Thanksgiving Food Theology

Thanksgiving Food Theology November 21, 2022

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat

Part Eight: Thanksgiving Food Theology

By Brian Brozovic and Ted Peters

Table Grace, a moment of thanksgiving.

Is there such a thing as a Food Theology? Yes, indeed.

“No figure in the Bible is more associated with food that its central character, Jesus,” writes Rory Shiner. Jesus’ “first miracle was in response to a catering crisis at a wedding. (The couple had run out of wine. Jesus’ response was to turn four hundred and fifty liters of water into the best wine the guests had ever tasted.)” If Jesus feels responsible for making a banquet festive, we can do that too.

Breaking News, November 21, 2023

No-Kill Cultivated Meat approved in US by FDA. Until now, only Singapore had approved for human consumption no-kill cultivated meat. Is it coming to the U.S. too? How should we think about no-kill cultivated meat theologically?

A Public Food Theology of Thanksgiving

In this column on public theology, Ted has insisted that the theologian offer insights aimed at the global common good. The public theologian turns first to the globe and then to the dinner table. “We really must treat the planet as our commons,” writes sockdolager eco-theologian Larry Rasmussen; “and nurture human good and the good of others that share in the commons.” Now, we turn to the dinner table.

Der Mensch ist was er ißt ( we are what we eat), say our German friends. This is humorous. Yet, it’s more than a joke. Food theology prompts us to think about our food. Food comes into us. And, what we take in either nourishes our bodies or is jettisoned. Our environment is constantly passing through us. This pass through is what makes our very life possible. We are dependent on food. And, we are dependent on our Creator God who grants us food. Does this dependence belong to a food theology? Food theology leads to thanksgiving, among other concerns.

When you sit down to table, do you offer a prayer of thanksgiving? To pause to say grace before digging your fork into your salad would remind you of the sacredness of this dimension to the food cycle. We thank God. And, we thank the living plants and animals who’s lives were sacrificed for our good health.

The food theologian tells us what the Bible says about food, to be sure. But, we ask, what does the Bible inspire us to do in the face of our global food crisis, the challenges of food justice, our planet’s ecological flourishing, and emerging new food technologies?  Let’s ask Norman Wirzba and Brian Brozovic.

Meet Norman Wirzba

Professor Norman Wirzba, Duke Divinity School on Food Theology

Norman Wirzba is a real live food theologian. Dr. Wirzba is Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Where is that? At Duke Divinity School.

Professor Wirzba pursues research and teaching interests at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and–here’s what’s important for our discussion here–agrarian and environmental studies. In particular, his research is centered on a recovery of the doctrine of creation and a restatement of humanity in terms of its creaturely life.

Food Theology? Yes. “Theologically understood, food is not reducible to material stuff. It is the provision and nurture of God made pleasing and delectable. Food is God’s love made nutritious and delicious. Eating is the daily reminder that life comes to us as a gift” (Wirtzba 2019, 46).

Among his many scholarly publications, we’re particularly interested in his book, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.  “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation” (Wirtzba 2019, 40). Note the sacramental feel of the tragedy that is our life, namely, to live requires death.

“Life as we know it depends on death, needs death, which means that death is not simply the cessation of life but its precondition” (Wirtzba 2019, 40).

That life-lives-off-death is the nature of God’s creation within which we live. What Norman wants us to get and get right is this: who we are as God’s creatures is utterly and thoroughly interdependent with everything else on Earth, including our fellow non-human animal creatures.  Plants & Animals R Us, so to speak.

What does No-Kill Cultivated Meat prompt Norman Wirzba to think?

Norman Wirzba. The matter of feeding a growing population on less land and water, and in more difficult ecological and political conditions, is truly daunting. For this reason it is important not to foreclose on good ideas and innovations too quickly. We need creativity of mind, but also the recognition that past practices often hold great insight into what food production practices are valuable and should be retained (even if tweaked a bit). Farmers who honor the land and have cultivated good agricultural practices need to be at the center of discussions going forward.
     I am not opposed to plant-based meat substitutes. They can play a valuable role in the diets people choose. Moreover, it is important to slow down meat consumption, especially when the meat consumed is produced through industrial and confinement production processes. But I do not believe that we can have a sustainable agriculture without animals. In part, this is because ecosystems always have animals (large and small) in them as vital players.
     My worry about a meat-free agriculture is that it tempts people to think that we can be free of the messy entanglements of a fleshy life. Moreover, I often detect a gnostic/dualist urge in folks who want to be free of bodily limits and pains. The need going forward is to honor the bodies of animals (human and non-human) by exercising care and respect for the animals themselves, the land through which they live, and the farmers who take care of them. Humans have always lived with animals and by means of them. To think we can separate ourselves from them (with the perhaps occasional viewing of them from a distance) is to take one more step in the disastrous step to think that people can live apart from natural limits and blessings, and that they can live wholly according to an industrial logic.

Some Thoughts  on Food Theology by Brian Brozovic

Brian Brozovic on Food Theology

Brian Brozovic. Wirtzba’s view is futuristic, yet reserved as well.  Very reserved. The idea of a growing population and more mouths to feed with less resources, be it land, water, is proving to be daunting says Wirzba.

     Growing up, I was not a huge history buff (things have since changed). My father told me that we study history to learn from our past mistakes and hopefully prevent making the same mistakes in the future. Somewhere in here is the street definition of insanity, doing the same thing more than once and expecting different results. Wirzba challenges us to consider good ideas and innovations as the nutrients we need to consider creative solutions while maintaining a green (Brian’s pun) thumb (Brian’s reference) on past practices and how they can inform paths forward.
     I think the first principle of food theology is to connect with God through the calling to be good stewards of our resources. Farming, ranching, land sustaining, processing, cooking, sharing, feeding our neighbor (those hungry and those fed). Looking for ways to create more sustainable systems, reducing food waste, etc. It’s tough to say a “first principle” because food, in all its forms is LOVE. And when LOVE is GOD and God is Love, there is no second principle on the list.

A Thanksgiving Food Theology 

Thanksgiving Altar at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church, Rohnert Park CA

Brian Brozovic. This coming Thanksgiving Day, my family and I will be sitting down as our immediate family. My spouse and our three children to share our meal together. We share our appreciation and thankfulness each night in our table prayers. So, Thanksgiving Day doesn’t bring a thankfulness that we don’t feel and appreciate year round. Maybe that is because I am so closely connected with the food industry, local farmers, local ranchers.

     What we do bring special to this meal is the uniqueness of the occasion. Blending together our family heritages into a meal brings the good out of family recipes, traditional foods from around the world, and an appreciation of cultures outside of our daily rat race.

Some Scientific Thoughts

Is the science ready? Some have doubts. “The Myth of Cultured Meat: A Review” by Sghaier Chriki and Jean-Francois Hocquette in  Frontiers provides an encyclopedic review and assessment. Let us respond to one of the con’s raised in this article, namely, the continued use of fetal bovine serum (FBS) to nourish the meat culture.
     So, what’s the problem? Once the cell culture has been isolated and immortalized, it must grow in a nutrient rich medium. What will be that medium? “The best medium is known to contain fetal bovine serum (FBS), a serum made from the blood of a dead calf, which is going to be rate-limiting, and not acceptable for vegetarians nor vegans.” FBS is the requisite medium, it is assumed by these writers in Frontiers. In addition to the problems raised here by Chriki and Hoquette, Brian and Ted note that FBS is expensive.
    What’s the solution? A vegetable substitute for FBS.      Believer Meats (formerly  Future Meat Technologies) in Israel develops cell cultures from fibroblasts, not from undifferentiated stem cells. Furthermore, lead scientist Yaakov Nahmias has developed a strictly plant based medium that provides all necessary nutrients without bovine serum. And, it’s less expensive. Most importantly for Jewish religious practice, by taking a fibroblast from a kosher slaughtered animal he avoids violating a rabbinic law  that proscribes eating the flesh of a living animal. This is a one-kill rather than no-kill or perpetual-kill practice. Nahmias resolves the kosher question, the cost question, and the perpetual animal-kill question.

Some Prayerful Thoughts

We recommend a Thanksgiving Food Theology. The practice of returning thanks at the dinner table expresses our attitude of gratitude.
     Table grace prayers are legion. Here’s one suggested by Martin Luther to follow dinner, called “Returning Thanks.”
We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

What’s Next?

Long horn steer in Utah. Photo by Johnny Adolphson, 2019.

Here is what we’ve done so far.

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part One: The Science

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part Two: Kosher? Interview with Sam Shonkoff

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part Three: Hindu? Jain? Interview with Rita Sherma

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part Four: Mormon? Interview with Lincoln Cannon

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part Five: Muslim? Interview with Mahjabeen Dahla

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat: Part Six: Catholic? Interview with Lisa Fullam

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat. Part Seven: Christian Vegetarianism? Interview with John Ryder

To Eat No-Kill Cultivated Meat: Part Eight: Food Theology?  Interview with Norman Wirzba & Brian Brozovic

What’s next? Nothing planned yet. Keep your clicker handy.

Brian Brozovic is a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Ted Peters is an emeritus professor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, USA. Visit Professor Peters’ website:


Wirtzba, Norman, 2019. Food and Faith: A Theology of EatingCambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2nds ed.
About Brian Brosovic and Ted Peters
Brian Brozovic is a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Ted Peters is an emeritus professor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, USA. Visit Professor Peters’ website: You can read more about the author here.

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