J500 Media and the Environment


The holiness of hunger by Lauren Cunningham

I’m really not a very religious person. I was raised in a family who maybe went to church for both Christmas and Easter each year.

But if we’re defining religion as Merriam-Webster does, I can easily say that food is the only constant, ritualistic practice in which I believe. Yes, I do have to eat it in order to survive, but for me, and I think for many other people in American society, it serves as more of a connecting and comforting tool to which we can all relate.

from flickr.com

I have a pretty large family, and when we do get to see each other, it’s usually for some religious holiday. And you better believe we can eat. As most grandmothers do, all of my grandmas make the yummiest food, and they always have more than plenty to share. When I eat what they make, I connect to them and to the rest of my family enjoying the meal.

The fulfillment I think others get from their religion, I get from eating with my family. I love having a large family and being close to family members, and I feel closest with them at the dinner table — there’s always good conversation, everyone’s happy (probably because they’re eating good food). I get satisfaction and comfort out of having the reliability of family.

From the meals I’ve shared with family around the holidays, I can understand why food is interwoven with faith and religion. In most religions, food has great significance and symbolism.

The example of this I’m most familiar with comes from the practice of communion. People are taught that the bread is the body of Christ and wine is the blood of Christ in communion. Here, food is more than just something to look forward to on a Sunday morning  — it serves as a way in which to remember Christ.

Among most other religions, food also plays an large role in Judaism — in not just what people can eat, but also in how food is prepared. Some Jewish people only eat kosher food, which is food that is prepared in a certain way, such as animals who have been ritually slaughtered. Certain foods, such as matzoh or maror, symbolize specific parts of the story of Passover. This food provides a richer context of why Passover is celebrated, transforming what’s on the plate to be more than just something for survival purposes.

Especially in religion, food is much more than just a consumption of calories we need to keep alive from day to day. It provides nourishment for needs beyond the physical. It’s the common denominator among everyone. Everyone needs food. And when we share that food with family or with others of the same religion, we bond.

It’s a sacred idea to think that some of the foods we enjoy today are the same as those enjoyed thousands of years ago. Some of those same foods are mentioned in religious texts — the apple in the story of Adam and Eve. Food provides a connection, and in that connection lies comfort.

— Lauren Cunningham