“With Bread”: The Etymology & Theology of Companionship

I’m a bit of a nerd. For instance, when I was younger, I, like many youngsters, memorized the alphabet. But that wasn’t enough for my young mind. I memorized not only the individual letters of the alphabet, but their corresponding numbers. So, A’s corresponding number is 1, B’s is 2, C’s is 3, and so on. This might sound simple enough, but wait, there’s more. I took it upon myself to memorize the sums and products of adding and multiplying letters by their corresponding numbers. With very little hesitation I could come up with the letters, numbers, and mathematical results when asked. Surprisingly, not too many people were looking for this information.

Fast forward to present day and I am still rather nerdy. (Thankfully, my wife has a soft spot for nerds.) I love words and their origins. Etymology is a hobby of mine that is – in my mind – worth its weight in gold. Mining the ins and outs of a word opens up meaning and interpretation. Like a flower in bloom, examining word origins, contexts, and histories allows for vibrant colors and nuanced designs previously hidden from view to emerge.

A few years ago, I was purchasing some bread from a grocery store for a shared meal. It was thinly sliced and aromatic. Perfectly baked crust protected the soft innards waiting for us to pluck apart. It was the kind of bread you should probably buy two loaves: one for the car ride home and one for the meal. Yet, what struck me on this particular occasion was the name of the bread. It wasn’t entitled “Italian Bread” although it was. Rather than translating the Italian, they had aptly and simply left it as, Pane.

And this triggered my etymological impulses.

Pane is a word derived from Latin meaning “bread.” It has a long and variegated history as it has been paired with a multitude of other terms. Nearly all of them center on bread of some sort.

The interesting thing is that the prefix com- means “with” stemming from the original Latin cum. When cum is used, it indicates a conjoining of two things. Pairings, groups, usage of items are all placed in relationship with the term cum.

Together cum + pane give us companion. Thus, your companions are the ones whom you are together “with bread.” Literally. Again, the etymology of companion opens our eyes to its history in that its Latin ancestor used to mean “messmate.” For the Latin speaking world and its cognates, companion wasn’t a general term. Your companions were the ones you ate with, the ones your broke bread with, the ones you shared a common table.

Companion points beyond itself to indicate the kinds of relationships eating together produces. Strangers and acquaintances become companions through eating together. Families flourish as they sit face-to-face sharing what is provided. Meals have been – and still are – the primary means of breaking down relational walls between folks. They are often the glue within communities due to their inherent hospitable nature.

The question then becomes, “With whom do we regularly share meals?” For those of us who claim to be Jesus-followers, this is a question central to our faith and discipleship. All too often, however, it has been relegated to a peripheral position in the life of faith. For many it has fallen too far down the list of Jesus-priorities, so much so, that it has become invisible for many. In my opinion, if there is one central practice we must reinvigorate and reincorporate into the life of the Church it is eating together. And, it seems, etymologically speaking, if we are to do this as companions, we must be true to the word by breaking bread together.

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Want to read the rest of this post?

You can read it at Missio Alliance where it was originally posted. There I discuss the postures and practices of presence, vulnerability, mutuality, and creation care inherent to shared meals and companionship. You can find the rest of it here: “‘With Bread’: The Etymology & Theology of Companionship”.

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Some Questions for Your Farmer at the Farmers’ Market

Every Saturday my family and I load up and go out to our local farmers’ market (pictured above). We’ve been going for awhile now as it has become part of our Saturday routine liturgy. From there we depart for the local library and then head home.

When we first started these practices, we really had no idea what to expect or what to do. We weren’t aware of any differences between this farmer and that one. Why is this bundle of carrots more expensive than that one? Is there a specific certification I should be looking for? Basically, we walked in wanting to better our diet through local organic foods, but didn’t know where to begin.

The odd fact that there were bananas for sale in the middle of the winter in Syracuse didn’t really phase us. The plastic wrapping some vendors had around their produce seemed normal. After all, we were comfortable with plastic wrap because of its ubiquity at the grocery store. It took reading, research, and getting to know our local CSA farmer – now friend – to chisel away at our grocery store-formed imagination when it came to food.

When our imaginations begin to crumble or shift, we begin to have a new world open up before us. This new world we enter into hands us questions we must ask in order to make sense of things. Not only do coherent questions give us new markers by which we can live by, they also lead to deeper investigations and stories we (possibly) never knew existed. I know for my wife and I that this was the case in regards to our food. We were ignorantly accepting things as normal, good, and healthy simply because we didn’t know what questions to ask.

For many of us this is true due to this simple truth: we are the most divorced from ecology and agriculture civilization in history resulting in a cultural ignorance when it comes to food. As was recently said by Joel Salatin, “we know more about the Kardashians than we do about what we eat.” And because of this multigenerational predicament, many of us do not have anyone in our lives from whom we can imitate their healthy ecological and agricultural ways of life. Rather, the situation as it is, isn’t that we aren’t imitating others’ ecological and agricultural practices altogether; the problem is we are imitators by nature, thus leaving us to imitate those who are formed predominantly by the industrial/commercial/political forms of ecology and agriculture and we are unconsciously perpetuating this phenomenon.

This is fresh in my mind as we returned from the Farmers’ Market this morning. Next week a friend of mine is joining us as he and his family prepare to embark on a similar journey to ours. As I stood there today in the presence of farmers, pseudo-farmers, and food shysters I began to ponder what initial questions we asked while perusing produce and what might be helpful to others. Here is what I came up with:

1. Are you organic? Eating organic is certainly a hot topic today. Many people are wondering anew what it means to eat organically. I find it ironic that we must label what is inherently organic as such. Doesn’t seem to indicate a looming problem? Now, not everyone who grows organically is certified as organic. This is due to amount of profits, inspections, and some other factors. Regardless, they should be able to tell you how they practice organic farming. If you aren’t aware, check out the USDA Certified Organic website for more info. For local folks, check out Northeast Organic Farming Association for an abundance of helpful info.

Any easy way to tell – and a true story, no less – is to compare prices of produce from different organic farmers. If a quart of tomatoes from one seller is a steep $3 difference from another, you can bet the cheap one isn’t actual organic.

2. Where is your farm? Or in other words, are you local? Many people at the Regional Market – some even say 60% of the vendors – do not actually farm. They attend an auction where they buy surplus produce and then sell it at a major mark up for the betterment of their bottom lines. In some, if not many cases, they do not know what it is they are selling because they don’t know what it is they are buying at auction. Sure, it looks like a potato, but the conditions it grew in, the treatment of the workers who harvested it, and the amount of miles it has traveled to get to them is unknown. Unknown produce is a commidified product that will empty your wallet as it fills your stomach with potentially harmful material.

3. Can I visit your farm? If they are local and grow their own food, stay with them. Shop there for a few weeks and then ask this follow up question to, “Where is your farm?”. Many farmers are on their property for the majority of their work week. The ones I have spoken with have been more than hospitable in inviting me to visit. The ones I have visited have allowed me to see their fields, barns, animals, etc. which has easily ensured me of the quality of their harvests. Be wary of a farmer who won’t let you visit their farm.

I don’t presume to be an authority on any of these matters. I bring up these questions and concerns as one who is curious, worried, and longing for health. For me, there is no fragmenting between spiritual, physical, and ecological/agricultural health. The further I have investigated and participated in healthy ecological/agricultural practices, the further I have wanted others to join with us. I hope what I have learned thus far is helpful.

What questions do you ask? What has been helpful in your context? I’d love to hear.

 

Wendell Berry: Poet and Prophet [An Interview with Bill Moyers]

Not too many people have the wit and wisdom of Wendell Berry. Coupled with his erudite insight and, as Bill Moyers says, clairvoyance, Berry has been a voice of critique and hope for multitudes of people over the past several decades. Longevity in an age of immediacy and instant amnesia is a testament to the level of perennial relevance found in Berry’s words.

Yet beyond his words, his actions have spoken volumes. He does not merely write from a place of privilege and comfort; no, he writes as a farmer living on a family farm overlooking the Kentucky River and participates in sit-ins in that same state’s halls of assumed power. All that to say, the particular and the local he writes of flow directly from a life lived in the particular and local.

I have read many of Berry’s works and have – quite honestly – been changed and challenged for the better. Please watch the above interview regardless if you’ve been a follower for years or have never heard of him. Then pick up one of the following books. I pray you will allow the candor, angst, humor, and, above all, intermingling of hope and love to transform you.

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

What Are People For?

Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community

Jayber Crow

The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays

Soil & Sacrament: Fred Bahnson

Fred Bahnson is quickly becoming one of my favorite theologians.

Not because he is bringing an abundance of theology and exegesis new to my ears and heart. Not because he is well known and widely read. Rather, it is the practices of his life combined with his nuanced understanding of God at work in, through, and among God’s creation. In short, he gets his hands dirty.

This is not to say he is solely a theologian. Indeed, he is much more. He constantly weaves history, global agricultural methods, and sociology – to name a few – with theological astuteness. Together, he is able to speak to myriad of connected realms.

And this is precisely what he does by tying back together in the name of the kingdom of God what our society has compartmentalized. In my humble opinion, he – along with others such as his coauthor Norman Wirzba and legend Wendell Berry – speaks to the most often overlooked and relegated aspect of the kingdom of God: creation. Throughout his work – both written and physical – Bahnson brings to our attention the need for understanding interdependently living with and among creation as we are a part of it.

Today I ordered his newest book (through Speakeasy) by the same name as the above video clip: Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. I am really looking forward to it as he is one of the few theologians/practitioners pushing for an ecological theology. Once I’ve read it I will post a review, so stay attentive.

In the meantime check out these other Fred Bahnson resources:

Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation (coauthored with Norman Wirzba)

FredBahnson.com

Wildgoose Festival: Speaking on Soil and Sacrament

“What grows in a garden?” – Washington Post article

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables: A Simple Meal (With Great Leftovers)

I am not a cook and am nowhere near anything resembling a chef. Thankfully, my wife grew up in the house of a chef – her father – and can cook. I have reaped the many benefits of this upbringing and, for this, I am forever grateful. Seriously, it is amazing.

However, this meal is quickly becoming my favorite. Not only does it taste unbelievable, is locally grown and organic, it is also ridiculously easy to prepare. In our efforts to simplify life while becoming more and more aware of what it is we are eating, we have found that this meal has become a weekly staple in our house. Not only do we love it, our daughters (ages 4 and 2; 9 month old will soon) eat it up too. In many ways, this meal and others like it, have begun to reshape our imaginations and practices surrounding food as we participate in both our local ecology and economy.

What you see below feeds all of us well.

Ingredients

Whole, cleaned chicken

2 Carrots

3-5 Potatoes – both red and white

1-2 Sweet potatoes

1 Red/green/purple pepper

1 eggplant

(Add any other vegetables you’d like.)

Olive Oil

Coarse Kosher Salt

Materials

Parchment paper

Dutch Oven

Baking/cookie sheet

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Preparation

1. Preheat your oven to 450° F.

2. While waiting for the oven to preheat, rinse your vegetables. Peal and cut into similar sized pieces for even cooking.

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3. After vegetables are rinsed, pealed and cut, place the parchment paper on the baking/cookie sheet. Drizzle them lightly with olive oil as a coating, so they don’t stick to the parchment paper.

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4. We purchase organic, grass fed chickens from Hilltop Farms in Moravia. For local folks, Hilltop Farm’s farmer, Delmar, is in Shed A at the Regional Market every Saturday. He is always in the middle of the aisle waiting with chickens, eggs, and a warm Mennonite smile. (We always get our eggs from him as well.)

Clean what remnants (feathers) may be on your chicken and place breast-side up in your Dutch oven. Graciously salt and place in your oven for 25 minutes. We always place it on the upper rack to ensure crispy skin and juicy meat.

After the initial 25 minutes, place your vegetables sheet on the lower rack for another 25 minutes.

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5. Take both vegetables and chicken out of oven after 50 minutes. Poke the thighs with a fork; if clear liquid comes out, then it is finished.

Let rest for 15-20 minutes and then dive in!   DSC00896

Leftovers

My wife always uses the leftovers of the chicken to make stock for future dishes. Again, it is easy as the meal above.

Stock

1. Fill Dutch oven with water until approximately half of the chicken is covered.

2. Turn heat up to HIGH until boiling.

3. Once boiling, turn heat to LOW and let simmer for 45-60 minutes.

4. Take chicken out of Dutch oven.

5. Place a strainer in your favorite refrigerator-safe container and pour contents into it.

6. Allow to cool prior to refrigeratoring. After it chills, use it in rice, orzo, or whatever else you want.

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I hope this was helpful. If you are just embarking on the local, organic, slow food journey or have been traveling this path for some time, I’d love to hear what and how you eat. What have you learned? What are you enjoying?