The current culinary climate is one of startling inconsistencies. Bombarded by food television of every sort, we may appreciate more than ever before good food made with fine ingredients. You would never catch an “iron chef” sauteing vegetables in margarine rather than butter, or opening a can of green beans. Fresh, natural ingredients are the order of the day.
Likewise for the insistence upon “organic” vegetables, poultry, etc. The send-up in the first episode of “Portlandia” gets it just right. A young couple in a trendy restaurant orders chicken and is presented with their chicken’s profile, including pictures, name and where the chicken was raised.
On the other hand, our grocery stores are full as never before of clever substitutes for the real thing. A zillion variations on margarine, skim milk, “lite” versions of cheese and sour cream and ice cream fill the dairy and freezer sections. Turkey sausage and tofu meat substitutes abound. Potato chips are fried in some sort of non-fat, non-oil. Non-gluten bread products crowd the shelves, far beyond what might be purchased by those who are actually gluten-intolerant.
All of it suggests that there is something dysfunctional about our current relationship with food. We no longer have a good sense of what makes for genuine and healthy eating.
In a prescient passage in Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis attempts to display the way sexual desire has gone astray by an analogy between a striptease and something similar with food: “Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?”
Lewis would surely be dismayed by the Food Channel, and his conclusion would be obvious. In the light of John 6, and particularly our passage for this Sunday, John 6:22-35, it may be that our present culinary dysfunction is a diabolic trick to keep us from comprehending as well as we might what Jesus says in verse 27 about seeking “the food that endures for eternal life.” Our spiritual comprehension of the passage is damaged both by our over-attention to ordinary physical food and by our distorted perception of the difference between what is and is not real food.
The Lord gave us a very simple meal to celebrate at His Table, just bread and wine. Let us reflect on that and be called back to our senses away both from dangerous preoccupation with daily food and from unhealthy, tasteless substitutes for ordinary food. And in that new perspective may we perceive better the food of eternal life, the Bread of Life, who is Christ our Lord.