Eating Heaven, short listed for the 2014 Australian Christian Book of the Year awards, blends both anecdotal and scholarly research to produce a highly readable commentary on eating at “the tables of daily life.”
Simon Carey Holt has written this book from perspectives that have been formed from his past careers and life experiences as a trained chef, university lecturer and researcher in urban sociology and spirituality, and most recently, the senior minister at the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne. Holt emphasises that “Eating is a sacred business . . . a spiritual act,” and keeps returning to the themes that to eat well, “is not to eat extravagantly, but to do so mindfully, respectfully and justly.”
Each chapter of Eating Heaven is dedicated to a particular social setting of eating activity, and raises issues surrounding tensions of competing values faced in everyday life. The first introductory chapter attempts to establish the links between eating and spirituality, and “the role that food plays in any society as an expression of culture and a maker of meaning.” Holt claims that while eating together is now challenged, nevertheless the family kitchen table is a formative place where individual identity is shaped, and “tastes and prejudices inherited.”
From the kitchen table, Holt moves to the backyard, detailing changes that have occurred in Australia’s shrinking backyards, but where the barbecue still remains a national Australian icon, and a “quintessential ‘emblem of Australian hospitality.’” While barbecues are considered an informal way of establishing relationships, there are deeper meanings to the barbecue culture that he explores.
Other chapters are dedicated to the increasing café culture emerging in Australia; the conflicting values of “eating, beauty and justice” when dining at the Five-star Table; the creative contribution that a vocation at the “culinary workbench” provides, hand-in-hand with the demands of the long and unsociable work hours intrinsic to the hospitality industry, but which draws diner and cook together.
The two chapters, The Festive Table and The Multicultural Table, share topics of food rituals and feasting surrounding various cultural celebrations and mourning, emphasising both cultural differences and social inclusion, with a “call to a deeper and more transformative multiculturalism.”
The final two chapters continue with a strong spiritual focus in describing elements of The Communion Table, and a reiteration of Eating Heaven. Holt views the communion table as “the table of Jesus” and observes that Jesus was a man of “the multiple tables of life,” where He shared the ‘good news’ and called on His believers to follow suit. The last supper, shared by Jesus with His disciples is considered by Holt as the “signature sacrament,” and he goes so far as to propose that Jesus may have been crucified because of where and with whom He chose to eat. Holt claims that while the title of his book might be considered by many as an “audacious one,” nevertheless, the practice of eating together at the shared table, “is one that grounds us deeply in the ‘sustaining earth’ while always in reach of the ‘highest heaven.’”
Eating Heaven has wide readership appeal: whether as sociologists, social welfare workers, parents socialising their children through conversations and courtesies at the meal table; or others going about their everyday activities of civic mindedness, looking out for the needy within our communities, working towards social and environmental sustainability.
Christian educators, in interpreting and implementing the new Australian Curriculum, more particularly if teaching in learning areas of the Humanities and Social Sciences; the
Food and Nutrition component of Health and Physical Education; or Food Technologies in the Technologies learning area, will find this book to be a valuable resource for embedding spiritual values in their teaching for “promoting the intellectual, physical, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development of young Australians” (cited in Wiltshire, 2014, October 17, para. 5), as stipulated in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, the foundation for the current Australian Curriculum. Wiltshire in his recent review of the Australian Curriculum, found little evidence however of spirituality being incorporated in the actual curriculum.
Simon Carey Holt calls us to examine how the everyday and ordinary activity of eating can be used to exercise the gift of hospitality. In so doing, “we celebrate beauty and express solidarity with those who are broken and hungry,” while anticipating the heavenly banquet.