Lenten Challenge #2: Rebooting Your Attitude towards Food

“Food is the most powerful tool we have. We should embrace and acknowledge that when we try to solve social problems.”

Anne Mernin, Executive Director, Toni’s Kitchen

Food gets a bum rap in Lent. But Anne Mernin, the Executive Director of Toni’s Kitchen, has a truly energizing way to think about food in Lent and beyond.

Last Lent, I wrote “Too Much Food to Enjoy,” about my struggles with overeating. If there are three fish tacos on my plate, each with a perfect squiggle of avocado tinged crema, I feel compelled to eat all three, lack of hunger be damned. And I am not alone in my efforts to contain my appetite. Lenten twitter posts are full of people straining to abstain. 

I can almost see their hands regretfully retracting from the bread, chocolate and fast food. But this Lent my hands will remain outstretched as I embrace the power of food to transform lives in unexpected ways.  My inspiration?  The creative ways Toni’s Kitchen  uses food to “get people to their most stable self.” Toni’s Kitchen is the food ministry of St Luke’s Episcopal Church in Montclair, N.J. Anne graciously shared St. Luke’s approach at Morrow Methodist adult education series entitled, “Beyond Cans and Casseroles: Rebooting our Ministry with the Hungry.”

Anne spoke passionately about the power of food to address intransigent social problems as diverse as untreated depression to community unrest. I was particularly struck by Anne’s story about how the Montclair police used food to repair their fractured relationship with the community.

We have a very historically impoverished neighborhood that has had a tumultuous relationship with the police. So our police have been really concerned that they build relationships in this area. And they came to us and they said ‘you know, we are noticing a food need in the community. Is there a way we can be helpful?

And what started was this really lovely partnership between Toni’s Kitchen and the community police where we provide the police with food which they then use in their community policing.

The police go door to door and they know people by name. They will provide a meal or they will provide groceries and they’ll chat. It is a way of them knowing who it is they are serving. It is really just about thinking when you have relationship issues or you are trying to get into a community that is hard to get into, food is a really powerful tool.”

Montclair Police Officer Guthrie delivering food to the community. Photo Credit: Toni's Kitchen

Food injects stickiness into social programs, encouraging people to return week after week for mental health services. Attaching a meal to a tutoring program also sucks the shame out of accepting  free food. For more on the power of food, check out the video of Anne’s talk at Morrow Methodist Church in Maplewood New Jersey below:

Play Video

After listening to Anne, my 2017 Lenten reboot challenge is to find more creative ways to use food to create positive change in the world. As a start, I’ll be hosting a Syria Supper Club dinner this spring.

The Syria Supper Club is a terrific program started by two members of the Bnai Keshet Synagogue that pairs Syrian cooks with dinner hosts. Syrian cooks and their families enjoy the home cooked Syrian meal along side the neighborhood guests. The brightly colored food spurs non-stop conversation and everybody leaves enriched by both the food and fellowship.

As Anne Mernin says,

“There is something about eating a meal together that changes you.”


Modern Church Lady Reboot Challenge #2:

How will you use the awesome power of food this Lent?

 This is the 2nd in a series of five Modern Church Lady Reboot Challenges. Come back next week for Challenge #3: Rebooting your Approach to Racism. For Reboot Challenge #1: Rebooting Your Approach to Temptation, Click here

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