Post Author: Crystal Rook
“Attitudes to food have always been integral to the spiritual life and a prime metaphor for vital energy for our goal…the nourishing of a community is inextricably bound up with the notion of eating together.” Shirlyn Toppin
The way we think about food and eating is deeply connected with the way we think about ourselves, families, and communities. For Black women, cooking, serving, and eating are bound up with our faith, our families, and our culture. Eating together is a spiritual act that heals, redeems, and refreshes those who participate. Not every woman knows how to nor wants to cook or serve; yet every woman eats. The eating and sharing of a meal can be an opportunity for Black women to receive that healing, redemption, and refreshment.
Tina Turner asked one of the most important questions of all time in one of her biggest hits, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” When it comes to food and faith, the answer is, “Everything.” Love has everything to do with food and faith. Food is an extension of oneself. Food is an avenue to show love to the others in our lives. Food and faith have always been a major part of Black lives, including in my life. The church is where many believers learn how to love and treat their neighbors; simultaneously, food gives believers the opportunity to demonstrate that love for their neighbors.
Growing up, I was expected to participate in worship every Sunday during church service and to be in the fellowship hall for dinner after service. I couldn’t wait to get into the fellowship hall to eat. Churching really does bring on an appetite! While the doctrine and dogma of religion restricted me, food seemed to free me. Food was never restricted. In fact, I had to eat all my food on my plate because it was rude not to and wasting food was prohibited. It felt good to be filled physically and enjoy tasty soul foods such as crispy fried or smothered baked chicken, creamy macaroni & cheese, rice & gravy, butter beans, cabbage, fresh yeast rolls, and pound cake or chocolate cake.
When food is scarce, it can feel like a trial not just to our bodies, but also to our souls. My faith has been adversely challenged when I experienced those times of lack of food. I remember a time when no one in my immediate family had money to buy food and all we could make was bread. I felt the tears welling in my eyes and I immediately ran into my room so my family wouldn’t see me cry. I asked God why was God doing this to me? What was the purpose? Later, I learned through the Wake Forest University’s Food and Faith program about the systemic designs of hunger and lack of economic justice which, unfortunately, plagues many Black women and children.
Can faith move the mountains of hunger and lack of economic justice alone? Fannie Lou Hamer said, “You can pray until you faint, unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”
There are a plethora of food images throughout the Bible and other sacred texts. Ezekiel said that he ate a scroll and it tasted like honey. (Ezekiel 3:3) God promises Moses and the Hebrews a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:17)
I want to know: Where’s our land flowing with milk and honey?
That land of milk and honey where Black women don’t have to choose between spending their last twenty dollars on gas and feeding their children fast food. The land of milk and honey where a Black woman doesn’t have to buy food from a convenience store, which is usually processed food, because there’s no grocery store in her neighborhood, and if there is a grocery store there is a limited amount of fresh fruits and vegetables.
We have a right to the land of milk and honey because we are also God’s creations made in the image of God. If God has provided enough food for us to eat then why are some of our children suffering from hunger and malnutrition everyday? Why do we have to live in a food apartheid? I learned about the term “food apartheid” from Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, creator of the Black Church Food Security Network, during one of his lectures. He changed the way I view hunger as it relates to both local and global communities. He prefers the term “food apartheid” over “food deserts” because deserts are a natural phenomenon and apartheid is a human creation.
When humans create policies and play the game of capitalism it prolongs intentional ripple effects of detriment into villages and communities. The lack of access to healthy foods can cause physical, mental, and emotional traumas. Therefore, these acts are a direct violation of God’s intent for food, which is to have a nourished body, mind and soul.
If food provides nourishment and healing for the body and soul, then how can some Black women who can barely feed themselves and their families participate in God’s redemptive pastures?
Somehow by faith God provides and will make a way as we exert our human agency to obtain greater access to healthier foods for the nourishment of bodies, minds, and souls. Our communities depend on these spiritual acts of care, prayer and advocacy, as we continue to search for a land flowing with milk and honey.
Toppin, Shirlyn. ‘ “Soul Food” Theology: Pastoral Care and Practice Through the Sharing of Meals: A Womanist Reflection. In Black Theology, 4 no 1 Ja 2006.
Elder Crystal Rook, MDiv, MACC is an activist, community organizer, womanist preacher & rising scholar. She’s passionate about the intersections of food justice, faith, race, spirituality, & body politics. Her work is to create spaces for dialogues and action of communal love, healing, and liberation. She believes that Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus and must be active in both prayer and working in the vineyard to better the lives of humanity. Elder Rook truly believes that in God’s Word there is life, deliverance, transformation, and healing and desire to see these manifested in fullness in the lives of God’s creation.
She currently serves as Youth Minister at Exodus Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Rev. Alvin Carlisle is Pastor. She received a Masters in Christian Counseling from Apex School of Theology and a Masters of Divinity with a concentration in Food and Faith from Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
Image by: libsciterp
Used with permission