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Against the Gourmands: In Praise of Fast Food as a Form of Fasting

Food is fuel much the same way that wood is fuel. The fact that you can build a house with wood alters its combustible properties no more than the fact that you can create a banquet with food alters its digestible properties. Even in the form of a house, wood remains fuel, which is why houses can burn down, just as food remains fuel even in the form of fancy hors d’oeuvres and haute cuisine, which is why eating too much can make your gut burn up. Food is a form of energy, and our relationship to it is essentially one of exchange so that the most basic rule of eating is that we need to spend less energy in acquiring food than in consuming it. Everything else is, well, sauces and gravies.

Food is also, of course, an expression of cultural values and a reflection of social organization. We are no more content to reduce a meal to its caloric essentials than we are happy to live in a wood shack. We want our meals and our shelters to say something about who we are and what we believe. That is why both dinners and houses can strive to be works of art, even though they do not have to be anything more than plants and sticks. We eat to stay alive, and we eat to make something more of our lives than merely staying alive, but nature can be remarkably stingy, which makes cooking for many people more of a necessity than an art. Indeed, for most of human history, and even today, in most parts of the world, the majority of people do not have the luxury to treat either food or wood as more than fuel.

I begin this essay with these basic observations because I think, in an era when many of the cultural elite want to promote more healthy eating in the form of more simple living, it is important to remind ourselves that today’s trendy diets do not necessarily get us back to a more natural diet, whatever that might be. Only when nature is bountiful can we cultivate reasons for why and what we eat, which means that, paradoxically, we can begin to imagine what a natural diet might be only when we live at some significant distance from the vagaries of nature.The oven timer cannot be turned back to some more primitive, simpler time: the more natural the diet, the more it will need to be artfully (that is, artificially) produced. It should be no surprise, then, that at the very moment when processed foods are at their most pervasive, the most important rationale governing our diet is the mandate to eat more naturally, even though, in even the simplest diet, it is hard to distinguish the natural from the fanciful. After all, Americans are crafty consumers who want to maximize all of their many self-interests. To sell smart eating, food producers must please the palate, healthify the heart, and cater to the conscience. Banquets of the pagan variety (think ancient Rome) are out (even though all-you-can-eat buffets still cater to the lower classes), but they have been replaced with gourmet meals with a countercultural agenda. Americans want their smaller, hormone-free portions to be morally as well as physically satisfying. Food must be as good for the soul as the stomach.

As a supporter of free markets and an optimist (for the most part) about technology, I think these culinary trends are basically good. American consumerism keeps corporations on their toes, forcing markets to adapt to cultural changes. Indeed, at the risk of seeming disengaged and complacent, I don’t spend much time worrying about changing dietary practices. If human nature is uniform and constant, as I believe it to be, then bad dietary choices have a natural limit, and we have probably reached that limit in our snack-obsessed culture. Humans can only do so much damage to themselves without a self-corrective movement becoming inevitable. Species commit collective suicide only in science fiction movies and politicized apocalyptic scenarios.

What I do worry about, however, is some of the rhetoric behind dietary trends. In the ancient world, diet was a matter of religious custom and metaphysical belief, but the case can be made that Christianity secularized the production and consumption of food by taking the ritual out of animal sacrifices. Eating for Christians could still be ceremonial, but what you ate and how you prepared it was of no ultimate concern. How else could the Apostle Paul have traveled the world depending on the hospitality of strangers? Christianity preached a universal message that rendered dietary differences trivial by making them a matter of personal or familial choice. Today, however, with our modern hunger for more connection to the natural world, diet has once again become a matter of grave spiritual concern. Given the tendency of our culture to treat religion as a matter of free-floating spiritual power, always ready to attach itself to a new host, it was only a matter of time until modern people started saying such things as “you are what you eat.” Without any traditions that bind us to the past, we are left to pick and choose how we want food to reflect our values and beliefs. When Christianity is thrown into the mix, a cafeteria of theological options is the result. Christian beliefs can end up validating and promoting dietary practices that might have more to do with fantasies about opting out of modernity than the reality of following Jesus Christ.

Food is powerful because hunger is powerful, and of all bodily pleasures, eating provides the most constant and variable occasion of physical satisfaction. For that reason, the morality of eating is always positioned between calls for self-discipline that can end up silencing bodily desires and invitations to social celebrations that can turn into excuses for gluttony. Given this limited grammar of moral meaning, we should not be too gullible about the potential of elevating the gustatory to grand moral meaningmaking. The attempt to return to more natural eating, whether in the form of buying local produce or immersing oneself in the arcane knowledge of how best to grill root vegetables, does not constitute a protest against the modern world and its capitalist masters any more than being able to discuss the much contested aromatic effects of arugula is a sign of advanced spiritual awareness and heightened cultural sensitivity. We face in food the same range of moral considerations as the ancients, and they understood that the basic dilemma of eating concerns the problem not so much of overeating (since you can only eat so much) but of overly valuing eating. We naturally want to enhance the basic biological function of food by refining its flavors in order to heighten its effects. We want food to touch every part of us. It is as if we want to make love to what we eat.

Today, such refinements take the idealized form of sifting through ingredients in order to weigh the morality of their origins as well as their consequences, but I do not think this changes the basic situation of humanity and food. Indeed, throughout the whole of Christian history, with the exception of the most recent past, no theologian would have made a distinction between the gluttony of the ravenous and ill-mannered who, given an opportunity to eat like kings and queens, act like animals, and the gluttony of the upper classes who, given the resources to afford to fidget and fuss with their food, build towers of Babel made of meat and pastries (or, today, soy products andtextured vegetable protein). Gluttony is gluttony, even if it is in the service of celebrating social events.

Whether it is in the form of sumptuous vegetarian delights that go down easier than the moral message they artfully conceal or carefully grilled free-range meat that speaks, through its intimate surroundings of spare vegetables and the latest discovery of a primitive whole grain, of the quiet pleasures of reserve and restraint, the good meal today is a mixed bag of kitchen craftsmanship, a painfully discriminating objectivity regarding flavor, and an insider’s knowledge of how far one must travel to find the best combination of local produce and local color (that is, a good story about a farmer kicking the corporate habit). Foodies have turned the dining room into a classroom and chewing into a means of sparking serious synaptical brain activity. Far from being an exercise in authenticity, gourmet dining, even when it is conducted in a stately puritan spirit, is an aesthetic performance, and in fact, no matter how artfully enacted, it is never more than a minor genre in the category of staged productions. Food, that is, remains a means to two ends, one biological and the other social.

For these reasons, I propose that fast food reveals the essence of nourishment better than the latest recipes from Gourmet or Bon Appetit magazines. However, fast food is such a gut-wrenchingly pejorative phrase that any discussion of it requires an objective definition. Fast food, for the purposes of this essay, is food that is produced and consumed efficiently. It is, in a word, fuel. Others might define fast food as food that is unhealthy, but there is no reason why food that is prepared and eaten quickly must be bad for you. On the contrary, as I will argue later on, fast food is becoming healthier all the time, and there is no reason to think that it will not continue to develop in that direction.

If I am right about fast food representing food as fuel, then what about food as an expression of cultural values and a reflection of social organization? For Christians, the answer to that question should be obvious. Even in the Eucharist food is fuel, but this is the one meal that shows us what food can and should be when it is treated as more than just fuel. The Eucharist is a simple meal that presents the reality of Jesus Christ, upon whose presence our souls best feast when our own bodies fast. I use the word fast in that sentence due not only to the longstanding practice in the Christian tradition of fasting before receiving the Eucharist but also due to the nature of the meal itself. Although it is easy to overlook the fact that the Eucharist is a meal, I want to argue that its material elements are not just token items that carry merely symbolic value. The centrality of the plate and cup are perhaps best indicated by how hard it is to imagine the Eucharist as anything other than bread and wine (or grape juice). If the Eucharist were purely symbolic, then the Lord’s Supper could be replaced with other food items (say, milk and chocolate, which indeed was the case at a Unitarian Church I once visited) or even other means altogether (say, inner prayer or a Eucharist of the heart, as with the Quakers). This meal has a predetermined (and limited!) menu not only because Jesus Christ commanded it but also because no other act matches eating’s intimacy and no other foods correlate so fittingly with what this ritual enacts. This meal gives us the full (and, for Roman Catholics, the bodily) presence of Jesus, flesh and blood, and in consuming this meal, we become one with him. By opening up (indeed, literally opening our insides) to the real, physical presence of Jesus, we become one with him.

The Eucharist shows us what food can be when it is not just fuel precisely because, in this meal, food itself becomes something different from what it ordinarily is. Throughout human history, of course, food has always been more than just fuel, but for Christians, this something more has to be nothing less than what happens in Holy Communion. Just as Jesus Christ is the first born of creation (Col. 15), the bread and wine, after they have been consecrated, are the first fruits of the new creation that is witnessed to by the whole Bible. All of nature is groaning for redemption (Rom. 8:18–23), and the world to come will still be recognizable as a real world, with glorified matter to sustain our glorified bodies. In the Eucharist, we receive a foretaste of this transformation. We taste the bread and wine, but we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and the pleasure of consumption lifts our hearts up to God. We have a sense, no matter how partial or incomplete, of a new food, a manna from heaven, which, once eaten, preserves us from death (John 6:51).

When food is more than fuel, then, it is a gift of the Father comprised of the Son and energized by the Holy Spirit. This meal is the paradigm of all meals, and as such, it should not be corrupted by differences of taste or culinary skill. Some early Christians did want to turn this meal into a feast, but the Apostle Paul insisted that it remain what it is—a simple meal with an overabundance of grace and glory (1 Cor. 11:17–34). Paul understood that its simplicity guaranteed the way it could overcome social and cultural divisions among those partaking of it. Paul was especially concerned about those who, when it came time to eat the Lord’s Supper, turned their noses up at the common fare of the lowest classes, which, after all, is what bread and (watered) wine is. Nonetheless, by disciplining those who wanted the Eucharist to be more than a simple meal, Paul inadvertently contributed to the idea that it is not a meal at all. “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?” he asked the Corinthians (11:22). Paul wanted to keep gluttony out of the church (some people were bringing and consuming enough wine to get drunk), but he did not want to keep food out of the Eucharist. On the contrary, he wanted Christians to learn how to eat by attending this meal. Just as children learn their manners from eating with adults, Christians learn what it means to be a member of Christ’s body by partaking of God with each other.

So what does this have to do with health food and foodie magazines and local produce? I am certainly not saying that every meal should be limited to bread and wine, although this was an ideal that monastic Christians were known to strive for in the Middle Ages. It also does not mean that every meal should be somber and serious, although there is something to be said for the monastic tradition, a staple of Benedictine practice, of listening to someone read from a good book during meals. In fact, the idea that the Eucharist is a time to reflect only on sin and not also on our liberation from sin (and thus the joy that comes from Christ) is a modern invention that has little evidential support in the Bible or early church history (which is why Paul was always trying to get Christians to be a bit more circumspect at communion). No, every meal should aim toward the Eucharist in the sense that we should eat with glad hearts expressing gratitude to God, inviting others into our meals as well as treating all food as potential emblems of divine mercy.

There is something to be said, then, for the argument that locally grown produce and humanely raised animal products capture and extend the moral message of communion. In Christianity, however, these dietary decisions flow naturally from acts of worshipping God, not efforts to change the world. Moreover, Christianity reminds us that only when we bring the fruits of our labor to God can we hope to resist the temptation of making those fruits look better than they really are. When we try to make meals a means of moralistic debate, we demean the gifted character of nature’s provisions. When we try to inject morality into our meals, we inevitably take too much pleasure from our actions and mistake physical satisfaction for a sense of social accomplishment.

The Eucharist is not merely symbolic, but we can turn all of our meals into symbols of it, and only by doing so can we hope to make good eating an instance of doing good. The problem is that the bread and wine in the Eucharist become sacraments when they are consecrated. They are not sacraments before that act, and we thus cheapen the Eucharist when we think of food itself as sacramental. Much of the foodie critique of fast food is based on this mistaken notion that the longer it takes to make and consume a meal, the more spiritual it is. Devoting oneself to the kitchen is not a devotional act in the strictly theological sense. Food is a drug (just ask the US Food and Drug Administration), which should tell us that 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. In any case, the proliferation of televised cooking shows demonstrates that the pleasures of taste have penetrated the eyes almost as much as the pleasures of sex.

Frozen pizzas, canned vegetables, cheap hamburgers, and sugary beverages are not the enemy; we are, which suggests that junk food is not the real temptation: pride is. When we regulate one desire, we inevitably take pleasure in another. When vegetarians give up meat, they find compensation by granting themselves the right to tell other people what to eat. Liberal academics who rant against Walmart and McDonald’s are the moral equivalent of dieters who secretly indulge in french fries: the regimen of most scholars is typically so focused, restrained, and vigilant that the sheer fun of making sweeping generalizations about the lower classes is, on occasion, irresistible. Everyday sinning is not very original, but original sin is very creative. We have a bottomless capacity to derive moral gratification from our sensual sacrifices.

That bad things happen theologically when these points are lost is illustrated by William T. Cavanaugh’s cleverly titled book Being Consumed. Subtitled Economics and Christian Desire, Cavanaugh bemoans the free market for not making moral judgments about the value of each and every economic transaction. The “free market has no telos, that is, no common end to which desire is directed.”[1] As a result, capitalism consumes our souls because it sells us nothing but the pleasure of wanting what we do not have. “Shopping,” he writes, “not buying itself, is the heart of consumerism” (47). Capitalism is not about helping us to earn (and therefore learn) what we want. In fact, capitalism is innovative in the way that it directs greed toward not the accumulation of objects but the liberation of desire. In his words, “The key question in every transaction is whether or not the transaction contributes to the flourishing of each person involved, and this question can only be judged, from a theological point of view, according to the end of life, which is participation in the life of God” (viii). Cavanaugh seems to think that unless an ultimate theological end is the direct aim of every economic act, then those acts have no morally serious meaning. Every purchase we make must be theologically correct.

The most immediate problem with this argument is that it confuses two very different levels of analysis. From the assumption that the free market has no overarching aim he draws the conclusion that every individual acts out of sheer caprice:

Where there are no objectively desirable ends, and the individual is told to choose his or her own ends, then choice itself becomes the only thing that is inherently good. When there is a recession, we are told to buy things to get the economy going; what we buy makes no difference. All desires, good and bad, melt into the one overriding imperative to consume, and we all stand under the one sacred canopy of consumption for its own sake.[2]

The conclusion, however, is unearned. Even if the market as a whole has no clear moral aim, it is not the case that individuals enter the market with only a generalized desire to buy. Cavanaugh seems to think that the economy and consumption are related by a vicious circle, in that they exist for each other and nothing else, but people participate in the market in order to achieve their personal goals, which include commitments to family, religion, and charity toward others.

Desire is always objective; it is always desire for, even if it is desire for an object only because that object is the means of a certain kind of experience. It is true that Americans are sometimes encouraged to spend in order to help bolster the economy, but it does not follow that they squander their money for no specific purpose. Even if someone were to be forced (by an “overriding imperative”) to consume, in a free market they would still have the freedom to choose what particular product they want to consume. This would involve prioritizing their desires according to some scale of value.

But even Cavanaugh’s initial assumption—that the free market has no overarching goal or aim—needs to be questioned. The fact that individuals are free to use their own values to order their purchasing practices does not mean that the economy as a whole has no goal or end. Economic growth is necessary for the survival and flourishing of human society; economic depressions, by not creating jobs, cause both social and individual instability. Cavanaugh himself is ambiguous about his own declaration that capitalism is amoral or at least morally vacuous, given that he actually thinks the free market necessarily entails a strong moral assumption about freedom, even though he puts that assumption in the most negative light. Cavanaugh thinks that capitalism defines freedom negatively as freedom from interference, but capitalism defines freedom in this way only in reference to economic exchange. Negative freedom is not a global definition but a very specific definition of what freedom looks like under the conditions of a competitive market, and even in the market, negative freedom is not an accurate description of freedom, given that most free market advocates accept the need for various kinds of (minimal) regulation.

The shortcomings of Cavanaugh’s analysis are most obvious when he talks about food. “Before I read Michael Pollan,” he writes, “I had only the vaguest sense of how beef is typically raised” (31). Pollan is a popular writer who, far from being a vegetarian, has written about his adventures in buying a steer, shooting a wild pig, and throwing a thirty-six-hour dinner party that included a whole roasted goat.[3] Pollan is, in a word, a gourmand, which is the same word in French for a glutton. Interestingly, although there are many theologians who write about the ethics of diet, religion is a topic that Pollan studiously avoids. Cavanaugh tells the story of how, after reading Pollan, he began buying his meat from the Zweber family farm, where the cows are grass fed and hormone-free. “When I buy beef from them,” he claims, “it is a truly free exchange” (31). What makes it free, evidently, is neither the animals (he does not tell us how they are slaughtered) nor the price (you pay for the high quality) but the nature of the exchange: “All the information I need is available and transparent. [. . .] My exchange with the supermarket is less than free, because the information I need is not readily available to me” (31). Information, in fact, is exactly what Cavanaugh is buying from the Zwebers, because they tell him exactly what he wants to know about the health of the animals he will eat, the ecological balance of the land they occupy, and the purity of the resources they consume. What the Zwebers do not publicize, of course, is the hidden costs of raising meat for both the environment and human well-being.

Cavanaugh’s story of the Zweber family farm is meant to illustrate the value of buying locally as a check on the menace of multinational corporations, the hypermobility of capital, and the false universality of globalization. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with buying locally, but Cavanaugh fails to recognize just how capitalistic the Zwebers of the world are. Hormone-free farmers are responding to consumers, and once a nichemarket becomes popular with the masses, it must match growth with increasing efficiency. In other words, if everyone wanted to drive out into the country for free-range meat, demand would outstrip supply, the price would go up, and somebody would figure out a way to lower prices by linking, organizing, and expanding the various production sites. Free range would go corporate (and this, of course, is already happening). Cavanaugh holds up the local as the choice everyone should make, but if everyone were to make that choice, it could no longer be local.

The corporatization of health food would be a bad thing in Cavanaugh’s book but not in mine. Getting better food to the greatest number of people is what capitalism is all about. The irony, of course, is that Cavanaugh describes himself as a consumer, and he is a good one at that—creating demand for new kinds of products that will be useful for everyone. Consumption is passive only in the handbooks of leftists, who always tend to portray the masses as victims of somebody else’s power. Buying new products—as many of us know from the box of useless  electronic gadgets we have sitting in a closet—is risky business. Economists call the practice early adoption, and Americans get excited about new products faster than anyone else. Active consumers like Cavanaugh encourage investors to invest and inventors to invent. Early adopters also provide crucial feedback for the improvement of products. Consumers, in other words, have kept the American economy growing and have pushed American business to the front of the pack.

I have no doubt that consumers like Cavanaugh and countless others will continue to pressure food corporations to make better products. A recent New Yorker article on PepsiCo, the monster of the munchies, does a good job of documenting this trend (John Seabrook, May 16, 2011). The largest snack food company in the United States is preparing for future growth by developing drinkable oatmeal, new salt and sugar substitutes, and chilled gazpacho to go with an edible spoon. I have no doubt too that in vitro meat (sci-fi sausage, petri pork, beaker bacon—call it what you want) will, once it is developed enough to be marketable, wipe out many of the environmental and health disadvantages of factory-farmed meat. Once food prices become too high, consumers will turn to cultured meat for its lower price, with savings in water and grain consumption being the icing on the cake. I am not saying that I will rush to buy it; I try to minimize my meat intake, and cultured meat, to me, will simply reveal what meat essentially is: industrialized decaying muscle matter that is seasoned to appeal to the lowest of human tastes. Once in vitro meat takes over the market, there will probably still be a few Zweber farms left, catering to the anticorporate crowd and the naturalist zealots. But the planet will be cleaner, fewer animals will be kept in inhumane conditions, and global hunger will be much diminished.

Consumers are driving the health food market because people desire not just what is available. They also desire what they wish they could have. Desire is forward-looking; we want the future to be different from the past. In theological terms, desire is essentially eschatological in its anticipation of a better world that is always not yet available to us. Even corporations desire a better future, given that, if they are in business for the long haul, it is in their own best interests. Evidence for this assertion can be found in the story of Walmart, which has become a leader in the merging of sustainable and profitable business practices.[4] I am not denying that desire is also, no matter how forward-looking, always mired in self-centered motivations, but it is important to distinguish between a critique of desire and a cynical attitude toward how other people spend their money. All that the term consumerism adds to the more traditional tropes of greed and gluttony is the perverse notion that capitalism, precisely because it is so successful in raising standards of living for so many people, provides a wider range of occasions for sin, as if Playboy magazine invented lust.There is no psychological law that says that the poor are less greedy than those who have a higher standard of living. Greed is relative, as is wealth itself. Only a moralist with a pedigree in socialist nostalgia and a casuistical calculator in his pocket could think that capitalism lies at the origin of original sin.

I should point out that Cavanaugh insists that he is not advocating for socialism, a form of government that was, nonetheless, inspired by the goal that he shares of having morality micromanage the market. Interestingly enough, he rejects socialism because it would make markets more inefficient—“I believe it would be counterproductive to expect the state to attempt to impose such a direction on economic activities. What is most important is the direct embodiment of free economic practices” (32). The church should be in control of the market, not the government. Far from proposing a sectarian withdrawal from a world corrupted by capitalism, Cavanaugh wants the church to become a haven for fair trading. Personally, I am more hopeful of minimal, cost-effective government regulation of the market than I am of the church effecting global change by having “farmers sell their produce directly through local congregations” (87). I kind of like the idea of church potlucks becoming a celebration of local produce, but doesn’t this risk introducing the very class divisions that the Apostle Paul, when he advised Christians to eat at home, feared? Won’t those who bring garden veggies to the table look down on those who make a green bean casserole from the can?

Cavanaugh bases the dubious idea of ecclesial countercapitalism on the Eucharist. Indeed, Cavanaugh is well known for drawing political lessons from church ritual.[5] The Eucharist slows down time and opens up space for a reconfiguration of our relationship to God and others, and thus it should have an impact on everything we do, without exception, but I have a hard time seeing it as a paradigm of the slow food movement. For Cavanaugh, the Eucharist resists the culture of consumption because “the consumer of the Eucharist is taken up into a larger body, the body of Christ” (54). Cavanaugh’s idea of the Eucharist is of Christ consuming us, not us consuming Christ. The Eucharist thus erases all individual boundaries and social borders: “The very distinction between what is mine and what is yours breaks down in the body of Christ” (56). We are left with the rather grotesque image of our bodies becoming food for Christ, rather than Christ putting an end to sacrifice by giving himself to us. Cavanaugh needs this image because he wants to claim that becoming a member of Christ’s body overturns the right of private property, but history has taught us many tragic times that private property can only be banished by a very large government. Cavanaugh’s rhetoric is potent because it smacks of a longing for the kind of unity that, in the twentieth century, was the promise (and peril) of socialism. The idea that distinctions between me and you break down in the body of Christ is not even biblical, given that Paul makes a point of saying that this body is comprised of parts with different functions (Rom. 12:4).

Far from being a ritual that creates an organic unity so compressed that it defies individuality, the Eucharist asks each partaker to become Christlike, and that transformation begins, significantly, with the consumption of a simple meal. We are to become holy through, among other virtues, frugality, not collective ownership of private property. And that returns us to the topic of fast food. Fast food for many Americans is valuable precisely because it is frugal—in terms of saving time if not ecological resources. When I eat fast food it is almost always because I do not care that much about what I am eating, precisely because there is something I need to get to that I really care about (and it usually has to do with a family event). Fast food as a kind of fasting is essentially an acknowledgement that food is a means and not an end in itself. Even the food of the Eucharist is a means, because the body of Christ is what we are really consuming—and far from being consumed by Christ’s body we are made holy by Christ in order to give ourselves to others. Yes, family time should be protected by preserving the rituals of the family meal, but there is nothing particularly Christian about the dinner hour, no matter how sacred most of us think it is. There is only one meal we should not miss, and there is only one meal that is perfect in every way, so much so that you leave not wanting anything more, and that is the meal that gives us a foretaste of the kingdom yet to come. In comparison, every other meal is just fuel, no matter how good it tastes.


[1] Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 5. Further page numbers to this book will be in the text.

[2] Ibid., 13; his italics.

[3] Pollan, “The 36-Hour Dinner Party,” New York Times Magazine, October 10, 2010, MM48.

[4] See Edward Humes, Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011).

[5] See Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (New York, NY: Wilely-Blackwell, 1998).

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Stephen H. Webb :
Stephen H. Webb is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana. He and his wife, Diane Timmerman, who is Professor of Theatre at Butler University, have four children and two dogs. Webb is the author of 11 books, including two about food: Good Eating (Brazos Press, 2001) and On God and Dogs (Oxford University Press, 1998). His wife does most of the cooking.
  • http://calvin-econ.blogspot.com Steve McMullen

    Excellent article, though Webb could have been more charitable to Cavanaugh.  See my response here:

    http://calvin-econ.blogspot.com/2011/08/over-thinking-food.html

  • Pingback: Ideologies of Food: a reply to Webb « Vox Nova

  • Sam Rocha

    My reply to Webb can be found at this link:

    http://vox-nova.com/2011/08/04/ideologies-of-food-a-reply-to-webb/

  • Robb Davis

    You write: “Indeed, for most of human history, and even today, in most parts of the world, the majority of people do not have the luxury to treat either food or wood as more than fuel.”

    This is not my experience in sharing a meal with some of the poorest people on the planet (in Mauritania, India and Haiti among others). Food is ALWAYS more than fuel when it comes to sharing our humanity with one another.  It is a form of hospitality in the poorest places, we build family and community around it and value the expertise of those who produce it when we thank them for their hard work.  I struggle to understand what you could possibly mean by the above statement.  It seems to demean the most basic gift that we can offer to each other even at its most humble.  

    Is not the Eucharist itself an expression of community and the breaking down of barriers that traditionally have separated humanity since the fall?  Is it not a picture of what the community of faith is to live like–to be like?  And yet you make no mention of food and its role in community.  I guess that is fairly typical of those of us (myself included) who have been raised in and lived with such an undersocialized view of human behavior.

  • Pingback: Christian Food « Food Carts, Farms, and Freddy's: Thinking about Eating in Portland