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In Praise of Excess: The Beauty of Babette's Feast

In Praise of Excess: The Beauty of Babette’s Feast

Another sneak peek into the Food & Drink Issue, which will be on sale at the conference this weekend! Ethan’s essay is all about grace in the 1987 Danish film (and Oscar winner) Babette’s Feast.

Last winter, my wife Hannah found out she has celiac disease, the rare autoimmune disorder that means you can’t eat gluten. Contrary to the many gluten-free fads that have taken the nation by storm, people with celiac suffer a gluten intolerance that is microscopically comprehensive. The smallest gluten part per million—a dust particle in a vat of soup—can wreak havoc on her stomach.

The fact that we’re in…

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Hungry for Religion

Hungry for Religion

As the Church turns its attention to a certain supper, we thought we’d post the closing sermon from the most recent issue (Food and Drink) of The Mockingbird.

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one”… Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse…

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Freedom Isn't Free

Freedom Isn’t Free

Another glimpse into our Food & Drink Issue. This essay is written by Connor Gwin. 

It is a funny thing, getting sober in seminary. I spent years discerning my call to ordained ministry and answering questions from committee after committee, only to find myself in front of the mirror in my seminary dorm room. It was the morning after a blur of a day spent drinking to celebrate St. Patrick. The celebration ended in a blackout, as they seemed to more and more, and there I stood in front of my bathroom mirror. I gazed into my own eyes and spoke…

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A Free Lunch: The Spiritual Economics of the Church’s Most Cliché Ministry

A Free Lunch: The Spiritual Economics of the Church’s Most Cliché Ministry

Another taste of our recent issue on Food & Drink! Order your copy here! 

The soup kitchen at my church is currently in the midst of a cold war among its volunteers. On one side we have the pro-oil-and-vinegar contingency, armed with organic produce and health concerns; on the other side, the crusaders of ranch dressing are stuck in their ways. You’ll find me standing unapologetically behind oil-and-vinegar lines, and I don’t mean to brag, but, as one of the soup kitchen’s head cooks, I make a bitchin’ salad. Fresh greens (often from a local garden), walnuts, cukes, strawberries if they’re in…

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Lenten Soup Supper in the Church Basement

Lenten Soup Supper in the Church Basement

A wonderful piece by Rebecca Florence Miller. More of her writing can be found here. 

The Lenten soup supper in the church basement. A staple of the Lutheran tradition of which I am a part—and because we are Lutheran (grace!), rather than being meager, fast-like meals, we sustain ourselves for the hard truths of Lent with hardy chili, seafood chowder, tomato bisque with mozzarella, five varieties of bread, and seven choices of dessert. Just for starters: brownies with whipped cream, carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting and shredded coconut, a nutmeg Bundt with a brown-sugar caramel frosting. Ah, free in…

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More Robert Farrar Capon & Less Thanksgiving Turkey

More Robert Farrar Capon & Less Thanksgiving Turkey

Like many people who are fans of Robert Farrar Capon, my introduction to him and his work was through The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. I first read the book over ten years ago when it was being passed around a small group of women in my (at the time) small church who knew about good books. I’ve read it several times and tend to give copies away to friends who need this book. (I think everyone needs this book, so I’ve given away a lot of copies.)

Capon opened my senses up to food and life and faith…

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Orthorexia: The Fixation on Righteous Eating

Orthorexia: The Fixation on Righteous Eating

A first glimpse inside our Food & Drink Issue, by way of one Carrie Willard. The issues are flying off the shelf! Order up! 

When my parents were married in the 1960s, advice abounded about home entertaining. Etiquette books and magazine articles included tips on how to invite guests from any social station into one’s home, what to wear when they arrived, and how to set the table for the occasion.

With a few notable exceptions (Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking comes to mind), the focus seems to have been more on the etiquette of entertaining and all of…

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The Joys of Agnostic Eating

The Joys of Agnostic Eating

Ethan has joked elsewhere about our recent Food & Drink Issue: we had selected a topic that was intentionally “lighter fare” to chase Mental Health and then watched as the stuff that came in delved into the heaviest possible corners of gastronomic experience (pun sort of intended). Addiction, mortality, moralism, Marduk… sheesh. Good thing we had plenty of Capon on the menu to balance the palate and steer us clear of potential (food) comas. From what we’ve heard back thus far, the fun still comes across, thank God.

The point here is not to issue some vague humblebrag about #depth. No,…

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From the Archives: Sneezing at the Cult of Productivity (over Sushi)

From the Archives: Sneezing at the Cult of Productivity (over Sushi)

The New Yorker made me laugh out loud the other day with their poking fun at the ever-escalating ‘cult of productivity’ in this country. In their Daily Shouts column, “3 under 3”, Marc Philippe Eskenazi introduced us to “the innovators and disruptors of 2014, all under the age of three years old, all impatient to change the world.” It’s really funny. For example, their top “pick” is two and a half year old Cheryl Kloberman, who is apparently making major strides as an Energy Conservationist:

What does it take to power an entire household with a flick of a switch? This…

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Special Food & Drink Mockingcast (Plus, What Would You Eat If You Weren’t Afraid?)

Excited to announce a brand new special episode of The Mockingcast, dedicated entirely to the Food and Drink issue of The Mockingbird! Scott really went to town on this one, compiling multiple interviews with contributors and excerpts from the mag itself (and a host of other goodies as well). Click here to listen. Fair warning: not to be consumed on an empty stomach!

Also, as another preview of the print edition, just before Thanksgiving Break we asked our readership what they would eat if they weren’t afraid—afraid of indigestion, afraid of death, afraid of angry spouses, social scrutiny, moral reproach? More as a thought experiment, we wondered what we’d really reach for if all the rules were wiped clean from the counter: What would you allow yourself to indulge in were it not for the consequences—bodily and ethical and otherwise?

Maybe you read about it and thought, “I have no deep-seated issues with food. I eat what I want and, believe it or not, what I want is healthy, natural food.” Fair enough (what’s your secret?!). For everyone else, loosen the belt a notch and grab a stack of napkins, cause here’s what you came up with:

  • Cheetos in a can
  • Krystals
  • KFC Double Down Sandwich
  • Hot McDonald’s fries!
  • Wendy’s chocolate Frosty
  • My mother’s oatmeal cookies
  • Cinnamon Life cereal with whole milk
  • BBQ sauce with anything
  • Onion rings
  • Cookies & Cream ice cream
  • A sack of Five Guys fries
  • Talenti’s pumpkin pie gelato
  • A try of cannolis with extra marscapone
  • New Jersey bagels with cream cheese and lox
  • Triple chocolate fudge cake
  • Cracklin’ Oat Bran
  • Pork soup dumplings
  • Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese Family box (all for me)
  • Those enormous Great Harvest salted butterscotch cookies
  • Deep-fried Oreos
  • A vat of queso with warm tortillas
  • Bagel dogs with sauerkraut
  • Fluffernutter milkshakes
  • All you can eat Brazilian steakhouse
  • Dominos Ultimate Pepperoni Feast
  • Shake Shack anything
  • Several tubes of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls
  • Fruit by the Foot, Swedish Fish and Gushers
  • French fries everyday, at every meal
  • Hot Krispy Kremes
  • A dozen Krispy Kremes in five minutes
  • A half-dozen Krispy Kremes, squeezed together into a ball, eaten like an apple
  • My wife’s mojo-marinated roast pork
  • Bacon bacon and more bacon
  • Chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery
  • Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts toasted with butter
  • Momma’s Pancake Breakfast at Cracker Barrel
  • McDonald’s Big Mac Extra Value Meal with an apple pie

Click here to order the Food & Drink Issue today! And those who’ve already wolfed their copies down, feel free to share your favorite bits in the comments. Or what (else) you’d eat if you weren’t afraid.

The Food and Drink Issue Is Here!

Ladies and gentlemen, diners and tipplers, gather ’round! The ninth issue of The Mockingbird is officially available for order! Note, too, we have a deal for bulk orders. If you/your church/your favorite hole-in-the-wall needs a bundle of copies, email us: info@mbird.com. And, as always, we place before you the menu and the first course: Mr. Richardson’s Opener and the Table of Contents to (apologies) whet the appetite. A votre santé! Zum wohl! Dig in!

Contents

A Free Lunch: the Spiritual Economics of the Church’s Most Cliché Ministry by CJ GREEN

Issue9COVERThe Confessional

Orthorexia: The New Etiquette by CARRIE WILLARD

A Poem by JOY ROULIER SAWYER

The Cheap Grace of Cheap Food by BENJAMIN SELF

For the Record: What Would You Eat If You Weren’t Afraid?

The Compleat Leftoeuvriére by ROBERT FARRAR CAPON

Modern Food, Moral Food: Our Interview with HELEN ZOE VEIT

For the Record: Ode to the Church Cookbook, On Our Bookshelf

In Praise of Excess by ETHAN RICHARDSON

Freedom Isn’t Free by CONNOR GWIN

A Poem by SARAH BROWN WEITZMAN

The Hospitality Sting by SARAH CONDON

I Eat Therefore I Am? by SCOTT JONES

For The Record: Capon’s Sauce Primer

The Curse of Eglon: Weight Loss Under the Weight of the Cross by BRYAN J.

A Poem by BRAD DAVIS

Champion of the Vernacular: Food Criticism in a Nation of Experts by DAVID PETERSON

Hungry for Religion: A Sermon by DAVID ZAHL

PieterClaesz

Diet Pills and Dinner Parties

In his bestseller The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon opens one chapter with a parable: A wise man decides to throw a dinner party. Among his guests are an eligible bachelor and a beautiful widow. His hope, through the merriment of wining and dining, is to play a little matchmaking, too. The other guests are skeptical.

The widow, throughout the entire evening, complains about the monotony of cooking. She only wishes that someone would come around and invent new kinds of meat to enjoy, because the old ones—chicken, veal, beef, pork—are so played out. The bachelor, on the other hand, argues that there is too much variety and not enough consistency. With a scientist’s eye, he only wishes there were one substantive, sensible plant to meet all our dietary needs.

As the wise host had predicted, love blossoms: the two become one in their deep and abiding joylessness. They are soon married, develop a nutrition pill, and live “efficiently ever after.” Capon signs off with a reassuring word for his readers: “Anyone with an ounce of playfulness is sure to be spared the anguish of their company.”

We are not past the day of the diet pill. Just this year, Aeon’s Nicola Twilley wrote about a real food substitute called (sadly) Soylent, the brainchild of a Silicon Valley engineer. This product, stemming from research that says we spend 90 minutes a day on our food, is meant to give us our time back. Soylent, right in tune with Capon’s couple, is a “thick, odorless, beige liquid” with “every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial.” Twilley hoped to try the goo for a week, but cracked after five days. As for all the extra time she had? “I spent [it] joylessly clicking around on the Internet, my brain resisting every effort to corral it into more productive activities.”

Spot illustrations by Lilli Carré (lillicarre.com)

Spot illustrations by Lilli Carré (lillicarre.com)

Despite Soylent’s allure, it would not be fair to say we’re in an age of dietary minimalism. In contrast to Capon’s couple, we also inhabit a food and drink age of high-art decadence. Chefs are celebrities—their restaurants have years-long waiting lists. In even the remotest towns, brewers and distillers are a dime a dozen. The makers of Pappy Van Winkle, the famed Kentucky bourbon, have boasted that their product is so sought after that it hasn’t been on shelves in the past three years. Even billionaires can’t get their hands on the stuff. “They’d have an easier time buying our company,” the owner said.

Beneath the fads, there is a pseudo-religious quality to the way we talk about food. Food ethics have become some of the heated global conversations, whether they concern small farms or carbon emissions or childhood obesity. But there’s also a new spirituality implicit in the foodie craze. As Bill Deresiewicz once disputed in his Times op-ed entitled “A Matter of Taste?” food is today’s high ideal:

Just as aestheticism, the religion of art, inherited the position of Christianity among the progressive classes around the turn of the 20th century, so has foodism taken over from aestheticism around the turn of the 21st … “Eat, Pray, Love,” the title goes, but a lot of people never make it past the first.

It is no simple religious path, either. Regardless of where you shop, the produce aisles are littered with all of your foodie liabilities, all demanding your obeisance: Food waste. Childhood obesity. Eating disorders. Organic produce. Your sister-in-law’s food blog. For a part of life that should mean sustenance and pleasure, food is often a collective human experience we can only describe as, sorry, constipated. If moral scrutiny ever soured a delightful human enterprise, it began with your cereal bowl—or granola bowl—or smoothie bowl—or whatever you do or don’t eat for breakfast. The Law of Food is everywhere. You cannot escape it, and yet you always find yourself behind it. Food choices make up some of the chief ways we tell others who we are and what we care about. (Needless to say, I was wrong when I thought Food & Drink might be a “lighter” issue than its predecessor, Mental Health.)

Lilli3

To some extent, food has always carried this moral weight. Before juice cleanses, even before frozen dinners, Leviticus was lined with rules about food—all the way down to which joint-legged insects you could eat. Food and drink—the way it was prepared, consumed, and sacrificed—has always been a marker of a deeper creedal code.

The same is true for those who call themselves Christian. Some of the most elemental pictures from the tradition come from the sacraments of food and drink. The bread and the wine, the fatted calf and the wedding feast—Christianity’s hope is literally laid out upon the table. So maybe Alice Waters and Michael Pollan are on to something! Thomas Cranmer, the English reformer behind the Book of Common Prayer, once wrote:

For as the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears; so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do, after a sacramental manner, put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.

Food and drink, in other words, help us taste God’s provision in Christ. Like a good sermon, the meal is a physical reminder of whose table we’re ultimately at. Wendell Berry said that “Eating is an agricultural act.” It is also a heavenly one. Which is why this issue is for everyone. You may not see yourself as a high-brow epicurean or a coffee snob. Maybe you, like Capon’s pill-maker, wish there were fewer options. But you do hunger in the ways we all hunger. Because you are human, you too come to the table to have your fill. And from the first course to the last bite, you’ll find this elemental hunger (and thirst) to be our running theme.

Which leads me to one last editor’s note to pass on to you before you take your seats: all credit, besides that which is due to the Almighty Host, goes to this issue’s spiritual sous chef, the Rev. Robert Farrar Capon. His words are everywhere in these pages, both directly and indirectly. Even when he is not being directly quoted, he is making his presence known. Capon, the food writer and priest, is not keen on table manners: God is to be liberally consumed and enjoyed. Capon insists that you, the guest, have no responsibility but to taste, and to laugh at your own party fouls. This one’s for him.

And so, enough talking, let’s dig in. There’s lots to try, but we have all the time in the world, so take your jacket off. We have decadent feasts and church cookbooks; we have mid-century etiquette and down home hospitality; we’ve got the heavy fare, too—from addiction to agribusiness. There are plenty of cocktails and simmering sauces, and we’ll finish the night with some forbidden fruits (and, yes, fast food). It’s all there for the taking, really—and the blessing’s already been given! So …

Prost! Pass the salt! Amen and amen!

Ethan Richardson, Editor

ORDER THE FOOD & DRINK ISSUE HERE 

P.S. Don’t forget: everyone who signs up for any amount of monthly giving to Mbird gets a complimentary subscription.

Autoimmunity and the Heart Curved Inward

Autoimmunity and the Heart Curved Inward

I am sick. That’s pretty much all I can tell you about it with any real confidence. For two years, a harvest of strange and debilitating medical maladies have continued to hurl wrenches into the functioning of my poor and puzzled body (I’ve detailed some of that elegant saga here and here). In my time not writing about being sick on Mockingbird, I slug from one doctor to the next, submit myself to pokes, prods, needles, and indelicate personal questions. Everyone agrees things aren’t right. Yet I am still without a clear diagnosis. There have been rabbit-hole-suspicions by many-a-medical professional,…

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