Eating, sex and communion

The tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is as famous for its apple as it is for its nudity. Indeed, in this ancient story of hunger, food and sexuality are entwined. As the young couple succumb to the forbidden fruit, the story says “the eyes of both were opened and they knew they were naked.”

It’s in eating that Adam and Eve know things. It’s a knowing beyond facts. The ancient Hebrew word ‘to know’ has a deeper element. The knowledge these two acquire includes an awareness of their bodies and their sexuality. It’s an illustration of the fact that our physical and spiritual hungers are connected.

It is broadly understood that sexuality is more than a physical appetite — it’s a doorway to deeper connections. But that is equally true of food. Our hunger for dinner is as much about the craving for communion as it is for physical sustenance. According to the Catholic theologian Elizabeth Groppe, the creation story of Genesis makes this point in spades. “Eating and sexual intercourse can both be acts of profound human communion,” she writes. But she adds, “eating and intercourse can become grave violations of communion when they are acts of consumption, gluttony, domination or lust.”

We know all too well the violations of sexuality. When sex is reduced to an act of “consumption, gluttony, domination or lust,” the implications are devastating. We understand less well the violations of the table. When our consumption of food is divorced from the ties of relationship, it is often destructive to body, soul and community. 

No doubt, eating is a personal business — primary obligations include the nourishment of my body and the sustenance of those I love. Yet eating connects me beyond my body and family. At its core, sharing food is a universal act of communion. It binds us within and across cultures, languages and religious traditions. When we eat consciously and communally, we discover the best of who we are.

It’s this that makes community gardens and soup kitchens and neighbourhood barbecues relational gold. It’s why taking a tray of lasagne to a grieving colleague or baking cookies for an isolated neighbour is so much more than a random act of kindness. It says something about who we are, together. The truth is, in this season of lockdowns and social distancing, our connections have never been more important. The acts of cooking, eating and sharing food are expressions of our humanity at its best.

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