A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou beside me… Omar Khayyam
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou beside me,
and I will soon be fat, drunk, and in trouble. Alfred E. Newman 
Next week is Fast Sunday in my ward, other Christians are observing Lent, and I’ve been wondering what our religion tells us about the way we should think about food. You might ponder over what you read in the standard works, but my pondering was triggered by reading in a recipe book. I came upon a pasta recipe that called for:
1 pound bacon, fried, drained, and crumbled
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 pound butter
I was scandalized, and didn’t read any further. Imagine, someone cooking a dish that is so grossly unhealthy! A few days later, we were having company over, and I was making a double batch of our beloved funeral potatoes. The irony slowly dawned on me as I mixed in a large bowl:
6 cups sour cream
3/4 pound melted butter
3 cups grated cheddar
Gluttony is one of the seven cardinal sins, the scriptures warn us about being carnal, sensual and devilish, and we are enjoined to maintain our appetites within appropriate boundaries. On the other hand, the promised land was flowing with milk and honey, the righteous are promised that they will eat the fat of the land, and ultimately they will be invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
There appears to be a wide range of opinion among us. For starters, latter-day saints in North America relate to food in a different way than our brothers and sisters in The Phillipines, for example, but that is a topic that deserves its own treatment. We also struggle in interesting ways with eating disorders, for a variety of reasons. But what I find interesting here is that the same ward can contain members we might call bon vivant Mormons and others we might call hair shirt Mormons. Bon vivants call their food cuisine, and they think eating should be a sensual experience. They seek out new foods and interesting restaurants, and think nothing of spending $100.00 and several hours on a meal for two. On the other hand, hair shirt Mormons think a breakfast of boiled wheat or oatmeal, a lunch of bread and milk, and a dinner of boiled root vegetables repeated day after day is the best way to live, and that anything else is an exercise in dangerous excess. Who is right, or does our religion care?
We have a few guidelines from Section 89 about eating fruits in season and eating meat sparingly. Some of us don’t eat meat, but even our vegetarians don’t feel guilty about eating lettuce and strawberries in February. We used to be warned in conference about the dangers of eating spicy foods, on the grounds that they might cause a steep increase in libido (if only that were true!), but it has now been decades since curry and capsicum were pronounced traif.
Since there is no official dogma concerning food, I believe the field is white, already to harvest some uninformed speculation. I will take the position that we do not take food seriously enough. Our expanding waistlines might argue against that position, but I believe our obesity is attributable to our frequent consumption of fast food, which is just another way of saying we don’t take food seriously. We regard mealtime as a necessary evil, a time when we introduce calories and carbohydrates into our alimentary canals, and a time to be kept as short as possible. I believe this is wrong.
As people who 1)talk a lot about family togetherness, and 2)talk a lot about befriending people who do not share our faith, we need to gain some appreciation for the social aspect of enjoying good food. Who can blame teenagers for skipping dinner when they know they will enjoy neither the food nor their parents’ harangues about curfews, report cards and questionable friends? And who can blame our neighbors for not being impressed with our attempts at friendship when that friendship consists of a chat with the missionaries over Ritz crackers and Vienna sausages?
Nothing I am saying here should be understood as a demand for us all to become great cooks, and I especially do not want to cause any extra guilt for those (mostly mothers) who heroically, day after day, manage to put meals on the table for an ungrateful mob. Sometimes the best that can be managed is microwave corn dogs and tater tots, and that is fine, even for several days consecutively. However, I am arguing that culinary skills are in danger of being neglected among us, in a way that talents for, say, music, or public speaking, are not. I am also arguing that the ability to extend hospitality in the form of a good meal is an important skill, necessary to building the kingdom. All have not the same gifts, so let’s appreciate the ones we have. I think we excel in two areas: homemade bread and homemade cinnamon rolls. It has been over a decade now since my wife’s visiting teacher gave us a loaf of cranberry walnut bread, but just the memory of the taste would make a believer out of the most doubtful skeptic.
President Kimball looked forward to the time when we would produce our own Miltons and Shakespeares. I do too, but in the meantime, I’ll be happy to see our own Iron Chefs, Barefoot Contessas, and Emeril LaGasses. Bam!
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
 Mad Magazine, DC Comics, Volume 48, issue 7, p.36