One of the more popular tourist attractions in Atlanta, Georgia, is the Dekalb Farmer’s Market, which bills itself as “A World Market.” Once inside, a tourist and many locals who shop there regularly will find foodstuff from around the globe – spices from India, cheeses from Uruguay, produce from Mexico, wines from Italy, coffee from Kenya, and nuts from Israel, to name only a few examples of this worldwide selection. In addition to the food, the workers inside all wear name badges that include country of origin, including countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Nigeria, Russia, and Egypt.
The market is not unlike many other food markets throughout the United States that serve as culinary microcosms of global realities and diversity and that attract many Americans and visitors who value both the range of available choices to satisfy their tastes and the cross-cultural encounters and mixing that occur inside. Of course, the flip side to this domestic mélange of available food, spices, and beverages from around the globe is the vast amount of distinctive victual originating in America and exported to international markets, where, for example, individuals in Paris can buy artichokes grown in Northern California, shoppers in Mumbai can purchase a McDonald’s hamburger, connoisseurs in Brisbane can munch on peanuts from Georgia, and so on.
Why begin an essay about global religious realities in the United States with food? Certainly the material sustenance and gastronomic joys associated with food are light-years away from the immaterial powers and transcendent purposes associated with the life of the spirit, and the comfortable coexistence and the harmless plurality of many different foods under the same roof in a market are worlds apart from the tense conflicts and the dangerous interactions of different religions in the same city.