The theology of food: Something to chew on
Let’s discuss mastication.
Now that got your attention! But now you realize that I wasn’t talking about lust-related sins. Instead, I’m referring to something more profound: the act of “chewing” deliberately and slowly. Mastication processes food’s essentially healthy properties making it easier for the body to digest. It’s what good dieticians say we must do: Chew your food well!
Unfortunately, the fast-food mentality inspires the tongue-in-cheek pre-meal blessing: “Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Whoever is fastest gets the most. Amen. Let’s eat!” Similarly, we no longer take time to digest well the essentials of our faith. It becomes like “fast food.” If you don’t believe me, watch the number of people who leave Mass immediately after Communion. Ask yourself: “How often do I rush personal prayer?”
To help us digest our faith, Legatus magazine now offers this food-centric column. As the “Cooking Priest,” I’m happy to be part of it. My work has developed a “theology of food,” connecting faith to the culinary world, family life and modern culture. These articles are not about recipes in the kitchen, but a recipe for faithful living.
At Legatus chapter meetings — and even secular and corporate events around the world — my keynotes include a cooking demonstration filled with lessons for life. Participants are enticed with the aroma of sautéed onions and garlic because the sense of smell is more powerful than hearing words. I show how sacred scripture — sharper than a “double edge sword” (Heb 4:12) — requires daily practice lest we turn it into a spear, rather than a plowshare (Isa 2:4). We discuss how feast day foods have power to make us all a little more religious, even on non-religious holidays like Thanksgiving. Faithful foodies better understand why God — who could become anything to demonstrate his power, authority and love — chose to become food: a sip of wine and a piece of bread.
We know it’s substantially much more than “bread and wine,” but do we digest (comprehend and incarnate) why God chose to manifest his authority, power and love through humble bite-sized elements? Perhaps one way God demonstrates love is by satisfying what we hunger for the most: We hunger for God.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” A culinary perspective would add: “Our grumbling stomachs, hearts, minds and souls will never be satisfied unless God nourishes us with himself!” In humility, the eternally uncontainable God became something small and digestible because it’s the only way he can fit into our small minds, shrinking hearts, and our diminished spirit. God knows we have all taken a bite of the forbidden fruit, and so he sends the one-bite remedy of The Blessed Fruit! He becomes food to save us.
There’s so much more we can say about food and faith — and this column will. But it requires us first to be hungry. Taste and see His goodness (Ps 34)! Chew slowly.
FR. LEO E. PATALINGHUG, priest member of Voluntas Dei Secular Institute, is a best-selling author, speaker, radio and TV host, awardwinning cook, director of the Grace Before Meals movement, and founding chairman of The Table Foundation.
LEARN MORE: gracebeforemeals.com
Pan Seared Filet Mignon
2 filet mignon (4-6 oz)
2 tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp fresh chives
Use a paper towel to pat dry the room-temperature steaks. Heat olive oil in an oven-safe sauté pan over medium high heat. Season both sides of the steak with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Carefully add steaks to the hot oil and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side for a rare steak. For medium steaks, put the pan in a 350-degree oven for another 6-8 minutes, or 10-15 minutes for well-done. When cooked to desired temperature, place steaks on a warm plate to rest 5 minutes before serving.
Angelic Rice (Serves 2)
2 cups pre-cooked rice
1 tsp butter
1/8 -1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Fra Angelico liqueur (hazelnut infused liqueur)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2-3 tsp fresh chives (or parsley) finely minced
In the same pan as the steak, melt butter over medium heat. Add the Fra Angelico and flambé or simmer for about 2 minutes until sauce begins to thicken. Add the pre-cooked rice and cream and stir together. Salt and pepper to taste. To serve, add some rice to a plate, top off with the filet mignon, and garnish with fresh chives.