Our work life, our love life, and our food life—these phrases pretty well cover the range of human existence; and if we stretch “love life” to include our faith life (since faith informs the commitments of our loving), the coverage is complete. Within this context, it is fascinating how much of our lives is linked to the food part. We are indeed what we eat; physically we become what we consume.
Our family and social relationships are most frequently experienced around meals. For many of us, much of our work life—from farming, through processing, packaging, advertising, retailing, to cooking and serving—is food-related. And the physical side of this food life is a natural symbolic expression of our mental and spiritual life. Disorders related to the need to please others or to take charge of one's life can result in anorexia and bulimia.
Going deeper, religious literature speaks easily of our appetite for wisdom and understanding as a hunger and thirst of the spirit, satisfied only by a fitting relationship with the source of all, God. Biblical examples of this abound: see, for example. Psalm 23, Isaiah 49:10, Proverbs 9:5, or Sirach 15:3. The rabbis drew on this tradition when they interpreted the deeper meaning of manna of Exodus as symbolic of the Torah, the word of God which satisfies the hunger of the human spirit for wisdom and understanding.
These realities of human food life and biblical imagery help us grasp the power of Jesus’ assertion that he is the true bread from heaven. This is not first of all a reference to the Eucharist. It is first an application to Jesus of the sapiential (or wisdom) understanding of the manna tradition. It is he—known through faith as the Word of God made flesh and revealed most fully in his death and resurrection—who can satisfy our deepest hunger to know what life means and who we are in order to live it. Understood that way, the further application to Eucharist means even more.