In many cultures, food is central. Food is used to welcome people. It is used to help people celebrate. It is used to help them mourn. It is used to help build community.
Food helps a community in a variety of ways. It gives a sense of identity—these are the kinds of dishes we make, the kinds of ingredients we use, the techniques we use, the occasions we mark. It carries on tradition—“This is how we’ve always done it”; “I learned this from my grandmother”; “Our people always make this dish this time of year.”
Food also helps us tell outsiders who we are. It gives a sense of the community to those who are new to it. So, if someone is visiting a place for the first time, the people who live there are likely to want to cook a local dish so that the visitor can begin to understand the place and the people who live there.
My wife and I have been watching a cooking show in which the host often travels to places around the world and is introduced to local dishes and cooking techniques. I love learning about the various dishes, and I have even bought some of the tools they talk about on the show. I have tried some of the techniques. And I have bought the show’s cookbook and hope to make some of the dishes soon.
But my favorite part of the show is the reaction of the chefs in the various places as the host tries their food. They are incredibly happy to show off their dishes. They are overjoyed when the host appreciates their food, for in doing so he is gaining understanding of and appreciation for their culture.
Food and cooking are part of the way that we fulfill the creative mandate of Genesis 1:28–30. We make use of the plants and animals that are available to us in a given region. We fashion tools such as knives and pans for more effective cooking. We come up with recipes and cooking techniques to improve the final product. In this way, we imitate our great creator God, of whom the psalmist writes:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart. (Ps. 104:14–15)
Cooking is a important way of sharing who we are. It can be a source of great joy and a wonderful way of sharing joy with others. And when we share the joy of food around the dinner table, it also gives us an opportunity to share something even more important: what we believe. It allows us to share the joy of knowing the God who made all things, including the plants and animals from the earth, and who loves His people enough that He gave His only Son so that they could share in His joy forever.