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Soul Food

December 6, 2010
Creamy risotto paired with a stuffed Ontario turkey marinated in herbs and cooked to a tender and succulent state. The meal is accompanied with a crisp Riesling from an award winning Niagara winery complimented with a fennel and olive salad. Now that I have your attention (and appetite), the menu I'm  so vividly describing does not  belong to some five-star downtown bistro. These delicious plates were served up at the most recent Eat Pray Share program put on by the Fontbonne Ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.
I'm currently working on a new episode for Catholic Focus on Food and Faith which will debut in the new year. I must confess that I chose the topic because I myself am a die hard foodie. I can't get enough of fresh cheeses, artisan breads dunked in olive oil and balsamic, grilled or fried seafood, delicatessen meats, scrumptious desserts and all of the wonderful unmentioned.  In my research for the show I came upon Eat Pray Share, which takes it's name from the Eat Pray Love phenomenon - but that's where the association stops.  It's the program's  original mandate that had me intrigued from the get-go.
At Eat Pray Share, a group of young people come together once a week to share a meal and their reflections on their faith. The spirituality of food is the central topic that brings the group together as they visit Scripture passages that mention food and the many practices it involves, such as feasting, fasting and sharing. The Salt + Light crew recently filmed a Eat Pray Share night where I got a chance to speak with the organizers about where the idea for the program came from.
"I invented the name and concept of Eat Pray Share to explore the spirituality of food and eating in a small ecumenical faith community context," says Genevieve Anderson, a high school Catholic chaplain for the Dufferin-Peel School Board by day and a fellow foodie by night.
"As I was looking for verses on food through the Bible, I couldn't believe how many passages of scripture there were  that (pertain) to food," she added.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto host the group in a lovely home in Toronto's Roncesvalles neighbourhood - a true foodie destination in and of itself, known in the past for its Polish Bakeries and delicatessens and where today you can also find a variety of different cafés and restaurants.
The Eat Pray Share night starts off with the group meeting in the house's cozy living room where Genevieve presents the new theme that will be the evening's focus. The theme is always related to food and spirituality; this week's was feasting.  The group then shares their thoughts and experiences on the  theme and then proceed to the dining room for the evening meal.
This is the neat part -  group members take turns cooking for one another for each week and the type of food they cook is based on that week's theme.  Moral and ethical issues pertaining to food are also taken into consideration when preparing the meal.  The lovely ladies cooking this week focused on buying all of their ingredients local. The turkey was Ontario grown, the wine was made from Niagara grapes and the vegetables were all  locally farmed. Their attention to the morality of food definitely got me thinking about how I can be more ethical about my food choices. Sure it's great to have exotic fruits from far off lands  in the dead of the Canadian winter, but we all need to think about what some of our food choices are doing to the environment and local farmers. More and more restaurants are emphasizing the locally grown elements in their menus. Along with buying local, fair trade cafés are serving up fair trade coffee. Fair trade has become very popular in recent years. Fair trade means that the coffee is bought directly from the grower and manufacturer for a higher price than the standard stuff you usually find sitting on the grocery shelves.
The group meal was a great experience that began with everyone saying a special prayer of grace together. The members in charge of cooking didn't miss a single beat; they even decorated the table in festive red linens in honour of the feasting theme.  They proceeded to serve up the meal and explain the significance of each new dish to the theme of feasting. I could see that the explanations  really gave people a new appreciation for what was at the end of their forks. Thinking about the food that passes through our lips creates a new sense of acknowledgment for it. Our bodies are after all sacred and so we should  be nourishing them with food that is good for the soul.
After the meal and clean up, the group reconvenes in the living room to read a story from scripture; this week it was the Prodigal Son. Group leader Genevieve starts the conversation by introducing a modern article about food and then opens up the floor to the group members to talk about their own opinions and insights on the role of food in one's faith and the night's theme. Then it's time for quiet reflection followed by group reflection and then DESSERT! (Which was a fruit trifle, in case you were curious.)
The evening was a great palate cleanser for me, enriching my appreciation  for the spirituality of  food. I've already seen a shift in myself  during my latest trip to the grocery store as I paid close attention to where the products came from and what the healthier and local choices were.
If you'd like to learn more about the Faith Connections Eat Pray Share program check out their website.
Look for more updates on my Food and Faith Catholic Focus in the new year.
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