I am currently preparing to teach a course on bioethics in the fall. I plan on combining some common, secular materials on biomedical ethics with some theological material and some feminist readings. After all, in a course that centers around practices related to the body, birth, and death, there seems ample opportunity to introduce feminist themes. Some feminist perspective, of course, is typical, like when we will discuss abortion and contraception. (Or at least it is common in my courses where try to present multiple sides of an issue.) Anything related to conception, pregnancy, and birth is easily understood as a “women’s issue” and therefore something that feminists address. I’ve discussed abortion and contraception in previous posts on this forum.
However, I realized in going through readings for this course that I have not focused much on other practices related to the body in my scholarship or personal reflection. Specifically, I have not connected them to theological principles or feminist convictions. Perhaps not everything concerning the body is directly relevant to feminism. But I am sure if I thought about it, I would be able to make the connections. We are physical creatures and the feminist movement generally affirms recognizing our embodiment.
So I decided to use this as an opportunity to think through some ideas and learn from you in this community of readers, contributors, and commenters. Over the next few months, I plan to discuss the ways I am becoming more intentional about connecting habits surrounding the body to feminist and religious concerns. I’ll start with food since I do put quite a bit of thought into my diet, but not from a theological perspective.
Do feminism and religion have anything to do with what I eat?
I do not belong to a religious tradition that has rules about keeping a kosher or vegetarian diet. As a Christian in central Texas, it seems that the only religious expectation for me regarding food is that I contribute a dish to the various potluck meals my church and other religious groups host! (I’m only joking a little bit.) This means food is connected to hospitality, which is important to Christians in Texas. And bread and wine/grape juice are the central elements of communion, which is a ritual I observe every one or two months. So food is not completely irrelevant to my religious practice, but it is not central. To be completely honest, the most direct connection in my life is through prayer, either in saying grace (a prayer offered before consuming a meal) or the occasional prayer in which I ask God to help me make healthy food choices.
I do recognize that the choice of what I eat is connected to ethical concerns, so the principles I use to guide my decisions in this areacould be more intentionally related to feminism and religion. My concerns about animal welfare, environmental degradation, and food modification could be grounded in a Christian concern about care of God’s creation and humanity’s role to faithfully protect it.
My preference for buying organic food from local farms does have something to do with concern for my neighbors. I want them to be able to make a living while being environmentally responsible. But I also support them because I am suspicious of what the large corporations do to the food that is supposed to nourish us. I know there is more I can do to be theologically reflective about this.
As a feminist, I could think more deeply about how food is involved in concerns about gender justice. I know that many women around the world (and men and children too) are negatively impacted by farming, harvesting, and fishing practices. They are harmed by the damage done to local ecosystems and economies. I confess that this is one of those issues that seems too big for me to understand, too complex for my actions to make a difference. I would appreciate your suggestions for resources that might point me in the right direction so that I could become more knowledgeable and take the appropriate actions.
I am barely scratching the surface here. I would love to hear more about the connections you have made between feminism, religion, and food.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.