Filet of catfish
Arts editor Brad Bynum has been urging me to write a Filet of Soul essay on the topic of “soul food” for some time. At first I thought it was kind of a stretch, but with a little consideration, I realized food has a large function in soulful communities. Many, if not most, religious organizations have regular community meals. In fact, Christian communion—a crucial part of many services—combines the ideas of “community,” “sharing” and “eating.” I’ve shared food at the Sikh temple, Muslim mosque, Hindi Diwali celebration, pagan winter solstice celebration—I’m wracking my brain in vain looking for spiritual groups that haven’t at least offered to feed me.
But Bynum was referring to something different. He was talking about “soul food”—that Southern style of cooking that often includes red beans and rice, okra, collared greens, grits, deep-fried meat, black-eyed peas, and barbecue. The concept of soul food also has a big African-American component.
So, in the interest of journalistic journalism, Bynum volunteered to drive us over to M&M’s Fish & Chicken Shack for lunch.
While this isn’t a food review, I should mention we each ordered the sampler, barbecued ribs, catfish, fried chicken and for sides, he went with cole slaw, and I ordered the red beans and rice. I should also say the food was delicious, particularly the chicken and catfish.
But was the food indeed soulful? Did it spark that indefinable something that we humans identify as within ourselves but greater than ourselves? Not really.
But in a certain way, it did. There is something about eating with family and friends that is very spiritual. It’s a recognition and an affirmation of life and that sustenance is more than just fuel. Eating good food, especially when it’s being closely analyzed, is a mindful experience. The diner is on one level focused on the minutia of what’s going on in his or her mouth, but on another, it evokes all kinds of thoughts of things beyond the specific flavors and scents.
Eating with other people is a fellowship similar to that you’d find in church. Bynum and I mainly talked about our families—his dad’s coming to town this week; mine’s coming at the end of summer. Indeed, there was a large family sharing the lunchtime meal and commenting on the news of the day that was playing on the flat screen television that dominated one wall. The headline news story was about the African-American guard who was killed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by a white supremacist.
Fellowship and extended family are a big part of what worship is about—both metaphorically and concretely. It’s community. It’s that soulful essence of belonging to something that’s bigger than ourselves, and recognition that while we may shuffle off this mortal coil, there are parts of us that will live on.
I was reminded, too, of that John 6:35 quote: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” So, not to pretend to knowledge that I don’t have, it appears that even Jesus thought about the relationship between food and spirituality.
OK, now here’s where worlds collide. After our meal, I was looking for someone I could photograph to illustrate the story. Owner or should I say Pastor Mitch Moore was willing to fulfill the role. I guess it’s totally appropriate that the owner of Reno’s finest soul food restaurant is the pastor at the Perfect Peace Community Church over on Morrill Avenue. I can’t wait to see if they have a banquet after the 11 a.m. Sunday service one of these upcoming weekends.