Food as Worship

I don’t really have a theological defense of food, or even any Bible verses to backup my claim that eating food can be an act of worship. All I know is that when I’m taking my first bite of chicory rubbed filet mignon in bordelaise sauce, it feels like I’m tasting a bit of heaven.

People say that all the time. “The pie is heavenly…” “This chocolate soufflé is divine.” But even as it might seem irreverent to bring such “divine” language down to the quotidian level of cuisine, I think it can sometimes be appropriate. Food is frequently a means of experiencing the pleasure of God. At least it is for me.

It’s interesting to me that certain things in this world serve very utilitarian, life-sustaining purposes, and yet also give us so much pleasure. Things like clouds, oceans, sex, and all manner of food and drink. God easily could have created food that was tasteless and nothing more than nutrition. He didn’t really have to give us tastebuds, and he certainly didn’t have to make strawberries taste so sweet. And don’t even get me started on butter, sage, potatoes, pine nuts and Spanish cheeses.

I experienced probably the most spiritual meal of my life a few weeks ago when I attended a 10-course dinner prepared by my friend and coworker Jessica Kemp. She does things with food that I’ve never seen done before, and this meal—in which each course was creatively inspired by one of Jessica’s favorite songs of the year—was unsurpassed in the pantheon of great meals I’ve ever had.

Click here to read the full run-down of the ten courses through which myself and the other 7 guests were allowed to taste little bits of glory. But here are a few of the highlights that nearly brought me to tears they were so good (photos by Laurel Dailey):

Strawberry rose milkshake with rose laced cream; kobe beef, mimolette with quince mustard and vanilla aioli in steamed bun

Quail breast and leg confit, poached kumquats and “yellow lime” confit, mornay sauce, tempura basil and sage

Asagio cup with apple gelée and cave aged gruyere, blue cheese ice cream with maderia poached fig and wildflower sage honey, Brioche macaron with Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog goat cheese

How could you not experience God through food like that?

Some of my other favorite recent meals have also been courtesy of Chef Kemp. At a 5-course beer pairing dinner, I enjoyed such blessings as a homemade Kangaroo, pear and rosemary sausage, cheddar cider-beer soup, and a spicy frog leg in orange tempura with banana cream dipping sauce. At a Home Alone-inspired Christmas party (where each dessert course was inspired by something in the movie), I nearly passed out with glee when presented with the “Mimosa Mac N’ Cheese” dish (bread pudding macaroni with orange and champagne cream and hicory candy bread crumbs). Who knew such things could exist and that they would be among the tastiest delights imaginable?

All this to say: I am soooo grateful that food has taste, and that God made me with tastebuds, and that he made people like my friend Mrs. Kemp, who knows how to make food a transcendent thing. It’s proof that this world is not all bad, and that goodness can prevail even in the smallest things (like basil). I will never take food for granted as mere nutrition and sustenance… But I will always be thankful that God made it so much more than that.

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12 responses to “Food as Worship

  1. Read the first chapter of Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World” for a good theological role of food.

  2. Pingback: Brett McCracken on Food as Worship « Chris Morphew

  3. I am so hungry after that…

  4. Lovely elucidations, B.W.

    Some of my best memories revolve around tasting food that is at once revelatory, surprising, and delightful (like Paddington’s pizza in Salem, for example).

  5. Thats great! I totally agree–and I think its totally scriptural. The Jewish people ate the manna in the wilderness as act of trust in God’s provision (they were only supposed to gather enough to eat for that day). The burnt offerings and the grain offerings in the Jewish Temple were used for food, after it was offered. In the OT the people of God celebrated Feast Days as an act of worship. Even for Christians, our central act of worship (the Feast of the Eucharist) revolves around bread and wine. I don’t think that is accidental. I think there is something very spiritual about eating. Even in the new heavens and new earth “they will plant their vineyards and eat their fruit” (Is.65.21)
    Good post.

  6. Brett – I wanted to send this via e-mail but I couldn’t find any contact info. I am a documentary filmmaker. I’ve done a lot of work with Christianity Today and Andy Crouch. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about this post as it relates to the activity of “culture making.” Could you shoot me an e-mail. Thanks

  7. Amen. Last two eating experiences: Urbana Cucina and Roseville (both in San Diego) have given me such utter sense of gratitude for the fruits (and cheese and meat and vegetables) of this earth. I’m thankful! And also to Jessica, who prepared a heavenly feast for my husbands birthday.

  8. I love this post! What enjoyable reading.

  9. Brett, if you like reading about food and spirituality, I highly recommend Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb. It’s a cookbook and a meaty (no pun intended) spiritual exploration. The meal: Lamb for eight persons four times, and it takes the whole book to complete the recipe. My favorite chapter is toward the end – “The Burning Heart,” in which he distinguishes two kinds of heartburn. It’s great fun. This book was a catalyst for a friend of mine that allowed her to begin enjoying the Things in the world.

  10. as a christian and an “aspiring chef,” i have to say that making the best possible product with the food God gave us is my act of worship. taking the goods of the earth, respecting it (not wasting product, understanding flavors and how they pair well with others, using what’s in season), loving the food one is cooking, sharing that joy with others are all acts of worship for me. thanks for your post!

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