(By SeventyFour_Shutterstock)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

God is Great,
God is Good,
Let us thank Him
For our food,
Amen.

This is one of the first prayers most of us learn as small children, to give thanks to God for the food that nourishes our bodies and keeps us alive. And perhaps for that elemental reality that food keeps us alive it has always been connected to spirit, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox Christian priest and one of the founders of the Orthodox Church in America, once wrote, “Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian,” he said. “Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite — the last `natural sacrament’ of family and friendship.”

And perhaps the most famous example of that divine sacrament is one of the most important moments in Christendom, Jesus presiding over “The Last Supper.”

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives,” reads Matthew 26:26-30.

The reality is people of all faiths and even those with no discernible spiritual system they adhere to, have recognized the importance of gathering together over food. And Black people, people of African ancestry are some of the most faithful adherents to this practice. From the planting season, to the harvest, to when we sit down at the table, the cyclical process of nourishing our bodies has historically been intertwined with Spirit and one of reverence.

Food is love and we have always put God in the middle of it.

Even in servitude to our oppressors, enslaved Black Americans celebrated community and gave thanks often through song as they labored. And the work songs, which often evolved into Negro Spirituals helped us get over.  According to many historians corn, ubiquitous on plantations in antebellum America, was a very common subject of work songs sung by enslaved Black Americans. And of course corn was a staple of their diets. In fact, the process of planting and harvesting would often be organized into festivals and those work songs, songs of gratitude, songs of community permeated the air.

William Wells Brown, the Black American abolitionist and historian included some of those songs in his memoir, My Southern Home.

“All them pretty gals will be there,
Shuck that corn before you eat;
They will fix it for us rare,
Shuck that corn before you eat.
I know that supper will be big,
Shuck that corn before you eat;
I think I smell a fine roast pig,
Shuck that corn before you eat.”

That spirit of gratitude connected to food has survived the centuries and lives with us to this day. And for Black Americans in particular, Thanksgiving and other holidays and times of celebration where food is bountiful spark some of our fondest family memories.

So many of us remember our Grandmothers preparing for days prior to the venerated Thanksgiving feast in November. She dragged us along to the grocery store to help gather the elements: candied sweet potatoes (King syrup included), collard greens, string beans, pigtails and sauerkraut, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, corn, cornbread, rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, fried chicken, roasted chicken, roasted duck, Smithfield country ham (in the brown canvas bag), and of course the turkey. 

She had to soak the greens the day before the feast. She had to soak the ham the day before the feast. And she got up at that crack of dawn and started to cook.

Then on the day of Thanksgiving when we arrived at Big Momma’s House as soon as the door opened all those down home aromas wafting in the air instantly wrapped you in her love. Her culinary wizardry all appeared on the dining room table laid out resplendently upon her finest linen tablecloth of crimson as if it was magic. But, it was really all love. And that love brought us all together. 

Food is love and we have always put God in the middle of it.

Amen.

Sean Yoes is the AFRO Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor