Spiritual Connections to Food

Writer by Jonene Ford, CNS, BCHN, LDN

I grew up poor.  Not poor enough to have experienced hunger and homelessness, but poor enough to depend on free lunches from schools and live with multiple families under one roof.  I grew up poor.  But I never realized it until I was an adult.

Black American cuisine, most widely known as “soul food,” is a cuisine developed due to poverty.  Our ancestors who had been enslaved took what was leftover from the enslaver’s dinner.  This often resulted in the fat parts of meat, grains, and cheap plants – especially greens.  They made these scraps into meals that their families enjoyed, although they weren’t healthy.  They were often packed full of fats and carbohydrates and lacked protein, micronutrients, and phytochemicals.  Still, this cuisine is around today, and Black Americans still enjoy these dishes on holidays and Sunday dinners.  My family was one of those families.

In addition to depending on the fat-laden foods, our family also discovered other cheap foods that were filling and satisfying.  Fast food and junk food (chips, candy bars, cookies, twinkies, etc.) became a part of our everyday life.  I loved that I was sent to school with a Twinkie and enjoyed it when my grandpa would take me to McDonald’s after school for chicken nuggets and fries.  I began to long for this type of food.  I desired to eat it every day, all day long.  When I got it, I was happy.  When it wasn’t available, I was sad.  I was developing a spiritual, emotional connection to food.

Fast forward to May 2014.  I am watching my grandfather, the one who loved me with food, lay in a hospital bed taking his last breaths.  I can recall some of our previous conversations where he reminded me to take care of myself and pay attention to my health.  You see, I watched grandpa suffer from numerous diet-related illnesses for many years.  When I was in college, grandpa had an angioplasty, followed by a quintuple bypass a few years later.   Grandpa was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 25 years before this day in the hospital.  I watched his health steadily decline.  In 2007, his kidneys failed, and he began dialysis.  In 2008, he had his first amputation, and eventually, he was left with no legs.  My grandfather fought hard, but all of these illnesses finally got the best of him.

In 2007, when Grandpa’s kidneys failed, I realized how connected I was to food.  Food was something that had the power to make my day brighter.  It was also powerful enough to cause me illness and ultimately kill me.  I decided at that time to make changes regarding food.  I decided that I wanted food to nourish my soul but not destroy my body.  I also decided that I wanted to help others do the same.

My calling – and I consider it a spiritual one, is to ensure that people – especially women –  understand the effects of food on the body and help them make decisions that are helpful to the body and not harmful.  This quest to help has now become my spiritual connection to food.

Believe it or not, everyone has spiritual connections to food.  Eating when you’re sad, eating when you’re happy, eating to celebrate, eating to mourn – these are all spiritual connections to the foods that you eat!  The work is in knowing whether that connection is helpful or harmful and making that connection benefit your life.  What is your spiritual connection to food?  Is your connection helping you meet your life goals, or is it standing in the way?