FOODSCAPES:l GASTRONOMY, THEOLOGIES, AND SPIRITUALITIES, Asian Feminist Theological Orientation

Ecclesia of Women in Asia’s 8th Biennial Conference
Venue: Vietnam
Date: January 18-21, 2018

Ecclesia of Women in Asia is a forum of Asian Catholic women theologians and women doing theology in Asia. Our name “Ecclesia of Women in Asia” expresses the desire of women to enter the mainstream Church as fully responsible ecclesial participants and partners in the life of the Church. EWA seeks to bring to consciousness that women are Church and always have been Church. The sub-theme of the first conference, “Voices of the Silenced” is open-ended. It enables women theologians to re-name Asian women’s spiritual powers, to redefine our collective struggle of doing theology, and reconstruct the distinctive nature of our emancipatory theological reflection.EWA 8 Conference will be held at the Catholic Pastoral Center, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on January 18-21, 2018. The theme of the conference is Foodscapes: Gastronomy, Theologies and Spiritualities, Catholic Asian Feminist Theological Orientation.A foodscape connotes “plate-full” of issues and spectrum connected to food, vis-à-vis health, environment and ecology, cultures, politics, economics, spirituality, and theology.

Food discourse in the context of Asian women’s issues and concerns needs an enlightened response because food is part of our culinary culture and community life.

Given the stereotype of women as “bearers” or “contributors” of culture, it is not surprising that women are at the heart and center of the discourse surrounding food, health and the environment. Women are traditionally regarded as “the mother-nurturer,” and therefore often regarded as “cooks” and “helpers” In many Asian cultures, still retain the “caste at the table”, where women are last in the list who “must” eat the meal. On the one hand, food is common to feasting or celebrations, how simple this may be. Food is also medicinal, which traditionally is incorporated in dishes if not, are made into medicines, or plainly taken raw. Because food plays a pivotal role in the caring identity of women, food as medicine reinforces the belief that women are healers.

A dialogue with Pope Francis Laudato Si is an opportunity for a greater recognition of women’s role in the Church and her community. Food in particular as well as other issues surrounding it is an integral part of humanity and our reality, and that is timely that Catholic Asian women respond to the “signs of the times”.

Context of the theme: abundance in some places of the world and hunger in others; politics of food (based on caste, religion), climate change; in the context of global capitalism.

Related Spirituality and Theological themes: Laudato Si, ecofeminism, eucharist, fasting, vegetarianism, relationship with creation, vocation of a business leader, fair trade.

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PAPER PRESENTATIONS:

Mary Yuen: Hong Kong
Food Security and Food Waste: Reflection from Laudato Si and Ecofeminist Perspective

In this paper, I will examine the social phenomenon of food security and food waste and its root causes. I will offer theological reflection with insights from Pope Francis’ recent social encyclical Laudato Si and ecofeminist theology and theories. Pope Francis suggests that together with people’s obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes. However, like deep ecology, Laudato Si and other church teachings neglect the crucial role played by patriarchy in shaping the cultural categories responsible for humanity’s domination. Thus, I will employ ecofeminist perspective to enrich my reflection. At the end, I will discuss some pastoral responses, with examples in Hong Kong, to transform the oppressive relationships that lead to food waste, showing no respect to the nature and the need of the poor.

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Shalini Mulackal: India
Dalit Women and Foodscape: A Subaltern Feminist Perspective

Jesus of the Gospels challenges the situation of Dalit women of India in many ways. He breaks the caste and gender barriers of Jewish society when he asks for water from a Samaritan woman and enters into a dialogue with her. His table fellowship with the sinners and tax collectors is subversive in a situation where social intercourse between people especially sharing of meal at the same table is not allowed between the caste people and the dalits. Jesus’ acts of feeding the hungry at many occasions not only challenges the gender stereotype of ascribing the feeding and nurturing role solely on women but also affirms the participation of women in his mission whenever and wherever women are engaged in such activities.

Bincy Matthews: India
Diminishing Supper, Increasing Love: The Anointing Mary (12:1-8) and the Footwashing Jesus (13:1-20) as the Representors of Asian Women

In the Gospel of John, the anointing of Jesus’ feet (Jn 12:1-8) and the washing of the disciple’s feet (Jn 13:1-20) are set in a meal context. However, in these two narratives John is much less concerned with the meal as such but rather goes beyond the meal setting to a metaphorical meaning. Some scholars find a close connection between these two narratives while others do not find such a correspondence. However, the stories not only have an interconnection but also have a connection with the Lukan representation of Mary choosing the better part (cf. Lk 10:42). Jesus in his appreciation of Mary’s act, which has a clear connection with his hour, invites Martha to imitate Mary who chose to be at Jesus’ feet. Thus, the Lukan and the Johannine Jesus invites all women who interiorise their traditional roles and duties to come out of their enclosed walls to choose ‘the better part.’ In this paper, we will first analyse some of the traditional interpretations given to the interconnection between John 12:1-8 and 13:1-20. In the second part, we will offer a new understanding of the connection between these two pericope taking also into account Lk 10:42. In the third part, we will critically apply the result of our investigation to the context of Asian women from a Normativity of the Future Approach.

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Cyrilla Chakalakal: India
Food, Memory Hunger: Women and Eucharist

The mother in feeding the baby gives her life to the baby and in the process she gets emaciated. Who more than a mother can say this is my body this is my blood given to you. The “Take and eat, take and drink” of the Eucharistic of the calumniation, compassionate invitation to hungry crowds and famished individuals. Together with strong hunger for food there is also a hunger for the food of recognition, inclusion, equality, and acceptance. Earth is the great altar and the bread is made up of humanities especially women who are in agony, exploitation, marginalization and pained. Kneaded with the flour together with the million tear-drop shed every day for a woman who long for a new heaven and new earth for freedom and equality.

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Cresencia Gabijan: Philippines
Spirituality Of Fasting

Fasting is an integral part of religions old and new all over the world. Usually the fast is to do without food, which is a basic necessity for human survival. Fasting can also involve doing without other activities that give pleasure and satisfaction to humans. Motivations for fasting range from self-purification in repentance for one’s sinful condition, for inner healing or for spiritual discipline that brings one to obey the will of God. Today, fasting has become a theme for climate activists. In 2014, the Global Catholic Climate Movement dedicated its Lenten Fast for Climate Justice in support of Pope Francis’ call for climate action, and to confront what he calls “a globalization of indifference” by reducing human carbon footprint and increasing spiritual footprint. Fasting is also a means to express solidarity with people in need. By skipping a meal, several groups are able to help the victims of violence in its multiforms. It is a prime training ground to learn to submit one’s flesh to the Spirit. Hence, fasting can constitute a spirituality in response to the “global indifference” towards our neighbors and the whole universe, our common Home.

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Jeane Peracullo: Philippines
Animal Liberation and Rights: Should we be Vegetarians?

The paper examines the arguments presented by environmental philosophers Peter Singer, Tom Regan and Carol Adams on the ethical bases for vegetarianism. They demand the re-appraisal of the place of nonhuman beings in ethical theories, invite the consideration of the relationship between ecology and ethics and encourage reflection on the relationship of humans with nature. They hold that extending moral consideration to animals emphasizes the importance of nonhumans in our midst. It brings into the forefront the plight of animals that suffer from the attitude of humans who exploit the belief that humanity, as species, is the apex of creation. The paper argues however that adherence to language of rights, interest and justice with regard to humans’ ethical relationship with animals is an inadequate environmental ethic. A contextual, ethical vegetarianism is a better way to account for the complex and nuanced interaction as well as connection that humans have with nonhuman animals.

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Rachel Joyce Marie Sanchez: Philippines
Rice as Life

In the context of the importance of rice in Philippine society and in response to hunger experienced in an urban poor community, women of a particular Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) initiate and observe “Isang Dakot ng Bigas” (One Handful of Rice), a practice wherein members of BECs contribute rice grains for members of the community in dire need. This turns out to have life-giving effects for the BEC and its active members’ neighbors. The significance of rice is reflected in many myths in the Philippines. One of these myths is a narrative about the origin of rice from Bohol. It that tells of a goddess who, moved by compassion for the poor, selects what used to be an insignificant weed, and squeezes both her breasts upon it for milk until even blood comes out in order to make rice grains. This goddess is explored as a Christ-figure by bringing out Christological themes from her story, such as compassion for the poor, consecration, sacrifice and creativity. When this Christological image is viewed in the context of the experiences of women involved in “Isang Dakot ng Bigas,” it can be seen as liberating, but it must also be taken with a grain of salt. The image of a sacrificing mother that emerges from the myth may lead to further enslavement for women. However, instead of “giving until it hurts”, the women of the BEC show that sharing can be done by everyone creatively.

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Kristin Meneses: Philippines
Death-by-Abundance: The Daqar of Hunger in Lamentations 4.9

Today, there are instant meals that are produced, packed, stored and sold for working people on the go, while there are some restaurants that offer “Eat-All-You-Can” or “All-You-Can-Eat” to satisfy your cravings, as if there is no tomorrow. In the country where this writer is based, you will find places to eat in every corner of the street. In fact, there are now “Food Hub” or “Food Hive” where you can choose between 8-10 food stalls; it is an alternative venue for family and friends to hang around. All these projects that food is abundant in the world. However, there are places in the world where hunger and starvation continue to happen. Why and how come “death-by-abundance” happens?

In this paper, the writer will look at the perennial problem of hunger vis-à-vis our projection of abundance. After presenting the foodscape of hunger-abundance, she will attempt to make sense of this contemporary moral problem by a two-pole reading of the scripture. First, she will present a Jewish reading of daqar in the Book of Lamentations vis-à-vis Tisha B’Av (one of the Jewish Holidays). Second, she will engage in a critical reading of Lamentations 4.9. From a dialogue between the concern on hunger-abundance and the scripture employ the two views, this writer will present a theological reflection to conclude her paper.

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Heejung Adele Cho: South Korea/Canada
Animals as Fellow Creatures of God: Welfare of Farmed Animals Based on Laudato Si

In this paper, I will argue that strong faith-based reasons are found in Laudato Si that exhorts Christians to carefully consider consuming animal products derived from the factory farming industry. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si proposes the Franciscan vision in which other creatures of God are our sisters and brothers. The encyclical states: “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the lease of beings is the object of [God’s] love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection” (LS, 77). In contrast to this Franciscan vision, farmed animals are disallowed flourishing as God’s creation when they are prohibited from their natural behaviors. This paper will unpack the complex issues regarding the welfare of animals in factory farms and encourage Christians not to participate in systems that disallow the flourishing of our fellow creatures. Moreover, I will also discuss practical concerns such as boycotting and the limitations of it, emphasizing the necessity for the greater awareness of cruelty against animals in the national and international level.

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Stephanie Ann Puen: China, USA
Women and Food Justice: Insights from the Vocation of a Business Leader and the Fair Trade Movement

Food justice and security have become important concerns given the growing population in today’s world. Various movements have organized themselves, from the larger Fair Trade movement, to the smaller, local urban gardening. However, while women make up a large portion of those working in creating and distributing food, they are often also the ones who do not receive fair compensation for their work.

This paper therefore discusses the valuable role of women in agriculture, the Fair Trade movement, and discusses what insights and suggestions can be given towards improving the situation of women in the food industry through the use of the concepts “good goods, good work, and good wealth” in the Vocation of a Business Leader document by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. While this document advocates for fair labor practices, it does not say much about what this will look like and mean for women, and how this can affect what “good goods, good work, and good wealth” are. This paper thus addresses this lacunae by expounding on what “good goods, good work, and good wealth” mean in the food justice movement for women.

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Kochurani Abraham: India
Women in Labour: Food Security to Birthing their Full Humanity

This paper explores the gender gaps in food security from a feminist theological framework. It looks at the deprivations women experience in factors related to food production and consumption such as entitlements to land, opportunities to work , just wages and the like and shows how these deprivations point to the denial of their effective agency. These factors are set against the backdrop of the social, cultural and economic constraints that inform women’s lives particularly in cultures marked by patriarchy. In a context like India, the paper looks at religion as a decisive factor in shaping women’s destiny. Besides, it examines critically the hegemonic codes of religion that allots to man ‘headship’ over woman in the household and in socio- religious structures, which in turn legitimizes the cultural and economic norms of women’s subordination, thus making blunt their capacity for resistance.On a counter-hegemonic note, a case study of the Kudumbasree project of Kerala, India is presented. Through this case study, attempts are made to articulate a feminist theology that makes a shift from the text to the texture of women’s lives, even as women continue to labour in their struggle towards birthing their full humanity and their rightful place in society.

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Astrid Lobo Gajiwala: India
You Are What You Eat: Exploring the Politics of Food in India

In India, people are characterized by what they eat. People will identify themselves as “vegetarian” or “non-vegetarian”, thereby not just admitting to a particular dietary preference, but to a specific religion, caste, region, culture and worldview. This classification determines whom one marries, where one lives, whose house one can enter, and where and with whom one dines. It is a culture that reflects the fastidiousness of the Jews of the Old Testament with regard to the eating of “unclean food” and the mingling with those who ate such food.

A new development in recent years is the manipulation of food habits by political parties to gain votes. Vegetarianism is a trait usually shared by the upper castes who are its traditional vote banks. Most Hindus revere the cow as a symbol of the Divine’s generosity to humankind. A number of States have banned the slaughter of cows and the serving of beef with severe penalties, indicating the hegemony of the Hindu majority over the beef eating lower castes and the Muslim minority, both of whose livelihoods depend on the cow trade. All of this has led to “othering” even of the Christian minority. How can the Church respond to this changing political scenario that seeks to destroy diversity and impose a uniform Hindu nation? How does this turn of event affect the self-understanding of the Church?

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Sharon Bong: Malaysia
You Are What You Eat: The Ethics Of Eating Meat And Queer Ecofeminism

This paper problematizes the conflation of vegetarianism even veganism as a prototypical ecofeminist ethic. In doing so, it aims to uncover the deeper relationality between human and animal that goes beyond the anthropocentrism embedded in Laudato Si (2015) and most feminisms including ecological feminism or ecofeminism. Within a Christian framework, the human created in the image of God is given dominion over the earth and non-human species. Within a feminist framework, human rights and women’s human rights are accorded to the human by virtue of their humanness. In this sense, animal ‘rights’ is not only oxymoronic, but also not a priority for feminists given the all-consuming battle against gender-based violence. Within an ecofeminist framework, the parallelism of the domination of man over woman and nature is foregrounded with non-human species remaining at large, an “absent referent” or not made adequately visible, as Carol J. Adams in her seminal text The Sexual Politics of Meat (2006), puts it. And where non-human species are attended to by ecofeminists, the persistent call to eschew eating meat and the produce of animals—to become vegetarian and vegan, respectively—thus engenders a vegan-cum-ecofeminist politics and spirituality. The need to problematize this standpoint is thus necessary as a radical ethics of care for “our common home”, emerges from an almost post-Christian de-centring of the human in creation. The paper offers a critical reading of Laudato Si from a queer ecofeminist lens, that situates the human not external from the food chain and organic continuum not of humanity per se but rather the creation and the cosmos.

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Rasika Pieris: Sri Lanka

From a Literal well to a well of eternal water: a theological reading of the Samaritan woman’s meeting with Jesus in the light of the struggle of women in Sri Lanka

In the context of Sri Lanka (SL), it is not misguided to claim that food practices are gender based. They shed light on a broader cultural, religious and economic analysis. Not eating together, not sharing the same food and differences between food practices based on gender differences signify distance, the hierarchical attitude and exclusion of people due to their gender, ethnicity and class. Despite these factors women in their roles as wives and mothers are discriminated against. These types of eating habits in Sri Lankan cultures on one hand, express a variety of identities of men and women and the separation among people in the country. On the other hand women’s relationship to food practice and the relationship between women and food portray how women produce and resist gender constructions they have been experiencing for centuries.

Being conscious of the living experience of women in female headed families in SL, this paper explores how the Samaritan woman who could have been widowed or abandoned or divorced journeys from a man-made well to a well of eternal water. This journey marks four significant crossroads namely; (1) Jesus asking for water as he is thirsty, (2) sharing the vessel in the midst of dialogue, (3) the woman asking for living water and (4) the woman becoming conscious of the great potential within her.. The transforming interaction between Jesus – a Jew and a Man – and the unnamed Woman who is a ‘Samaritan’ and a ‘Woman’ – reaches a climax where the woman becomes aware of the living water that Jesus promised to give her which symbolizes an ever-lasting flow that is directly linked to life itself. Finally, unlike the disciples of Jesus who went to the city to buy bread, the Samaritan woman went to the city to spread the news of the Bread of life and the ever-flowing living water whilst using her own voice that was silenced by the existing hegemonies in her society.