our children that we worship the God of the nations and our brothers and sisters in Christ are from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Fasting and Feasting
In the first chapter of Mark, we see John the Baptist eating locusts and honey and proclaiming forgiveness in Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This same chapter also refers to the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which we know from other Gospel accounts includes refusing to turn stones into bread. And we see Jesus calling disciples who were working in their family’s food-related business. The point, of course, is not John’s diet, the powerlessness of Satan, or a fishing enterprise; rather it is the power of God, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, over every area of our lives, including our eating, our working, and especially our sin.
Guite uses C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to point to our temptation to use food to serve ourselves:
Everything that the White Witch pretends she can give the children is a stolen and corrupted version of something that Aslan fully intends them to have in its true substance. She pretends that she will share the throne of Narnia with Edmund and then leave it to him, yet the whole story is about how Aslan will truly and substantially crown all four children kings and queens of Narnia. And this holds true in the smaller things too, even down to this matter of personal appetite. If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s Turkish delight, he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast! (p. 12)
Like the White Witch, the world, through social media and diet culture, would love nothing more than for us to use the gift of food to serve ourselves. But like Aslan, Jesus has adopted us into his family, welcomed us to his table, and invites us to use food, whether fasting or feasting, to glorify him and to bless others.
For parents and teens this may mean fasting and praying for the church in Ukraine or donating the money that would have been spent at Starbucks during Lent to a local food bank or pantry. Or it may mean feasting on foods from other cultures or supporting a minority-owned restaurant in your hometown as a reminder of God’s love for all people. While nutrition professionals are celebrating a world of flavors this month, Christians can celebrate the God who created, the Son who redeemed, and the Spirit who sustains the world, flavors and all.
Guite, Malcolm. Word in the Wilderness: A poem a day for Lent and Easter. Canterbury Press, 2014.