Dr. Jamie Dew, Dean of the College at Southeastern, recently discussed faith and food with Derek Hicks, Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture at Wake Forest University.
Jamie Dew: Derek, you’ve done work in a wide variety of areas, and one of the areas you’ve done a good bit of work in — and have become an expert on — is food. I want to ask: Why do you like food?
That’s a funny way of asking [the question]. But in all seriousness, there are a lot of people who would wonder what drives a person to study this academically and theologically. So tell us what’s going on there.
Derek Hicks: I fell into foodways studies and its connection to religious experience almost by accident. But I also believe it was providential. Because I think back to how faith was disclosed to me, theology was disclosed to me, biblical studies were disclosed to me by my grandmother — and it was generally around the table.
This is nothing new. Fellowship happens around the table in churches all across this nation.
But it was also in different spaces, not just around a formal dining room table. We might be eating a bowl of something on the porch and we would gather around and my grandmother would tell stories of Louisiana; I grew up in Los Angeles, California, [so] she would tell me “stories of home,” as she would call it. All of [the stories] centered on faith — her faith, the faith of all the people who had made it through toils and snares [and] made ways out of no way.
That got me to thinking. Food plays a role not only the binding of the community, but also in the fortifying of the community. It was always not just faith, but also food.
Food plays a role not only the binding of the community, but also in the fortifying of the community.
They were working in concert with each other. What seemed to be what was happening was while the faith was edifying the spirit, the food was edifying the body.
And both had been broken by oppressive experiences. For African Americans, [there was] a push-back against the slave master because they wanted to have worship the way they wanted to have worship. They didn’t want to be forced to have worship in plantation owners’ churches, [so] they would go down by the riverside to worship.
Food in a similar way conjured something on the inside that allowed them to say, “We understand we get our rations on [a certain] day. We’d like to receive them on Saturday so we have our choice cuts of meat or food available to us on Sunday so as soon as we finish worship we can celebrate our humanity, celebrate our community — even in the context of these dire odds.”
So food in some ways became a way for African Americans throughout the centuries to push back and disclose their humanity, even as much as their faith did the same.
Food became a way for African Americans throughout the centuries to push back and disclose their humanity
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