Saturday, May 28, 2005

Book Review: Food For Life, by L. Shannon Jung

I just finished reading Food for Life - The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating by L. Shannon Jung, who is the director of the Center for Theology and Land.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and found Jung's ideas compelling. He starts with an overview of food and the Christian experience, tracing scriptural themes about eating, feasting, fasting, and hunger, and also early church traditions of food, including, of course, celebration of Eucharist. Next Jung conquers our 'disordered' eating - individual, communal, and global eating disorders. He talks about anorexia and obesity certainly, but his idea of 'disordered' eating has much broader connotations. He talks about sin, individual and corporate, as it relates to food, and about responsibility. Finally, he concludes with suggestions for where we as individuals and communities can break through these disordered relationships with food and reclaim food and eating as the gift God created it to be.
I found his concepts about sin and disorder well-formulated - I only wish he had taken things a step farther in his conclusions section. I think his approach was one of a gentle urging of readers to take a next step in breaking down some of these issues we have with food and faith, but I thought he was too easy on us! I wanted more, and more concrete ideas in his concluding section. However, I still think it is worth the read, as his middle section and theological work is very sound. For example, he makes a great argument about our complicity in disordered eating. He argues that we may not be responsible or blame-worthy because of the hunger of others, but we become complicit in hunger when we ignore its existence and fail to act as we are able to change circumstances that cause the hunger of others.

Some excerpts:
On complicity: "It is difficult to ascribe guilt to someone who did not directly cause harm, pain, or suffering. However, as members of a social group that has benefitted to the detriment - harm, pain, or suffering - of another group, we feel some complicity in enjoying that benefit. For example, having been born into a United States middle-class Christian family has produced countless adavantages for me. Should I feel guilty about thoes benefits? I think not. Should I recognize my complicity in systems that operate for my overabundance? Should I try to recitfy some of those inequities to relieve hunger and other unjust distributions? As a Christian, it is my privelege to do so." (pg. 90)

"It should be said bluntly: the way our food is produced, harvested, processed, and sold to us entails unsustainable cost to the earth community." (pg. 88)

quoting Craig L. Nessan, Give Us This Day, "our sloth steals from us any sense of urgency in responding to the needs of our hungry neighbors, replacing it with a sense of futility. We become indifferent, apathetic, spiritually dead." (pg. 91)

"Behold, the kingdom of God remains in that place where Jesus put it the night in which he was betrayed - in fact, where most of the other things we lose sight of are boudn to turn up - right on the kitchen table." (pg. 111, quoting Garret Keizer, "A Time to Keep Kosher," Christian Century 117 no. 12 (April 19-26 2000)
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