Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye.
Amanda – Welcome to Fat and Faithful, an ongoing conversation about faith, politics, and culture as they relate to fatness.
Amanda – Hello and welcome to this episode of Fat and Faithful. I’m Amanda Martinez Beck and Nicole isn’t with us today. Instead, I have a guest. Kendall Vanderslice is joining us today. Hi, Kendall.
Kendall – Hi!
Amanda – So glad to have you on the show.
Kendall – So great to be here.
Amanda – So Kendall, can you introduce yourself, tell us what you do, how we got connected and, uh, just why you’re interested in being on our podcast. Thank you, by the way, for being on our podcast.
Kendall – Yeah, thanks for inviting me. So I am a baker and a writer. I explore the intersections of food, faith, and culture. My background is in food studies. So I study the social dynamics of eating together and the role that food plays in our social interactions. And that has caused me to question, what does my faith say about food and how do these food studies theories intersect with theology. So, I’m now a student at Duke Divinity School, kind of exploring those themes a little bit further.
Amanda – So what is the degree that you’re seeking at Duke Divinity?
Kendall – I’m seeking a Masters of Theological Studies.
Amanda – Ok. And do you get to pick a concentration or is it just you’re, you’re studying food.
Kendall – Yeah, I’m, I’m specifically studying food, working on developing a theology of the culinary arts and of eating.
Amanda – That’s fascinating and something I’m so interested in.
Kendall – Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
Amanda – So, I was looking at your website this morning and you said something about researching around the country about meal-centered worship. Can you tell me more about that?
Kendall – Yeah. So, I have spent the last three years studying dinner churches, which are churches that hold their services over the course of a meal. Uh, kind of trying to connect back with some descriptions that we have of how the early church met, around the table. And also trying to reconnect, the regular daily meal with our understanding of the practice of the Eucharist. So, I spent the last year traveling around, visiting ten different churches across, the United States, a range of locations, a range of denominations, a range of, sizes, to see how this practice works. And I am now working on turning that into a book that will be out with Eerdmans Press next year.
Amanda – That’s so exciting.
Kendall – Yeah!
Amanda – What is your publishing date?
Kendall – Probably winter of 2018, 2019.
Amanda – ok.
Kendall – Like that, that December to January-ish range.
Amanda – So exciting. There’s so many books…
Kendall – Yeah
Amanda – …coming out this year about, or in the next year, about things that I’m really interested in. Your book, Nicole’s book, which is on faith and fatness, and…
Kendall – Your book.
Amanda – …my book, on…
Kendall – I’m so excited about all of these.
Amanda – …bodies, so it’s, I’m really encouraged that not only are these books being written, but they’re being written by my friends. It’s, it’s kinda crazy. You wake up one morning and you’re like, oh my goodness, my friends, like, are awesome.
Amanda – So Kendall, I think that we met on Twitter.
Kendall – Yeah, I think so. I was, I was trying to think back through that, but I think it was Twitter.
Amanda – And…
Kendall – I love Twitter.
Amanda – I think maybe Nicole might have retweeted you or something. I think that’s how we got connected.
Kendall – It must be. I think I just stumbled upon Nicole, I’m not even sure how, and then, through her, I think, yeah, connected with you and…
Kendall – Oh, cool.
Amanda – A year and a half ago. And that’s how we became friends, so, I love the interwebs.
Kendall – Me, too. Man, I have met so many fascinating people over Twitter. That is, it is a great place.
Amanda – Yeah, so I have some questions for you.
Kendall – Ok.
Amanda – Why do we eat?
Kendall – Oh. Well, so, I see, from, from a theological standpoint, God created us with really two, each individual with two basic needs. We have a, a need for food, for nutrients to keep our bodies going and we have a need for companionship. We have a need, for, to be with other people and to be in community. And food is the place where both of those needs are met. And it’s also the place of our greatest delight. We, we fill, our needs for nourishment are met, our needs for other people are met. And we find great delight in the process of eating together. So.
Amanda – That is beautiful. I, I have an, an etymology question for you.
Kendall – Yeah.
Amanda – Do you know where the word ‘companion’ comes from?
Kendall – Yeah, it comes from bread. The person you break bread with.
Amanda – The person with whom you break bread. That is one of my favorite word stories.
Kendall – Yeah, it’s great.
Amanda – I love it. So, literally, to have companionship is what we’re made for. To break bread with other people. And obviously, that’s connected with the image of the Eucharist and breaking bread together.
Kendall – Absolutely.
Amanda – With thanksgiving. So, do you think that food is more than just fuel for your body?
Kendall – Oh, absolutely. I, I think, I always go back to, just the Genesis account of creation and, and the purpose of the world, and food is central to the entire thing.
Amanda – Hmm. Tell me more about that.
Kendall – We were created out of soil. So humanity was created out of, the very product through which food comes, too
Amanda – Mmm.
Kendall – So, we were not created first, we were not created, above all else. We were created out of the soil. And we return back to the soil and same with food. It, it’s born out of the soil and it returns back to the soil, to, to feed the soil further. And so, in this way, food reminds us that our relationship is not just a relationship between us and God, but a relationship between ourselves and the ground, one another, our own bodies, and those physical relationships are what connect us with God. And this, this very first command that humans are given, is to keep and till the earth, and then to, to multiply and, and bear fruit. So, we were told to protect the ground and to, to harvest food out of the ground, and to carry life on through our relationships with the ground and with one another. And we don’t really see a break in any of those relationships until the act of eating the food that we’re not supposed to eat. You know, God, God ordered the world in this beautiful interdependence, where, where we rely on the ground and the ground relies on our careful, tending of it. And, and God said, you know, preserve this interdependence and, and life will continue to move forward. And, the first humans ignored that and, and discovered that they could use food for good and for evil. And from there we see the breakdown of our relationships with the ground and our relationships with one another and our relationships with our own bodies and food is still central to that breakdown.
Amanda – Wow…this is, there’s so much here my brain is like, racing with so many things that I have not thought of, but are very pertinent what I’m writing and thinking through. Wow, I’m like, gonna cry. This is so good.
Kendall – You know, these theologies of the body and theologies of eating are so deeply interwoven. So, yeah, I’m really excited for what you’re doing, too. I think it’s gonna be so informative of my own thought process.
Amanda – Well, I, man, this is really good. I gotta collect myself a little bit. I feel like the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. Just when, when Eve eats the forbidden fruit, um, how much, how much of the shame that we feel in eating is connected with that, and, man. Because for me, food has not been a celebratory thing for the bulk of my life, it has been a battleground.
Kendall – Yeah
Amanda – My appetite is a battleground. And so, being, I used to believe that my spirit was good and my flesh was bad because I had so much hatred for my body. And because I couldn’t seem to get in control of what I ate, or if I ate the right things or the wrong things and, just to, to hear you talk about how food connects us to the physical world is kinda blowing my mind right now. Prevents us from living a gnostic lifestyle. And for, for those who aren’t familiar with the term gnosticism, it comes from the Greek word, gnosis, which is knowledge, And it has to do with saying that the spirit world is good and the physical world is bad and it’s this dualism where we are actually created beings, we can’t be separated spirit and body, like we are integrated people. So, we said why do we eat, number one food, number two companionship. My next question is, what is food for?
Kendall – So, I believe that first and foremost, food is about delighting in God’s creation. I think that God created, God created out of love, an overflow of love, that God desired for there to be a creation that that just contained this overwhelming love the God has. And a part of that was a creation that eats and a creation that delights in food, and in sharing food together. And so, I think that’s really kind of, first and foremost, God created us as eating creatures to connect with God and the world that God created. So I think that’s what we see going back before Genesis 3. And I think because that is the deep powerful purpose of food, I think that is why our relationships with eating, are such fertile ground for shame and for brokenness, because I think it is so central to the purpose of creation that, of course, it’s going to be so central to, what is aching in creation, as well.
Amanda – Ok, I’m holding back tears here because…
Kendall – It’s ok. I cry all the time when I start thinking about it. It’s still, every time, every time I say it or write it, you know, I get very emotional because it’s, it’s so beautiful.
Amanda – And just thinking about, in, in t
he garden of Eden, in the Genesis account, God gives us choices of what to eat.
Kendall – Yeah.
Amanda – And one tree of eating brings us life, and one tree brings a knowledge of good and evil and subsequently a break in relationship with God. So, how important is it that Jesus says, “This is my body broken for you. Eat this. Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no part with me.”? Just that redemption of eating and I’m just like, I’m going to have to sit in this for a little while and let that redemption, that purchasing back, like, food, our appetite, part of our appetite led to separation from God and now God uses our appetite to bring union in the way that he always wanted us to have a union with him. That’s so good of him.
Kendall – Yeah, I think, I think when I began to see that parallel, when I made that parallel between the eating in Genesis 3 and this meal that brought destruction and then the parallel of that, this meal that brings redemption and connecting those two is so deeply moving for me and that is what, that is what has kind of pushed me on in all of my future studies and food.
Amanda – Wow. So a question that, this is a question about a verse that just hit me recently with its connection to food and bodies, but can you think of a time in Scripture where it talks about swallowing?
Kendall – Oh.
Amanda – Anything ring a bell?
Kendall – No.
Amanda – Sorry I didn’t know I didn’t give you any prompts so.. That’s OK. Paul writes about, in 1 Corinthians 15:54, he says “death is swallowed up in victory,” and then in 2 Corinthians 5:4, this is the verse “for while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” I can’t remember if I’m remembering correctly, sometimes my memory is a little iffy, but I think C.S. Lewis said something about the humility of Jesus, in letting us eat his body. Like, he humbles himself to let him be taken into us through the Eucharist and then those molecules become part of us. So, we eat the body of Jesus, we drink the blood of Jesus and – this is me being pretty Catholic so, sorry listeners, if you gotta wrap your mind around this. But believe that we’re eating and drinking Jesus. And he, his body, his life actually is integrated into our physical being. But it, it, it makes me wonder. I don’t know if you’re familiar with N.T. Wright’s work Surprised by Hope?
Kendall – A little bit.
Amanda – So he talks about creation and how we’re not just gonna go live in this heaven without bodies, like God’s plan is for a world of bodies with, without sin, but like through the cross and resurrection of Jesus there’s a new heavens and a new earth that actually have soil like we were incarnated in the resurrection. So, to think, so often I think about, or when I talk to other Christians about what happens when we die, it’s this separation of body and soul. And they can’t wait to be done with the the body. So when I came across these two uses of swallow in Paul, death swallowed up in victory, what is mortal may be swallowed up by life, it makes me wonder though about the eating imagery there. Like what, what is it going to look like in the new heavens and new earth? How does it…what does it mean for the mortal to be swallowed up by life? Because previously I thought it was just destruction, like death shall die and be no more. And we’ll live. But what does it mean for, for what is mortal to be swallowed up by life? I don’t think, I don’t expect you to have an answer. I just wanted to ask what you wrote with your initial thoughts were on that passage.
Kendall – I love that imagery. I haven’t, I haven’t noticed the use of the word “swallow” but I think that’s so, so beautiful. The thing that I always put I’m drawn to is the imagery in Revelation where we have this parallel with the garden from Genesis. And we have the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil is not there just the tree of life. And the tree of life it is described as a tree whose leaves hail the nations. And in that I see a very physical world where it is again the same, the same, the same soil that produced us, and the same soil that grows fruit and grows trees. Those, those very trees are going to be the center of this reconciling and this healing. And I also just envision this this imagery of Jesus, after his resurrection, being in a body. And it’s it’s not a glorified body, it’s not a body that is more beautiful than the one when he walked on Earth. It’s a body that’s scarred it’s a body that bears the wounds of his crucifixion. And so when this imagery of the mortal being swallowed up by life, I envision that the scars of this world, it’s not going back to this garden in Genesis. It’s not that we’re wiping away or overlooking what’s happened in the meantime, the ache and brokenness that’s happened in the meantime. But even that ache and that brokenness is being taken and made beautiful. And our understandings of what is good are going to be so overwhelmed and flipped on their heads and turned around that even our scars are going to be something beautiful.
Amanda – Oh my goodness.
Kendall – This very physical, embodied world, is gonna be made good.
Amanda – Well I have two thoughts connected with with that imagery. Well three. One is just the amazing, creative love of God. That it’s, it’s not a let’s start over, it’s a let’s move, let’s go from here. And that that is ultimately even better than what it would have been had Adam and Eve never eaten the fruit. That this, it’s just endlessly creative, and powerful love that’s so delightful. So that’s my first thought. My second thought is the healing, the leaves will be for the healing of the nations, from the tree of life in Genesis, I mean in Revelation, while same tree from Genesis. But…
Kendall – Right, right.
Amanda – But so that the leaves are good but there’s, it bears fruit in every month.
Kendall – Yes, yes.
Amanda – Like, just this absurd amount of life happening. Of every, every month, and you’re like, oh hey, it’s another fruit on this tree. This is so weird. And wonderful. I just, I’m fascinated by thinking about that. And with the leaves being healing I imagine, like, taking leaves off a tree and putting them in a mortar with a pestle and making like a salve. And it reminds me of Jesus healing the blind man when he spit in the mud. And I heard that story explained so many time,s like Jesus didn’t need to spit in the mud, he could have just healed him. But I think that for that man, he did have to spit in the mud and rub that dirt in his eyes. Which is so counterintuitive, right? You don’t, you don’t heal someone’s eyes by putting mud in them. But anyway it just.
Kendall – I just in that see this reconnection again with, God didn’t have to pick up the mud to create us, but God did.
Amanda – I mean that’s a that’s a zing, a good zing. He was having fun. He was delighting himself in creating. And that’s one thing I really, when I talk about bodies, I ask the question, you know if you stopped worrying about how much you were eating and how much you were exercising, what would you be doing instead? Like, what would you have the time to do? And if you enjoy exercising and if you enjoy eating vegetables only, do that. Do what brings you peace, but don’t, let’s let our creative energies flow. Let’s let our imaginations be captured so that we can love our neighbor well and love the earth. Wow, so good. So, one, one more question. I think it’ll, it’ll give us a few minutes of conversation. What, when you talk about what you’re writing about, do people have objections?
Kendall – I have not come across many objections at this point. I don’t know if that’s because I am typically in communities of people that are really excited about food and reconnecting worship with food.
Amanda – So the reason I ask. Maybe I should just give a leading question. I get asked, and I know Nicole does too, when we talk about the goodness of bodies and fat acceptance or size dignity activism, say, “well, what about gluttony?” And so I was just wondering if you had anything to say about gluttony, what you’ve, if you studied that at all.
Kendall – I’ve not dug too deeply into gluttony. It was something that actually came up a lot in my, my food studies program. Because, kind of, my, my program was called a, it was a master’s in gastronomy. And the very word gastronomy sort of gained popularity because gastronomes, people who were very deeply interested in food, were trying to differentiate themselves from gluttons. Saying, you know, we care about the fine things and the enjoyment of food, and making it into a high class thing in comparison to the idea of gluttony. So the topic came up some in, in that context. But, I think I work really hard to frame, to frame my work in the mindset of fasting and feasting. And, and seeing that throughout scripture and throughout Christian tradition, fasting and feasting always kind of go hand-in-hand. I think of the season of Lent. It’s a season of fasting, but within that season of fasting, we have intermittent feasts. You don’t, you don’t fast on Sunday during Lent. That’s always a feast day and at the end of the season of fasting, you have 50 days of Eastertide. Fifty days of feasting to go along with that 40 days of fasting. So, in thinking of those tensions, it kind of moves out of the language of gluttony I think, because language of delight and of savoring, has a kind of restriction inherent to it. If you’re truly delighting in something, you’re not just consuming it thoughtlessly, you’re thinking about the process of consumption.
Amanda – It makes me think of Matthew 5:11, which says, “it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out.” When we place moral judgment on food, like this is a good food and this is a bad food, we’re saying what goes into you defiles you. Do you talk at all about that in what you’re doing, about the goodness of food versus how sometimes it’s perceived as bad?
Kendall – Yeah. I am, I am intent on getting people to see food as inherently good, to see food as gift, to see food as, this is the center point of creation because God longs for us to delight in it. And that the moralizing of food, that seeing it as bad, is actually a result of being fallen and broken. That the food itself is a good gift created by God and we can use it in bad ways. We can use it in ways that hurt other people. We can use it in ways that hurt the earth. But that food itself, was created by God has been called good and was never called not good. So that’s how I am working to kind of change the conversation around food.
Amanda – I like that. I like that a lot. This is so good. Edible theology, Kendall.
Kendall – That’s what I do.
Amanda – That’s so exciting. So I, I don’t know that I’ve told this story on the podcast but when I was three years old, I wanted to take communion at my Bible Church. We took it weekly and my parents wouldn’t let me and they told me why after church, they explained the gospel to me and I prayed to receive Jesus because I wanted to eat. I wanted what my friend Amanda Wortham’s daughter calls, the Jesus snack. And that, God drawing me to him through my appetite is something that I was initially embarrassed by because, I mean you make fun of little kids who just always want to eat, but that he has shown me in the past several years that no, that’s what he, “That’s what I do Amanda. I use appetites to draw you to me.” That’s, appetites draw together for food, for companionship, for procreation, for so many things that he uses our appetites to draw us to him. So, we learn, we learn things about our appetites as we go through. But it’s, they’re not bad. They are, they draw us to Him. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.
Kendall – Yes, yes. Oh, that’s so beautiful. That’s so beautiful.
Amanda – Well, do you have anything you’d like to tell our listeners? Anything that you’re, that I didn’t touch on that you want to communicate with us about the goodness of food and edible theology?
Kendall – I mean, there are so many things, that I can talk about it forever. Yeah I think my, my biggest thought is just that we can never fully understand the goodness of food, unless we do what it is that God told us to do as the church and eat together. That it is in this process of eating together as the church, that we can really begin to work our way into this deeper understanding of the goodness of food at the center of creation, and the role of food in healing our divisions.
Amanda – Wow. Well, I am really excited for your book. We will definitely talk about it on the podcast once it’s out, hopefully have you back to talk about it.
Kendall – Yeah, I’d love that.
Amanda – And where can our listeners find you?
Kendall – You can find me on Twitter, is my favorite spot to hang out. I am @kvslice and then I’m also on Instagram, at the same @kvslice and on Facebook as Kendall Vanderslice.
Amanda – Great. And your website is KendallVanderslice.com?
Kendall – Yes. Yes.
Amanda – And Fat and Faithful listeners you make sure that you follow Kendall, ‘cause she’s got good things to say, thought-provoking things. And you can also follow us @fatandfaithful on Twitter. And then Nicole’s handle is @JNicoleMorgan and mine is @AmandaMBeck. And we always love to hear from our listeners. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us. You can also find us on Facebook at fatandfaithful.com/fatandfaith… I’m sorry Facebook.com/fatandfaithful. And we always love to hear your questions, you know get push back a little bit, we love, we love the, the struggle. And working through this together like Jacob wrestling the angel. We’re seeking understanding and blessing through that that struggle.
Thank you so much Kendall for joining us and Nicole and I look forward to the next time we get to talk to you.