Today a vegetarian (or a vegan) diet has become a conscious choice for many because they’ve studied the politics of food: who eats meat and who can’t eat meat (whether by choice or circumstance); what eating meat is doing not only to our health but even to the planet. Researchers surmise that the production of our meat-heavy Western diet contributes to one-fifth of global carbon emissions on our planet. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “As a spiritual family and a human family, we can all help avert climate change with the practice of mindful eating.” He believes that “Going vegetarian may be the most effective way to stop climate change.” Whether you believe or not, there is also a growing awareness about the ethics of cruelty to animals for many—the meat industry is notorious for how animals are handled in the production of this product.
Personally, I don’t see myself giving up meat entirely—I know that I am most definitely a carnivore and one of those people who need red meat iron—but I do try to eat way less of it (portions and meatless meals). I also look carefully at the sources of our food. Is it grown locally, supporting local persons? Or does it come from Peru? What we eat matters, and what we eat together, matters.
For Catholics, the meal we share as the Eucharist is an invitation to socially experience the shared presence of God, and to be present in an embodied way. (Mindful eating!) Remember, within our Trinitarian worldview, everything comes down to relationship.
In Jesus’ time, the dominant institution was the kinship system: the family, the private home. That’s why early Christians gathered in ‘house churches’, very much different from the typical parish today. In Scripture, Jesus is always going in and out of houses on the way to or from a meal. What happened around the tables in those houses shaped and named the social order. Table friendship ends up defining how we see friendship and our shared lives together in general. For Him, it was all about the meal—with whom, where, and what He ate—and contrary to the time—all were welcome. No one was more, or less, than someone else, when it came to sharing food, sharing lives, sharing God with each other. In the Gospel today, Jesus shares the loaves and fishes with who were present. He has shown us in practice and in ritual that the spiritual, social, political, and economic move together as one—combining the sacred and secular. This is Eucharist: thanksgiving for the sharing of God at a meal when we gather. Food for thought.