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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Eat with Joy: Book review, author interview and giveaway!

jenmichel@me.com

Eatwithjoy(Leave a comment today and enter to win a free copy of Rachel Marie Stone's Eat with Joy!) * * * * *

I’ve learned to watch for spring’s arrival in asparagus and rhubarb stalks. And it has arrived – finally! – here in Toronto. After our farmer’s market spree this past weekend, we celebrated with strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert and bacon-wrapped baked eggs and poached asparagus for Sunday breakfast. (Find the original recipe for the eggs here).

As they say, food is love.  And I say, pass the romance – it’s finally in season.

It’s probably easiest to read Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat with Joy (Intervarsity Press, 2013) in the spring, when the farmer’s market is coming alive with color and texture. Where’s the corn? Andrew asked optimistically this past Saturday as we strolled through asparagus and rhubarb, fiddleheads and pea shoots.

Not yet, I said. But July’s coming fast.

Reading Rachel Marie Stone’s wonderful book about eating that is joyful, generous, communal, restorative, sustainable, creative and redemptive is a perfect entrée into the spring and summer harvests, and I want to highly recommend it to you, whether or not you are the one who actually does the cooking in your home. In fact, I recently just told my husband that he’s going to need to read this book. It says what I feel about food, I told him.

Stone does a beautiful job of setting the table theologically for the idea that food is more than fuel. She takes her cues from the creation and salvation narratives, which portray God as the gracious host of creation. “[In the garden of Eden], we eat because God, having prepared for and welcomed us as honored guests, loves to feed us.” In the New Testament, of course, Christians have a meal, which Jesus commends as a way to remember him, and we’re looking forward to a feast, which he will prepare for us as the wedding supper of the Lamb. Everything in the book flows from this idea that God welcomes us, feeds us, hosts us, and here are several examples of how her theology implicates practice:

Hospitality. “Eating with others and inviting people over and cooking for them in your house are things worth doing, and here’s why: because we need to take turns being guest and host, like Jesus did. We need to go to awkward meals at other awkward people’s messy houses and have people over to our awkward, messy houses because that’s where grace comes to us - in the awkwardness and in the mess.”

Slow Food. “I do think that overemphasizing speed and convenience can rob us of the sense that food is important - a way in which God extends loving care to us - and an important way for us to practice God-given creativity while celebrating God’s own creation.”

Justice. “If we hold them (those who prepared our food) in our minds and bring them before God, we will not remain numb to their suffering and eat the fruits of their labor in ignorance.”

Gratitude. “Slowing down, paying attention to the food and to the people who made it and with whom we’re eating allows us to take in more deeply the pleasures of the table, made possible by the hand of the God who feeds us all.”

Stone’s book is more than theoretical, however. It is filled with beautiful stories (my particular favorite is how Rachel took steak to 91-year-old Jack every Saturday night in the nursing home!) and practical advice for how to get started in the practice of joyful eating. There are prayers at the end of every chapter (I’ve included my favorite below) as well as delicious recipes (I tried the black bean and corn quinoa – yum!).

And for those of us generally overwhelmed with the thought of one more responsibility, Stone’s book is more delight than duty. You won’t find the book heavy on condemnation for eating food that is processed or trucked in from Argentina. In fact, the spirit of the project and the tone of the book is gracious; I find Stone willingly grants a lot of room for our humanity. We don’t get things all right all the time, nor is any of us really capable of overhauling all of our habits today.

“Don’t despise the small but significant act,” says Stone, quoting from N.T. Wright, and that’s just the kind of invitation I think galvanizes courage for change.

In the final chapter, Stone addresses the “less than perfect” food situations in which she and her family sometimes find themselves. Though she obviously holds strongly to ideas about food and table, she doesn’t wish for those ideas to become a club of judgment wielded against those who do not.

“I’m a Christian first; and as strongly as I feel about food as a conduit of God’s love and as a site for loving God and neighbor, choosing the ‘right’ kind of food (whatever that is) is much less important to me than giving thanks to God and being kind to my neighbor.”

You’ll find reason for guiltlessly feasting – on grace AND on pie – when you read Rachel Marie Stone’s Eat With Joy.

And I hope you will.

* * * * *

“God of the just weight,

and the fair measure,

let me remember the hands,

that harvested my food, my drink,

not only in my prayers,

but in the marketplace.

Let me not seek a bargain

That leaves another hungry.”

* * * * *

Here are some questions I asked Rachel, who is a fellow contributor at Christianity Today’s blog for women.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for American families wanting to "eat with joy?"

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for many families is the sense many of us have that meals must either be gourmet, Pinterest-worthy affairs or else that cooking and eating meals together is a waste of time. In other words, I think many families feel pressure on the one hand to make every meal an ‘event,’ and on the other, that meals aren’t worth the time it takes to make and eat them together. Many families are really busy, and feel they don’t have the time to sit down and eat together. This often leads to eating fast food a bit too often and to a sense that meals are less important than whatever we’re rushing through them to get to: soccer practice, music lessons, church events.

What are your particular challenges to eating with joy in Malawi? (Rachel lives in Africa with her family.)

It is sobering to realize how many people in the world still really struggle with food security; how many children experience stunted growth and intellectual limitation simply from not getting enough to eat, or enough fat and protein. At the same time, encountering these hard truths on a regular basis reminds me of the importance of gratitude for what we have, the need for wise stewardship of what resources we’re blessed with.

You offer so many points of action in your book (which are WONDERFUL). But if I'm in a family who eats processed food or dines out (and NEVER cooks), what first small step do I take toward implementing "joyful eating?"

I’d suggest trying a new ‘from-scratch’ recipe or two each week. And start with something simple…like pancakes from scratch. Many, many things that we’ve grown accustomed to buying prepared or in a mix are actually startlingly easy to make yourself. It can be really satisfying, for example, to make a cake or muffins NOT from a boxed mix. It’s so much easier than many people realize.

Do you have any particular cookbooks you like recommending?

I certainly do! I love the Mennonite Central Committee cookbooks—More With Less, Extending the Table, and Simply in Season—the recipes are simple, healthy, and frugal, and the goal of each of the cookbooks is to get people cooking and eating with greater mindfulness toward issues of hunger in the world while encouraging them to enjoy new foods. They influenced my thinking about food tremendously. In a totally different vein, I love the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, especially the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. These recipes come out perfectly every time (if you follow them exactly!) because they’ve been tested extensively, and they have great explanations of the science behind certain results—why, for example, cookie recipes tell you to add eggs “one at a time, beating after each addition.”

In the process of writing the book, did you ever feel you were too busy to cook in the ways that you wanted to and that you were commending to readers? Were you able to continue your ministry of hospitality?

This is where community life is fantastic. My mom and dad were around to help out with practical things, and my husband was able to give me extra time to work on the book. So I did, for the most part, continue with our regular sorts of meals. Cooking is such a different activity from writing that it was actually great to step away from the computer and do something that engaged more of my senses. However, there were a few times during the writing of this book—when I’d be out for the day writing in libraries and coffee shops—when I’d be so engaged that I’d forget to eat. How’s that for irony!?

(More about book writing) What is the biggest lesson about writing that you learned in the process of writing your first book? What worked? What didn't? And what will your second book be about?

The biggest lesson about the process is that it is just that: a process. Six years ago I wrote out almost a full manuscript of a book very like the one I just published, and eventually scrapped it. That’s right—scrapped it, and started over. It didn’t have the focus I wanted, but it helped me find the heart of what I really wanted to say. And when I found that, creating a new outline and writing new chapters flowed pretty organically.

I also learned that there is no formula, no single right way to write any single chapter or any book for that matter. I used to think that I ‘had’ to structure things a certain way, and I learned that this isn’t true!

As for the second book, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with the folks at Olive Branch Books/Peace Hill Press on their series of religious education curricula for children. God’s Upside Down Kingdom, a book about Jesus, will be out later this year.