Everyone needs to eat to survive; it is one of the basic drives we share with the rest of the seven billion people on Earth. But food also provides a unique cultural expression that gives flavor, as it were, to civilization. For example, what I first associate with the word ‘Mexican’ is not a neighboring country or its people, but a burrito (I know, feel free to judge me). When I hear the word ‘Thai,’ I don’t think about beautiful beaches and elephants but the newest Thai restaurant that has opened up in the city. Food is a vital cultural expression that sometimes supplants other cultural markers.
Food also helps us understand the diversity within cultures. Armenians love kebab, but one can tell whether people speak Western or Eastern Armenian based on how they prepare their kebabs. In America, pizza is from New York if it is thin crust and from Chicago if it is deep dish. Bagels are another example: if you are having a good bagel, chances are you are in the New York metro area, and if you are having an awful bagel, you are living elsewhere.
Further, trends in cuisine may indicate trends in society. There is a health movement where people are saying ‘no’ to fast food and ‘yes’ to what is organic and healthy (ba da ba ba ba i’m lovin it). In addition, food characterizes generations. I believe that Millennials will be remembered for their contributions to society of microbreweries, artisan coffee shops, and smoothie stands (Thank you Hipsters).
What is more, food is linked strongly to certain events, whether the Fourth of July (hot dogs and burgers), Thanksgiving (mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing), Christmas (hams), and Easter (lambs). For me, growing up as an Armenian-American, all of these holidays included an amazing assortment of appetizers and killer kebab as an additional entrée.
Is there such a thing as Christian food, something that unites Christians across cultures and places? Yes, the Eucharist!
The Lord’s Supper shapes our identity as followers of Jesus Christ. When we take communion, we are welcomed by the Holy Spirit to share a meal with God. The bread and the wine are our reminder that God has given us a new identity—formerly sinners, now we are sanctified. At Jesus’ table, we are told that God has created new life from death. The meal is the sign that we belong under the new covenant of forgiveness and redemption because Jesus Christ broke his body and shed his blood for our sake.
Thanks be to God, who has prepared the meal and invites us to the table!