Can I Eat the Food at Communion?

Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!

Today is going to be a little bit different. We are discussing communion in the Christian Church. While this scenario doesn’t apply to everyone, it is a great example of how cultural expectations can be extremely challenging to navigate with a food allergy or intolerance.

Communion is an event that occurs during some Christian church services when church attendees eat bread and drink wine (or grape juice). We are not going to delve into the reasons for communion, but know that it is an important event in churches. The actual foods themselves can vary from church to church, but communion usually consists of eating some sort of bread product (a loaf of bread, flatbread, wafers, crackers, etc.) and some sort of drink (wine, grape juice, etc). 

Where there is food, there is also the possibility for food intolerances or allergies. So, what communion foods could have soy? The drink is probably okay (wine and grape juice don’t typically have soy), but there is a good chance that the bread has soy (not guaranteed: some wafers are okay as they are made of only flour and water, and some churches do bake or buy bread that happens to be soy-free).

 IMAGE VIA PIXABAY

IMAGE VIA PIXABAY

Communion is challenging because you don’t know if the food contains soy and you don't have an opportunity to ask anyone about the ingredients. (There is not time to ask about the ingredients during communion.) Even worse, communion often requires you to leave your seat before you have a chance to see the food itself, and before you have a chance to make a decision about the ingredients. This can put you in the very awkward spot of having social pressure to take communion (i.e., be standing in line for it) when you identify that you likely can’t eat the bread. Adding even more complexity, the bread and wine might be given directly to you by someone who has no idea that you might not be able to eat it. This can be very uncomfortable! Since the act of taking communion is an important event in most churches, it can feel excluding (both personally and socially) if you cannot take communion due to a food allergy or intolerance, and you might stand out if you do not eat the food.

So, what should you do? The first thing to know is that you never have to eat the food! Remember that you have a medical reason to not eat the bread, and that your health is extremely important. That being said, you may choose to try it once and see if you feel bad. This can be beneficial if you plan to return to the same church again and again. Churches tend to use the same foods for communion every time it happens, so once you identify a particular soy-free communion you should be safe to eat it going forward.

If you are already in line and determine that you cannot eat the bread, it is okay to politely say “no thanks” when you get to the bread and wine. This can often be an easier option than getting out of line before getting to the food. With communion, just do the best you can to first identify if you can eat the bread and then navigate the social situation of saying “no thanks” if you cannot.