My Classism: (Christian) Othering through Food

11 11 2013

I’m in a confessing mood (or perhaps season), so here goes!

What’s the connection between my comprehensive look of surprise and disgust when my grandmother eats a two week old stew from the fridge and that moment when I make a (not quite) joke about my church’s potluck being all brown (casseroles, starches, and desserts) and lacking “any” green? What is happening when in the communal and sacred space of meal sharing at church, someone labels their food “socially conscious quinoa”?

Othering.

Othering holds them in common because othering is happening.

In moments of not-so-great decision-making, I and others in those moments of consumptive superiority have othered those that we care about – through food.

But I’ll speak from my perspective alone since I can only confess what I’ve done.

In my food othering, I have taken that which often theologically signifies inclusiveness despite class distinction and have made it the latest exercise in classism. I have turned the great feast into a space of reservations only fueling the reservations of fellow Christians to desire to be church with me. I have turned a meal together into something it was never intended to be – about me.

And I do this not realizing that I am tearing others down, but I do it in a fleeting attempt to self-name. I do it for no one other than myself. I want to name my perspective important and enriching.

But I and everyone else knows that this food-othering has nothing to do with the food.

I desire to be recognized not because of my food choices, but because something about my food choices reflect my quality of life. What I do and do not eat speaks something about my intelligence, my morality, my ability to be human properly. If I can make the right choices over and against so and so, then I win. I am ultimately (subconsciously) judged as the smarter one, the better one, the more intelligent one in this (non-existent) competition. Something about my perceived quality of life renders me in competition against my family and church.

I neglect the fact that this so called quality of life is only a melancholic myth and really an exposé on my own insufficiencies.

My disapproval of people not following in my nutritional footsteps (or to be honest, my attempt to follow the latest eating trend) disturbs any chance of life with everyone. I let food fantasy disrupt the chances of community.

And, again, the sad part is that it is all in my head. This mentality that I subtly try to push on others through my disapproving looks, or biting words, or conscious decision to not eat certain things because “It’s not good for your health,” “It’s not organic,” etc./“insert classist comment here” only speaks to my shortcomings that I try to push off onto others.

It is not that “they” have managed to do eating wrong, it is that I have managed to misunderstand food and the table as a place where I meet God in meeting with others. I have managed to allow the vanguard movements around food culture to dismantle the Christ movement demonstrated in the moments surrounding food, and not the food itself.

I have missed the purity of communal eating not being in the food itself, but in being with the people with which I am blessed to have food.

I have missed the fact that my grandmother eats what I would not because she has been taught to not waste food if one has the opportunity to have it. And I missed the opportunity to sit with her as she ate and ask her stories about her life. Instead of a communal moment, I saw her food choice as a place of generational (and if I may be honest, cultural) difference. I uplifted my fabrication of difference in the face of communal opportunity.

When I make wise-cracks about the fact that there is fried chicken instead of roasted chicken at the potluck, on a basic level, I’m just being a jerk. But on a deeper level, my comments are not about the food or the people who brought the food. My comments are about me and the fact that I find it most important to create class separation rather than see the special moment I have to eat a meal with and be in relationship with someone who I call my brother or sister in Christ.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I imagine the best thing to do is to call out what needs to change so that others can join in in keeping me accountable.

But I also hope to spark another movement. I know that food culture is important in Durham, but I really do pray that we don’t let this food trend get in the way of what food could mean and has always meant in the church: it signifies togetherness and making sure everyone has enough, not a middle-class cultural trend of showing off our retro-something awesomeness (aka trying to “find myself” through following the latest trends – so a word of advice would be to learn myself in hearing what God has said about me and what my family, friends and church loves and cherishes about me. When I leave discovering my own identity to my own devices, I trend, I shop around, and I falsely think that I am the sole author of myself).

So maybe we can let Jesus and the church be, not awesome, but certainly bigger than us and our classist practices – just this once. Okay, or forever.

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