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The Table is a Temple: A Review of Taste and See

“Why do we eat—together?” This is the central question of Andrew Brumme’s exquisite new docuseries, Taste and See, a cinematic journey into the essential sacredness of food. As the pilot so winsomely insists, there is much more to eating than meets the eye: from cultivation to preparation, to serving and sharing, food is a vehicle for holy mystery and transformative grace. If this sounds like a recipe for lofty theological discourse, it’s not.

Taste and See is, first and foremost, a story—a series of stories, in fact, living parables enfolding a central truth. Its profundity rests not in assertions and ideologies, but in the astonishing audacity of its hope: namely, that God really is good, and that he really does want us to engage with his goodness in daily, practical ways. In our gardens, in our kitchens, at our markets, around our tables.

This hope is nothing new, of course: for centuries God’s people have fully expected to meet him amid the matter of life. Medievals were famous for reading the world like God’s “second book,” immortalizing the intersection of the sacred and the mundane in literature, music, and art. Our spiritual ancestors observed laws and feast days pertaining to farming and food, not because God was arbitrary, but because he was holy. If the Fall of Man rent the fabric of existence into the false divides of “spiritual” and “temporal,” the Incarnation of Christ stitched it back up again, endowing even the lowliest stuff of life with the potential to tell us something about who God is and what his love looks like. Somewhere along the way, however, we’ve lost touch with the essential earthiness of our faith. We have locked God up in churches and seminaries and ivory-towered constructs—or, at least, we have tried to. Taste and See is proof positive that God won’t be locked up, and that the world around us is fairly bristling, gleaming—one might almost say charged—with his glory.

Through lush, often tender cinematography and vulnerable personal narrative, Taste and See invites viewers into the worlds of ordinary men and women, from all walks of life and vocation, who embody this extraordinary hope. In the case of the pilot, it’s the story of Shomriel, whose exploration of her Jewish roots after the death of her mother leads her to the Adamah farming community deep in the wooded hills of Connecticut. There, within rhythms of prayer, work, community, and rest, she discovers the sacredness of the shared meal and the labor that went into preparing it—work not only of the fellows and staff, but of the earth itself. More than mere sustenance, food becomes a meaningful engagement with the realities of life and death.

In an era of disembodied religious practice and cultural isolation, Taste and See offers a delicious alternative: a faith that’s incarnational enough to pull up a chair to the goodness of God. Lanier Ivester

It is this very candor about death which gives this film its power—I would even say its authority. Without shying away from the some of the messier facts of life, Taste and See treats such facts with reverence. It is true: in order for us to eat, something had to die. Animal or vegetable, the cost of our life is life. But death is never the end. Life is always what God has in mind, for us and for his earth. As the Adamah community demonstrates, this is a blessing, but it is also a responsibility—from compost to goat husbandry, to cheesemaking and the breaking of bread, every facet of the process is treated with a gentle awe, gleaming through each scene like a golden thread.

Indeed, for a film so unapologetic about death, Taste and See is overwhelmingly characterized by delight. And not just in food, and the manifold tastes, flavors, textures and combinations God has provided, but in the people that delight is shared with.

“It’s easier not to care about people,” Shomriel says near the end of the film.

The risk, the very real prospect of loss, the uncertainties undergirding every meal we take together, threaten to keep us apart. Nevertheless, a very real joy prevails when we sit down at the tables of this life, opening ourselves, not only to community, but to a sense of our own belovedness. This, I think, approaches the question of why we eat together. As one of the directors of Adamah explains, the Temple used to be our point of communion with God. But the Temple has found a new altar in the Table—a table of which there are uncountable iterations the world over. Lesser iterations, to be sure, but no less equipped to connect us with something far greater than ourselves.

It can be tempting to over-spiritualize such weighty themes, to explain away the mystery to the point of utter unrecognizability. But this is a temptation which this film has evaded entirely. Without imposing meaning or engineering moments to suit an agenda, you get the sense that Brumme has simply shown up to something remarkably active and present in our world, available to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see—and, yes tastebuds to taste. In an era of disembodied religious practice and cultural isolation, Taste and See offers a delicious alternative: a faith that’s incarnational enough to pull up a chair to the goodness of God. We’re all welcome at that table.


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