Harvesting virtue with season’s bounty
Food is an occasion for vice. Most of us know that, having succumbed to the temptation of an extra piece of cheesecake now and again.
Food, however, is also an occasion for virtue. It’s an occasion for temperance—for mustering the gumption to say “no” to that extra piece of cake. It’s also an occasion for prudence— for recognizing our need to eat Brussels sprouts more than cupcakes. It’s an occasion for justice—for providing our body everything it needs to sustain health. And it’s an occasion for fortitude—for adhering to wise choices over time about what we eat daily… not just for 28 or 30 days of goal-driven dieting.
Those virtues—temperance, prudence, justice and fortitude—are what the Church calls the cardinal virtues.
They’re good habits which lay the foundation for all the other virtues and help us live richer, fuller, more deeply human lives. The more we cultivate these virtues, the stronger those virtues grow within us, and the more we mature into the men and women God intends. Food, however, isn’t just an occasion for honing the cardinal virtues. It also allows us to exercise the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.
Unlike the cardinal virtues, which we develop through practice, the theological virtues are gifts of grace. God freely gives them to us and helps them to grow strong within us. Likewise, while the cardinal virtues help us to live a more human life, the theological virtues help us to live a more divine life; they prepare our souls for the life God made us to live, in eternity, with Him.
While we can’t grow in the theological virtues through eating, like we can with the cardinal virtues, what we can do is allow the gifts of faith, hope, and charity to shape how we approach food.
Faith, for example, can help us see food as a gift from God and a sign of His love. It reminds us to give thanks for what’s before us and not take even one bite of a delicious donut for granted.
Hope helps us to keep our eyes on the prize— heaven—and not make gods of our appetites. It also strengthens and consoles us when we fail to exercise prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice at the dinner table, reminding us that each day, God gives us the grace to begin again.
And charity? Charity reminds us to think of others before ourselves. It helps us to cook with generosity—liberally loving others with the gift of food—and to give with generosity—sacrificing something we want so that others might have the food that they need. It also helps us to eschew pickiness at the table and receive what others cook for us with gratitude.
Seeing every meal through the lens of the virtues isn’t trendy. You won’t find challenge groups for it on Facebook. But it comes with its rewards, helping us to make appropriate choices every day, maintain proper perspective on food, and grow in virtue as we eat. Most importantly, using our virtues when we eat frees us — to eat, to cook, and to enjoy every single bite of that one piece of cheesecake.
EMILY STIMPSON CHAPMAN is the author of The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet. She blogs at TheCatholicTable.com.
Pumpkin Tortellini Soup
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
29 ounces chicken broth
1-15 ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 bag tortellini
Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add onions, cooking until tender. Add half the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Transfer the broth mixture to a blender; blend until smooth. Return the mixture to the pan, adding the remaining broth,
pumpkin, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and
simmer, covered, for at least 10 minutes.
While the soup cooks, cook the tortellini according to package
instructions. To the soup, add the whipping cream.
Just before serving, add tortellini. (Serves 6-8)