Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Delicious Discipline of Eating Well
(and why it may be at the heart of the Gospel)

I have been calling these past seven days The Week of Long Lost Friends. 

It started at a campus ministry conference I was attending in Chicago, with a friend from San Antonio - call him 'Long Lost Friend #1.' At the conference, I ran into #2, a fellow campus minister from Texas - not so unexpected, but still good to see. Then, a few days later, things began to get crazy: my best friend from grades 2-4 (we hadn't seen each other since grade 5, 1992) shot me a note to say he and his wife were in Chicago, that night, traveling on business. Could I meet them just now at the wine bar downtown? I glanced at my watch - 10:57 p.m. Google Maps reported that the bar was twenty minutes away. "Sure!" I said. And was very glad I did (LLF#3). 

Two days later, Sunday, between supply work and the evening service at St. Francis House, we had dear friends over for lunch (LLF#s 4, 5, and 6 - and a recently born #7, whom we hadn't met before!). They live in North Carolina, and were visiting family in Wisconsin. In addition to being really wonderful friends, 3 and 4 are UW alums. On Wisconsin! 

As I talked with 4*, he told me about the good work he and others are doing at Church of the Holy Family - where Rebekah and I attended during grad school, from 2004-2007 - and especially in his area of responsibility as the youth minister of the congregation. Paul talked about the identification and integration of implicit curricula - something like a rule of life - to order and structure the external curricula - or specific content - of the ministry. Plainly, the students keep predictable, simple, and intentional rhythms to their time together, and these rhythms become as formative as (or more than) the explicit content of a given gathering. 

To this end, one day Paul and the students sat down and looked at their meal time on Sunday evenings and asked one another what that time could learn from the central characteristics of their shared eucharistic meal. Among other things, the students decided that, because the Eucharist is shared around one table, they would likewise eat around one table. One, big, unwieldy table. And it's been very good.

On Monday, the LLFs continued: #8, a priest friend from the Valley in South Texas, visiting in-laws in Madison; and then #s 9, 10, and 11, dear friends from North Carolina (part of the dinner and prayer group we also shared with friends 3 and 4), moving to Minneapolis. The yellow moving van gave them away as they drove up the street.

10 is a nutritionist who, back before Annie was born, gave us a book that altered the course of our parenting lives for the better: Ellyn Satter's Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. (Ellyn lives in Madison, though I haven't met her/had the chance to thank her yet.) Her book gets at a lot more than this, but basically, the gist is that eating involves a division of responsibilities. Parents are responsible for providing an array of good foods; children are responsible for eating them, including any/all decision-making subsequent to the parents' providing the food. Practically speaking, this accounts for why I did not say anything to Annie last night when she turned beautifully colorful taco night into "bowl of yogurt and cheese night." Says Satter:  
You can't control or dictate the quantity of food your child eats, and you shouldn't try. You also can't control or dictate the kind of body your child develops, and you shouldn't try. What you can do, and it is a great deal, is set things up for your child so she, herself, can regulate her food intake as well as possible, and so she can develop a healthy body that is constitutionally right for her.
Satter frees children to listen to and learn to trust the wisdom of their bodies. 

So we got to talking to 10 about this last night. If listening to and learning to trust the wisdom of bodies is good for children, and if parents seemingly can't talk about food without messing this up ("Two more bites...for Papa...), is there any hope for silencing the unhelpful scripts that dictate so much of our decision-making as adults - scripts predicated on narratives of guilt, shame, and unhelpful judgments, many of them fueled my society's commercial interests -  and, subsequently, for opening adults to listen to and learn to trust the wisdom of our bodies?

8 smiled and shared with us Satter's definition of normal eating:
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. 
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
And I went to bed wondering. If Paul's youth group can shape their mealtime around the Eucharist to the enrichment of their mutual life in Christ, is there something in what Satter has discerned around the eating of food, our meals, that speaks a eucharistic truth not quite forgotten, but not fully learned, either, by the Church. On the left and on the right, within and without the Body of Christ, we talk so much about what the others ought to do; we sometimes forget that the single most compelling, the least destructive, and most faithful persuasion is the witness in the simple joy with which we eat.

"[Christ] is a rich treasure, for his bread is rich...Therefore this bread has become the food of saints."
Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, 340-397.

Paul Cizek, a previous guest author on the blog.


  1. Lovely article and sounds like a lovely week!

  2. Thanks, Clio! Yes, it was a wonderful week.