by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings


The German philosopher Feuerbach thought that he had put an end to all religious and ideological speculations about human nature when he said: "Man is what he eats". In fact, without realising it he was saying something profoundly theological. Long before Feuerbach this same definition of man was given in the first book of the Bible. ln the very first chapter of Genesis, man is presented as a hungry being. God provides the world as a foodstore for the crown of His Creation. "Behold I have given you every herb-bearing seed … every tree, which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed. To you it shall be for meat … Man is a physical and a spiritual being. Men and women must eat in order to live. They must take that which is given and provided into their bodies and transform it into their flesh and blood. Man is indeed what he eats, and the world is the banquet table.

This image of the banquet is one that occurs throughout the pages of the Bible reaching its fulfilment in the New Testament when the Word, who spoke at creation, was made flesh. Christ who gives His Body and Blood in the mystery of the Eucharist offers us Himself that we may eat and drink at His table in the Kingdom of Heaven. The extensive food laws in the book of Leviticus show that man was to be selective, careful and discerning in that which he takes into himself Peter in his vision (Acts 10) is told to eat that which in Jewish custom is considered unclean in order to be taught that nothing which God has made is, of itself, unclean. The Apostle Paul invites the Christians at Corinth to exercise their conscience and mature discernment when considering the issue of food offered to idols. (1 Cor 10:27) St. Paul, like St. Luke upholds the Psalmist's (24:1) understanding that "the earth is the Lord's and all its fulness."

Here, we meet a truth for us to digest-that which God gives, permits, offers is for our health and salvation. The words that Christ taught us to pray … "give us this day our daily bread …" is a testimony to the fact that food is a gift from God. Christ who is the Living Bread offers himself in the Divine Gifts as the medicine of immortality. Food takes on a sacramental or spiritual nature in the blessings and thanksgiving we offer over it. The Psalmist's own poetical expression of communion with God is couched in such terms: "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).

It is not accidental that the Biblical story of the Fall is centred on food-an apple. Man ate that which was forbidden by God, that which was not offered, that which was not given. It was food whose eating broke the communion with God. Why did man eat that which was forbidden? This was because man wanted to become like God-the tempter appealed to Eve's greed that she would be like God, knowing everything. The present world crisis on the production of food is born of greed and materialism rather than stewardship and spirituality in which everything has a place and function. God's order delineates and distinguishes. At creation, God separated the light from the darkness, the land from the sea, the plants from the animals, the animals from man. Arrogance and greed still leads man to believe that he can improve on God's creation. The B.S.E. crisis, dioxines and genetic modification are symptoms of a spiritual malaise. God has given to his creation a beautiful order. Cows eat grass, not recycled waste. When man chooses to reject that life-giving order, he must expect chaos, and taste death. When he conforms to the Will of God in creation, he is given a foretaste of heaven.


April 2000