August 22, 2011

CF120 – What Would Jesus Eat?

CF120 – What Would Jesus Eat?


This is Jeff Young, the Catholic Foodie at and you are listening to episode 120 of the Catholic Foodie: What Would Jesus Eat?

Welcome, Folks, to the Catholic Foodie, Where food meets faith! I’m your host Jeff Young and today we are going to ask the question: What would Jesus eat? Have you ever been curious about the typical diet back when Jesus walked the earth? I have! And today we’ll discover what it was like back then.

In our discussion today, I am certain that we will find that bread was a very important part of Jesus’s diet. And with that in mind, I want to share a recipe with you today for Whole Wheat bread.

Sarah Reinhard finds Mary in bacon grease and reflects on the intimacy of her kitchen in this week’s Mary in the Kitchen.

All this and more right here, at the Catholic Foodie, where food meets faith!

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Voice Feedback

Voice feedback from Joe Sales.

Joe, thank you so much for calling in! I agree, there is something very special about gathering around the table to share a meal with loved ones. I’m sure that sociologists would explain that humans developed this way of eating meals over the millennia for reasons of convenience and security. However, I think meals are God-designed. I believe it is quite easy to see God behind the idea of meals just by looking at the role that food plays in the bible. Even with just a casual reading of both the Old and New Testaments, it is evident that meals were always communal in nature. Only on rare occasions do we find anyone in the bible eating alone (like Elijah in the desert… enjoying the bread that the ravens brought him). Even then, Elijah did not really eat alone, he ate with the birds! So meals are certainly God’s idea. And, personally, I believe that we all need to do a bit more lingering at the table when we dine. Hmmmm… That might be a good topic for another episode of the Catholic Foodie.

Again, Joe Sales, thank you so much for the call! Folks, you can find Joe on Facebook by searching for Joe Sales Media.

If you would like to leave voice feedback like Joe just did, all you have to do is call 985-635-4974 and leave a message. 985-635-4974. It’s super simple, and I would LOVE to hear from you! Please do give me a call and let me know where food meets faith in your life.

What Would Jesus Eat?

Have you ever thought about the kinds of foods that Jesus ate? What about how he ate? I mean, what were the meals like? They didn’t have forks. They didn’t have salt and pepper shakers. They didn’t have refrigerators either. So what was eating like 2000 years ago when Jesus walked the earth?

The first thing that comes to mind for me is not the what, it’s the how. How did Jesus eat? As you can imagine, life back in Israel 2000 years ago was quite different than it is for us today. When you think about it, food was life. Kinda like here in south Louisiana. You know, it is said that down here we don’t eat to live, we live to eat. Well, that is kinda the way is was when Jesus walked the earth. Not because folks lived in a city full of restaurants that provided Jazz brunches on Sundays, or where just about every family you knew made red beans and rice on Mondays… just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. They didn’t live in a country where Food Network pumped out food-related content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No, people lived to eat 2000 years ago, simply because the work of feeding a family was an all-day affair.

Bread was certainly a staple in Israel back then. The women would rise early to grind whole grains of wheat in order to make the daily bread. They did not have faucets, so water had to be drawn from the village well and carried back home on one’s head or hip. Think about it: they needed water for cooking and washing and drinking. Food and eating took lots of time… and lots of work.

Compare that with our life today. If we don’t want to, we don’t have to think about food preparation at all. We can pick up food from a drive-thru, or buy frozen dinners that we just throw in the oven a few minutes before it’s time to eat. Our water comes out of a faucet, or some sort of plastic jug. And relatively few of us actually bake our own bread today. It takes too long. So, for the most part, we buy bread that is already baked. Certainly, our life today is strikingly different from that of Jesus and his contemporaries 2000 years ago.

What about the act of eating? What about the meal? You know, for us today, meals are often eaten on the go. We hit the drive-thru. Or we grab something from the fridge on the way out the door. But that is not how it was in Jesus’s time. Meals were an event. A coming together of family and friends. An encounter. Back then, people would linger at table. Eating was not rushed. Meals were accompanied by conversation, and the duration also allowed for good digestion… simply because they were not rushed. Life happened around the table.

One of the things that amazes me is that for thousands of years, families had to stop three times a day and come together to eat. There’s a natural rhythm here. And it shouldn’t be shocking to acknowledge that the sense of family, and family bonds, were stronger back then. Very different from our experience today. That’s why I loved getting that feedback from Joe Sales about where food meets faith in his life. He’s absolutely right. Food meets faith around the table with our loved ones. And God is a part of that.

Here’s another thing about the how of meals in Jesus’s time: They acknowledged God. God was the great provider. Everything good that they had, every blessing, came from the hand of God. The same is true for us, but the people back then acknowledged it. It was part of their culture, built in to their society. They lived that reality. We live in a time that is dominated by independence and self-will, a time when we praise the self-made man. Even though we don’t recognize it, often we think that we bring blessings into our lives. But we fool ourselves. 2000 years ago, folks had a harder time fooling themselves, because life was hard.

Before meals, they blessed the Lord who had blessed them so abundantly. They gave thanks. Over the last 2000 or so years, there have been many prayers written that give thanks to God for the blessings of food and family. We have our own tradition in our family. We make sure to give thanks and ask the Lord’s blessing before every meal. Now, we are working on integrating an “After Meals Prayer” at the end of our meals. For years I gave thanks after my meals in the seminary, but that is not a tradition that carried over into family life… probably because we, too, are always on the go. But this is something that we are trying to implement now.

So, we have talked about the how of meals in the time of Jesus, now what about the what?

It might be tempting to think of people at that time as being poor and hungry. After all, there were no fast food restaurants, no Dunkin’ Donuts, no grocery stores, and none of our modern conveniences.

But they did have food. And they had good food, too. In the Holy Land you could easily find fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, lamb and fish. In the cities, vendors would sell fried fish, pickled cucumbers, pickled watermelon rinds, cakes made from chickpeas, and grilled meats.

As I mentioned earlier, bread was a staple food. As a matter fact, it was referred to as the “staff of life.” It took effort to make bread, but the basic ingredients were readily available. Some scholars believe that poorer families would use barley flour to make their bread, while those with more money would use wheat flour.

Bread took up a lot of time for people in this period, especially for women. If they lived in a city, they either bought their bread from a baker, or bought pre-ground flour. But the folks who lived in rural villages had to grind their own grain on grinding stones right before baking. And rural women had to get up three hours before sunrise to grind flour for their families.

When they did make bread, they used a sourdough to leaven it. There was no commercial yeast like we have today. Commercial yeast wasn’t invented until the 1800s. It is likely that each family retained a bit of dough each day to be used as leaven for bread the following day.

Some families had their own small ovens. But there were also communal ovens in many villages. Lack of an oven, or lack of access to a communal oven, was one reason why folks in the cities bought their bread from commercial bakers.

Bread was often cooked on a simple metal plate, which yielded a “flat” bread. When eating, bread was broken, not cut with a knife. And the bread was also pliable so that it could easily be used as a spoon of sorts when eating.

At the time of Jesus folks probably ate a lot of vegetables. We know that they ate lettuce, spinach, beets, kale, radishes, turnips, carrots, artichokes, black cala, leek, onion, garlic, cucumber, watermelon and squash. Olives were abundant, and were crushed for oil, in addition to being eaten fresh or pickled.

They probably used a lot of herbs, dried and fresh, to flavor their food, herbs like mint, cilantro, parsley, marjoram and oregano. They possibly used lemons at that time, but most likely used grape wine vinegar for cooking.

One interesting thing they used for flavoring was something called garum, which is a sauce made of fermented fish. It was probably something similar to Worcestershire sauce, which has a base of fermented anchovies. Or maybe like an Asian fish sauce, anchovy paste or soy sauce. It was a way to add a bit of saltiness to a dish.

Fruit was a very important part of their diet. They ate a lot of dried figs and dates. Figs and dates were plentiful and they were portable. They also made a type of honey (or syrup) from dates. They even made wine from the dates. We have evidence of certain fruit trees in that area, such as pomegranate, peach, apple, and pear trees. And they also ate nuts, including walnuts, almonds, carob and pistachios.

Of course, they drank wine. But the wine at that time was not quite like the wine you can purchase today. No, it was probably not as strong as ours, because they did not use a long fermentation process. They just didn’t have appropriate vessels for that. Their wine was probably relatively sweet, and they cut it with water when they drank it. So drinking wine with your meal 2000 years ago was a very different experience than it is for us today.

Fish was plentiful in that area. There was the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Naturally, fresh fish was available. But merchants used to salt and dry fish so that they could be sent great distances too.

Lamb, chicken, beef were all available, but were not eaten in the same way that we do today. First of all, meat of that kind was not eaten often. Usually meat was reserved for feasts and celebrations. If you were a bit more wealthy, you might eat meat more frequently. Of course, the priests in the temple did eat meat regularly. Secondly, when folks back then did eat meat, it was serving size was much smaller than ours today. We’re talking 4 to 6 ounces of chicken, for instance.

I guess you could say that the diet back then is very similar to the diet today in that region. It’s basically a Mediterranean diet, except today there is more meat. And, over time, many crops have been introduced to the area that used to not be there (tomatoes, avocados, and bell peppers, for instance).

In a future episode, I would like to explore some of the dietary restrictions of ancient Israel. But for now, I want to share with you a recipe for 100% whole wheat bread.

100% Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

As I mentioned in the last segment, bread has often been called the “staff of life” because it plays a central role in the diets of most cultures. It is the most basic food.

We can draw all kinds of parallels here with our faith. Think about it. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.” He was born in a stable and laid in a manger. A manger is a feed trough. As a matter of fact, the English word manger comes from the Latin (and is very similar to the Italian) word meaning, “to eat.”

Later in his public ministry, Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life, the True Bread come down from heaven.

There is just so much that we could say about bread. But today, I want to give you a recipe for bread… Whole wheat bread, to be precise.

Not all breads are equal. I remember when I was in high school and first heard about Fatima and Medjugorje. I had heard that one of the messages of Our Lady was to do penance, especially to fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays. I remember the first few times I tried to fast like that. It was excruciatingly painful. I later found out why. The most common types of bread we have here in the Unites States are white bread and whole wheat. Sliced sandwich bread, really. It is certainly not as hearty as the kinds of bread that are common in Europe and in other places around the world. Once I learned that, fasting became a whole new experience.

So the recipe for Whole Wheat Bread I want to share with you today is hearty. It’s actually my favorite recipe for whole wheat bread. I tried for years to perfect another recipe, one that I found years and years ago, but I could never make it come out right. Finally, I discovered the recipe that I am going to share with you today. It has worked for me every time. I found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website, and I want to share it with you.

You can find the recipe over at King Arthur Flour: 100% Whole Wheat Bread.

Mary in the Kitchen with Sarah Reinhard

[Play Mary in the Kitchen]

Thank you very much, Sarah Reinhard. I just love the insights she brings to the show each week. Listening to Sarah, I can imagine what it must have been like in Mary’s kitchen. I imagine it was very human, but also very heavenly. You certainly inspire me each week with the Mary in the Kitchen segment. You will find more of Sarah’s work, including her recently released Advent book, over at I also want thank L’Angelus for allowing us to use their Ave Maria in the show. You can find them at

[Play CNMC Promo]

This brings us to the end of the show, folks. I certainly hope you have enjoyed it.

I am looking for voice feedback from… Well, from you! I want to hear from you. How does food meet faith in your life? You can call in your voice feedback by dialing 985-635-4974, that’s 985-635-4974. You can call that number day or night. Just leave a message, and I’ll be able to play that on the show.

I look forward to seeing you again next week. Until then you might want to check out the Catholic Foodie on Facebook at Follow me on Twitter at And don’t forget to check out the new Catholic Foodie website at

Until next time… Bon appetit!

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