Margaret Feinberg longs to see Christians awaken to the culinary themes in Scripture. “Once you start looking for food in the Bible,” she says, “you discover that it pops and sizzles on nearly every page.”
Her spiritual-gastronomic journey began a decade ago, as she researched her book Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey. Through conversations with a vintner, a shepherd, and a beekeeper, Feinberg found that their close connection with these agrarian products transformed the ways they understood certain passages in the Bible. Their responses, in turn, brought new depth to her own reading, too.
Sensing that her work with food was not yet finished, Feinberg probed Scripture for more edible themes. She learned about salt and figs, olives and 18-minute matzoh. Feinberg recently spoke with Christianity Today about her most recent book, Taste and See: Discovering God among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makersand the travels she took to research it.
Give us a quick overview of your research process. Where all did you travel in your research?
I went 410 feet down into a salt mine, harvested olives on the coast of Croatia, spent time with one of the world’s premier fig farmers, fished on the Sea of Galilee, and traveled to Yale University to bake matzoh with an expert in ancient grains. With each of these individuals, I opened up the Bible and asked, “How do you read passages related to the food that you plant or procure or process or prepare, not as theologians, but in light of what you do every day?”
Each of these adventures was both a spiritual and a culinary adventure. I got to know the foods—more about their history, more about how they are planted and nurtured and cared for. I learned about the plight of the farmer and the rancher. I learned about the olive oil cartels and so much more. But I also began to discover that when you understand food in the Bible at a granular level, it helps passages come alive in a whole new way.
Tell us a particular story from your travels—an experience that stuck with you and informed your theological understanding of food.
One of my ah-ha moments came from my time in a salt mine [in Salt Lake City, Utah]. I always imagine the salt of the Bible like the highly processed, almost pure sodium chloride that is served on our tables today. But that’s a far cry from antiquity, in which salt was technologically challenging to harvest no matter what its source, whether it was a salt mine, an ocean, or a salty sea.
When I went down into a salt mine, the tunnels we were in weren’t perfectly white. They had these incredible colors of peach garnet and quartz and streaks of brown from the surrounding minerals—from iron and magnesium and dozens of trace minerals all around.
The salt the disciples ate was not pure white. It was hewn with natural minerals around it. When Jesus talks about “the salt of the earth,” he’s not speaking to just pure sodium chloride. He’s speaking to each of us about the natural, unique way we were brought up and created, with our strengths, weaknesses, personalities, quirks, and all of the talents and gifts that God has given us. So when we go out as salt of the earth, we are to walk in fullness of that.
You write about the importance of food throughout the entirety of Genesis, food as part of God’s plan to draw humanity back to himself. Tell us more.
One of the many beautiful stories of God using food to draw people back to himself comes from the Israelites who escape Egypt. They receive that 40-year sabbatical in the Sinai desert. As they wander in the wilderness, they crave the comfort of a life that they had known in Egypt. And yet the Lord responds to their grumbles by providing food. In Elim, he provides drink from the 12 springs and the candy of the 70 date palms. Once they’re in the desert, God sprinkles manna.
This bread is described as tasting like honey, of having the flavor of olives. Through food, God is revealing his own sweetness, his own healing nature. Through food, the Israelites grow dependent on and trust in God. Through food, they discover new ways to think and talk about God as their provider, walking each day in his goodness.
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Source: Christianity Today