The Audacious Practice of Feasting



As a non-American married to an American, I find the North American holiday season quite incomprehensible. You mean to tell me that we must prepare a plentiful feast filled with turkey and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles and dinner rolls to celebrate Thanksgiving, and then THREE WEEKS LATER, do exactly the same thing? It’s not the feasting that is problematic, it’s the proximity of two feasts with barely any margin that strikes me as nonsensical.

I feel like feasting—the idea of celebrating special occasions with copious amounts of food—has largely lost its sense of wonder and meaning because of our access to over-abundant resources. My mother tells me stories of grinding poverty in her childhood, when meat was such luxury they were only afforded a small piece of it at Chinese New Year. When she describes the delight in anticipating that “feast,” consisting of a small piece of meat, her eyes still light up as the memory recalls such delighted contentment.

I cannot relate to that sense of wonder and neither will my kids. We who have grown up essentially feasting at every meal. Without deprivation, there can be no celebration. At some point in our consumption level, we have hit the point of diminishing returns— that after consuming a certain amount of food that brings us pleasure we begin to experience less pleasure by ingesting more.

I don’t wish for my family to return to a state of food scarcity, but I would love for us to re-capture the spirit of feasting. I would love for us to set aside a time and ritual to commemorate the overwhelming goodness and grace of what we have been given. The feast should be a staged experience symbolizing the extravagance of being given good and perfect gifts.

To borrow from an economics metaphor, if our goal is to return to the point of maximum benefit having surpassed the point of diminishing returns, we must backtrack. We must move in the opposite direction of the chart. We must go from consuming more to consuming less.

It makes economic and spiritual sense. Over-consumption is choking the life out of us, whether it’s on a global scale of depleting the earth’s resources, or on a personal, relational level, where our time is spread so thin by doing all of the things, buying all of the things, saying all of the things, that we have lost the ability to be quiet, be still, be human.

I think our best hope for recovering the gift of abundant life lies in eliminating stuff: including things, food, and shortening our to-do lists. It is in hacking away the clutter that we can find our path to wholeness.

The invitation to an abundant feast remains. But maybe it is not to be found in decadent foods, luxury ingredients, and complex recipes. It is to be discovered in the simplicity of teaching a child to bake a simple dinner roll. It is to be invited into plain, ordinary meals and learning to be thankful for the boring stuff. It is to be content with enough, and stopping short of the point of diminishing returns. It is to be filled with silence, relationship, and song instead of exorbitant amounts of food.

Feasting is a wonderful opportunity for creativity to flourish. Chefs and the Martha Stewarts around us thrive by tinkering with various combinations to prepare Pinterest-worthy, saliva-inducing dishes. But it requires creativity also, and maybe more so, to create feasts and traditions within limits—what can be found in local markets and from the leftovers in the fridge. To become like a toddler, who finds a cardboard box infinitely more fascinating than the expensive toy inside of it.

We may not be hungry for food the way my mother and grandmother was. But we are hungry for time. We are hungry for connection. We are hungry for expression of our authentic selves. So we must prepare our feasts filled with an abundance of what is necessary for our time and circumstances. We must allow ourselves to receive the gifts that best feed our souls. And I think the answer is not more food, but less. Not more stuff, but less. Not more hustling, but less.

It’s not that we don’t need to feast abundantly, but that we are feasting on the wrong things. Abundance is found beyond just dinner plates–it is found in what truly gives us life. May we be willing to make space to find out what does.


Image credit: Brett Florence