Food & Faith

When is the last time you ate with your faith community?

On a recent Sunday morning retired Madison Police Lt. Pat Malloy brought to the health club (where he works out religiously) a prize free for the taking: four tickets to that day’s pancake breakfast at St. Maria Goretti Church. While the collision of values (sweet and hearty vs. heart and sweaty) was not lost on the players in that setting, as people ran and stepped and pedaled and pushed, it was an opportunity to share memories of church breakfasts and suppers and cookouts, some pleasant, some falling short of The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

In fact food is a big part of many faith traditions in this world, from the pancake breakfasts to the more deeply rooted lutefisk dinners for Norwegian Lutherans, the carefully prescribed dishes of Passover or the ritual celebratory end of the Ramadan fast. Sharing a faith has often meant sharing a meal as well. But as we return to a heightened awareness of the essential relationship between food and society, it makes sense that those whose spiritual roots include breaking bread would be a little more aware of the bread.

And that is precisely the motivation behind an ecumenical event designed to “plant the seeds that will change the way Madison’s faith communities think about and serve food.” Called Food, Faith and Earth Day 2010, members of more than twenty-five congregations in Madison, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American, will gather on April 25 as a grassroots interfaith collective to, in the words of organizers, “increase earth stewardship through the foods we choose to eat and serve.”

The provocative question driving the endeavor is this: when was the last time you ate with your faith community? And more importantly, where did that food come from? It just stands to reason for these church going Madisonians that as part of a community that includes an estimated eight thousand (and growing) Dane County residents belonging to community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) supporting dozens of local farms, Madison’s interfaith network might play a larger role in promoting sustainable agriculture and healthy eating.

Certainly there are smaller-scale conversations being held in places of worship around town all of the time. For example, our friend Rev. Phil Haslanger organized four consecutive weeks of food-centered dialogue last year at the Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg. But this is the first effort we’re aware of to bring together so many people from so many different faith traditions.

Food, Faith and Earth Day—The Sacred Art of Eating will be held Sunday, April 25 at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Dr. Organizers say it’s open to “anyone interested in turning discussions about sustainable practices and locally grown foods into action, beginning with a groundswell of individuals from dozens of congregations who will share ways to make mindful change at congregation-related events where food is served.” Speakers at the event include UW–Madison professor (and REAP co-founder) Jack Kloppenburg as well as an inter-faith panel and various workshops and exhibits on subjects like sourcing local food and finding recycled products, and “serving meals that nurture the soul.”

There will also be a community meal featuring locally grown food. The event is free with the exception of the meal, which is $8 in advance and for which reservations are recommended. For more information and reservations go to or call 233-9774.

Your idea of food might change. Your idea of the church supper will certainly change—perhaps to the genuine article.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to

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