There is no doubt about it.
Melbourne loves food.
Wandering around the Spring St. side of town, pick any dark, dingy and graffiti-covered alley and you will doubtless find yourself pulled down through an unmarked, paint-chipped door into an underground ‘pop-up’ restaurant serving Japanese-Mexican-Cajun cuisine, complete with bearded waiters, neon lights and disposable menus. Melbourne has become a den of hyper-cool establishments aimed at tempting customers in with their absolute mastery of whatever latest culinary trend is sweeping the city, as well as the best coffee/micro beer/craft cider/other organic beverage.
And I absolutely love it!
My wife and I get quite emotional at the thought of the creations of Chin Chin and Mamasita, two of the trendy new CBD tapas joints (no bookings, long lines).
Melbourne’s love affair with food seems to be in no danger of slowing down. In fact, once a year it goes from a dull roar to a Coldplay-esque scream. Every March the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival turns even the most dedicated meat-and-three-veggers into food critics. For 21 years the Festival has promoted the 'produce, talent and lifestyle of Melbourne'. And of course its not just food on offer: there is organic coffee, craft brewed beer and more wine than you can poke a corkscrew at. Hundreds of events are scattered throughout the city, each vying to be the most inventive, the most organic, the most decadent and of course, the most quintessentially 'Melbourne'.
And the people will flock in their thousands to taste, savour, and Instagram their way through them all. And I will most likely be one of them.
So as I leafed through the 71 page festival guide, circling events that seem worth going to, I began to think about how a love for good food and good drink mixes with a love for a good God.
Eat, Drink and be Merry
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that all our enjoyment in this life is to be found only in 'spiritual' things - going to church, singing worship songs, prayer etc. But while all these things should bring great joy to the believer, God has given us an amazing creation to enjoy as well, including the edible part! The Bible actually has much to say on why it is good to find pleasure in food and drink.
Since the fall humanity has been condemned to find work a hard thing. But God, in His grace, has still lavished on us many good things to provide rest and recovery from work. One of the main ways that God does this is food and drink. Food helps us relax and recover from our work. The writer of Ecclesiastes saw this as such an amazing thing that he even declares that there is nothing better in life than for a person 'to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with them in their toil' (Eccl. 8:15). God knew that sin would lead to work being a hard and tedious chore, and so He gifted us with a method of relief.
God gave humanity an important directive: to be His agents in caring for and bringing creativity and order to the world. But this great task would require nourishment. Food enables us to live and work for God's glory and our good. The amazing thing is that God could have created one homogenous substance that would fulfill all the body's nutritional requirements. And yet God showed His creativity and care by providing a veritable smorgasbord of different meats, plants, fruits and vegetables with different tastes, flavors and textures that can be combined in a million different ways. And not only this, Genesis 2 says that God even cared enough to make sure that the fruit trees were 'pleasant to the sight' (Gen. 2:8-9). From this we can be assured that God is concerned not just for our preservation, but also our pleasure.
Throughout Scripture the Biblical writers use the picture of an amazing banquet to illustrate what the New Heavens and New Earth will be like, when we are united with Christ as His Bride forever. Isaiah 25 is a particularly vivid example of this picture.
"On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." (Isaiah 25:6)
Whenever we meet together and enjoy God's provision in good food and drink we should be looking forward in anticipation to the time when we will eat and drink at God's Great Table as His People, enjoying Him and His Goodness forever.
Of course, there is a dark side to our love of good food and drink. Food, just like all of God's gifts, can be a good thing, made into a God thing, which is a bad thing. Food can be an idol. I think that this is the case for many who live in our city, including many Christians. Food goes from being a good thing which leads to praise of our creator, to an ultimate thing which is relied upon to bring satisfaction. Gluttony is not a sin we often consider, but for those living in prosperity such as we do, it is a real danger. If a person's life consists of going from one experience to another, constantly hungering and thirsting for that next amazing culinary experience, then that's a problem. If you spend all your money on expensive meals, then that is money sacrificed to an idol.
And then there is the biggest danger of all: status. If you need to be the first to know about the next secret bar or restaurant; if you're self-worth relies on being the first to latch onto the next foodie trend; if the epicurean lifestyle of Melbourne's elite is your ultimate source of satisfaction, then you are not worshipping the Giver of all good things, but the good things themselves. This is idolatry and it does not impress God.
I praise God that we live in a city which has so many opportunities to enjoy the fruits of the earth. We will probably never exhaust the many styles of cuisine from many different cultural backgrounds. Every time my wife and I go out we love to say grace before the meal (despite the weird looks) to make sure that we thank the One who has provided such good things. But we should not limit ourselves to going out. There is something wonderful about preparing food at home, inviting Christian brothers and sisters over for a meal, and being reminded as we eat of God's provision for us and of the even better things of the Age to Come. When God is made the centre of every meal we ensure that we will not fall into the age-old trap of worshipping created things instead of the Creator.
The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has been running from March 1st - March 17th. For information about related events (all opportunities to worship our loving God) visit melbournefoodandwine.com.au