SALT LAKE CITY — For Margaret Feinberg, food is more than fuel for the body or a meal to rush through — it's a gift.
"Since the beginning, food has always been the good gift of God. Food, in essence, is God's love made edible," she said in a recent interview with the Deseret News.
Feinberg, who lives in Park City, is an author, Bible teacher, public speaker and host of the podcast "The Joycast." She recently wrote "Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers," a book and Bible study inspired by the lessons Feinberg has learned from food.
Feinberg sees food as something wonderful that brings people together. As an adult, however, she has observed that goodness being lessened by all the baggage people attach to food.
"As I began to think about the table and food, I realized that we live in a world where there is so much conflict and pain when it comes to food," she said. "Whether it's through dieting, whether it's food allergies, whether it is through food being an addiction — things can go awry with food. So I wanted to get a healthy perspective on (it)."
To help Feinberg better understand food, she decided to focus her study on six foods featured in the Bible: fish, figs, bread, salt, olives and lamb. But instead of studying from home, she sought out experts who worked with and made these foods, leading Feinberg on a journey spanning the seas of Galilee; a salt mine in Redmond, Sevier County; the Yale Divinity School and more. In "Taste and See," Feinberg included stories from her travels, lessons learned and recipes for these six foods.
Feinberg could have employed a more academic approach to her book — reading about food in the Bible, researching recipes online and doing some phone interviews. But she thought it was important to experience firsthand how these foods are grown and made in order to see the Bible stories in a new light.
"These were not people who were into mass production. (They were) people who care very much about the quality of what they were producing," Feinberg said about the experts she met. "With each of these individuals, I opened up the Bible and just asked, 'How do you read these, not as theologians, but in light of what you do every day?' Their answers changed the way that I understand God and the way that I pull up a seat to the table forever."
But it wasn't an easy or a comfortable journey.
Feinberg often had difficulty finding professionals to interview. She didn't have the contacts she needed for such a book. She would sometimes go on trips only to come back empty-handed. Feinberg said she would pray to meet the right people and then ask everyone she bumped into if they knew a fig farmer, salt miner or whichever person she needed at that time. Eventually, she'd run into somebody who knew somebody to make the connections she needed.
But even once she found right people, she still had to go out of her comfort zone to meet and work with them. One of these connections was an Israeli fisherman named Ido. She had to take a leap of faith when she made plans to stay with him and his family after only a 45-minute phone call.
"I flew to Israel by myself, rented a car, drove in a foreign country in order to spend time with this man and his family," Feinberg said.
Taking risks like this paid off for Feinberg. Ido gave her a warm welcome, not only taking her fishing as promised but also inviting her to stay longer to celebrate Passover with him and his family in their home. Feinberg said the focus on food helped her cross cultural boundaries and feel close to the family despite just meeting them.
"Food is one of the great unifiers of humanity," Feinberg said. "When we sit down at a table, we are hungry for more than the appetizer, the main course or the dessert. I think we hunger to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to enter a space where we can be vulnerable. (When we do,) shame scurries away."
Through her journey, Feinberg learned valuable lessons from her hosts. While staying with Ido, she tried to help clean up after their meal by throwing out the bread they would routinely leave on the table. After a couple of days of doing this she asked her host family why they always left the bread on the table. They told her if there was enough bread left over, they'd give it to the poor, or to the birds if the leftovers were too little, but they never threw it out.Comment on this story
"(The experience) challenged me to recognize food as a gift and to also recognize the importance of not wasting food. … Each of us can be more intentional about preserving food — cooking with leftovers, eating leftovers, buying the appropriate amount — so that nothing goes to waste. I think when we do that we honor our Heavenly Father," Feinberg said.
Between finding people to talk to, traveling, studying and actually writing the book, it took Feinberg 10 years to finish "Taste and See." After all that work, she hopes anyone who reads the book can learn and be inspired, just as she was, to draw closer to God and each other through food.
"It's an invitation for them to embark on their own adventures, to look at food and the Bible and family time in a whole new way," Feinberg said.