ALUMNI NEWS | FR. RAJ DERIVERA’S PODCAST AIMS TO SATISFY ‘ALL OF OUR CRAVINGS’!
PHOTO: Fr. Raj Derivera at his home studio
Ordained to the priesthood in 2016, Fr. Raj Derivera participated in The Rome Experience in 2011. Today, he is serving as Parochial Administrator of the Sacred Heart Church in Anderson, California (Diocese of Sacramento).
In addition to serving at his parish, Fr. Raj is the cohost of the podcast “Fam and Fed”—enticing listeners with clever foodie titles and puns, like: “‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!’ Yes, folks, that’s what we are talking about today. Pizza AND love. Or maybe it’s the love of pizza. Okay, that’s kinda cheesy, but just crust us, this episode is supreme any way you slice it.”
We are grateful to Fr. Raj for taking the time to update us on his ministry and podcast:
Q: Tell us about your podcast “Fam and Fed”: How did it come about? When did it launch? What topics do you talk about?
Fr. Raj: The idea for doing a podcast came about when I was assigned as the Chaplain for the Sacramento Newman Center. The center served students at Sacramento State University and surrounding community colleges. In my ministry as chaplain there, I worked alongside my good friend and Director of the Newman Center, Cecilia Flores. The nature of the ministry demanded we break bread often – food served at Young Adult Events, lunch meetings, coffee meetings, cooking at retreats, etc. It helped that the Sacramento Area has a great food scene – it has become locally known as America’s Farm-to-Fork capital. While eating, Cecilia and I would often get into lively discussions about food or the faith or both – or we would share stories about past ministry, or overall we would just have a good time in fellowship. The students started to notice this, they enjoyed listening to us, and they were the ones who suggested we start a podcast – so we did. In 2018, we recorded the first episode of Famished and Fed (a reference to Deuteronomy 8:3 – “He therefore let you be famished, and fed you with manna”).
But after recording a few episodes, as happens with those involved in ministry, this passion project hit the backburner. When 2020 came along, our good friends were running this faith and culture website called Urban Pyx, and so we joined their network and Famished and Fed came back to life.
The main focus of our podcast is to explore different food culture topics through the lens of the Catholic faith. Basically, we ask what is true, good, or beautiful about particular food topics – what can Ice Cream teach us about child-like faith? Why does Jesus use yeast as a symbol of faith? Can nachos be a sign of God’s providence? Are pregnancy cravings an echo of our desire for God? Questions like that with a lot of puns thrown into the mix.
Q: Why do you believe that food, good humor, and community have always been important to the Catholic faith? Is there a history and tradition behind it?
Fr. Raj: Wow. There are so many. I think the clearest historical tradition of food culture and community as part of the faith tradition can be seen in the various texts of Sacred Scripture – the images of eating in the Garden, images like bread, honey, fruits, and spices in the Old Testament, the wedding feast of Cana, the food parables of Jesus, the breaking of bread on the road to Emmaus. One of our favorite passages on the show is from John 21 when the Lord after his Resurrection appears to the apostles and invites them to a meal on the beach: “Come, have breakfast.”
And so, if it’s important for Jesus that much of his life and ministry revolved around food, then I think we too should find value in it.
Even the liturgy is somewhat food-centric – the banquet of heaven and earth.
Now, there are so many other deep connections between food and faith throughout history, I couldn’t even think about covering it all now, but that’s kind of the point of the podcast. We explore many of these connections in the podcast. For instance, do you know the Catholic connection to Donuts? Well, listen to the podcast. Allow me to share one of my favorite quotes that might sum it all up. This is from author and poet Hillaire Belloc:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Q: How are Catholic foodies helping to evangelize our culture? Can a healthy enjoyment of food help us to grow in friendship and love of God and others?
Fr. Raj: John Paul II in his Letter to Artists in 1999, quoted Dostoyevsky: “Beauty will save the world”. I believe that. I believe in a Beauty that draws us in, but it doesn’t leave us there. It doesn’t just attract us, it points us higher. That’s what I think the Catholic Foodie can do. As Social Media indicates, folks already recognize the good things about food, but maybe we can point folks to something deeper. Yes, pizza is intrinsically communal. Indeed, “Pizza is an invitation!” as one of our guests (and former Rome Experience participant) Fr. Jeremy Santos once exclaimed on the show – but that community doesn’t end there – nurturing friendships and sharing in fellowship should push us towards a desire to the eternal fellowship of Heaven.
The concept of the Urban Pyx network that our podcast is a member of builds off of the notion being all things to all people. And engaging folks through food is just one other way to reach out to all people.
Q: With the holidays approaching, what special foods and family traditions fill you with great expectation and joy? How can we use these traditions to truly welcome Jesus into our hearts and homes?
Fr. Raj: I’m excited for a lot of things. The holidays are great for Catholic foodies – so many food traditions, across many cultures. One of the things I usually get excited about is the Filipino tradition of Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo – it’s the novena of masses leading up to the celebration of Christmas, but it also involves sharing food with one another, usually with a potluck. This year, however, with the current situation with the pandemic, it will obviously be different. Some groups are getting creative and watching mass together, and then doing a zoom potluck party. Still finding a way to stay connected.
Another tradition that I really enjoy is this Filipino Dessert made special for Christmas called Bibingka. It is a rice cake cooked in banana leaves over charcoal, usually topped with sugar cheese, coconut, and a salted egg. Might sound strange, but trust me it is incredibly delicious. For me, memories of bibingka are so vivid – walking out of the Church on Christmas, and there are vendors making bibingka right outside in the plaza, the smell of charcoal burning, the ritual of waiting in line and putting your order in, the warmth of the bibingka in your hands, the combination of saltiness and sweet in each soft and fluffy bite. The whole experience is something that captivates all the senses – an echo of the liturgy. For me it’s a reminder of the incarnation. Jesus took on flesh and was born to our world on Christmas. Our faith is tangible, God wants to encounter us in our senses. And holiday food can remind us that if we allow it to.
Craving bibingka – and other festive foods – helps me to crave Jesus even more.
Q: How is the podcast helping you to grow in your own life of faith and in your ministry?
Fr. Raj: It definitely gives me ideas for homilies.
In fact, sometimes we bring on different guests who are professionals or experts or enthusiasts in these topics that allow me to learn a lot – in some ways it’s continued formation. For instance, on our Bread episode, we brought in two friends who are baking enthusiasts and in listening to them talk about their experiences it gave me a greater appreciation of all the bread and yeast references in the bible.
Another way that the Famished and Fed podcast has been a blessing for me is that in this crazy year that 2020 has been it’s allowed me to connect with other people in a new and different way – whether through the recording of the podcast or our interactions on social media it has been a great reminder that we are all still connected. For us, “fam” is short for “famished”, but it is also short for “family”. Connecting with Cece, and our guests and our listeners has really deepened my sense of family. And if anyway our podcast can be nourishment for any of our brothers and sisters out there, that is edifying for me. Like we say at the end of each episode: Come to the table, and stay fed, fam.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us? Where can our readers learn more about you and how can they tune in to “Fam and Fed”?
Fr. Raj: I just want to say thanks to all those who work with and support the Rome Experience. I was blessed to be a part of it way back in 2011, and the lessons I learned during my experience have had such a positive effect on my ministry, and even this podcast. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to experience some phenomenal food and eat a ton of Gelato. God is generous! You can find info about the podcast at https://urbanpyx.com/famandfed or find us on instagram @famandfed – and who knows, we might have an episode about the best Gelato in Rome in the future.