What Happens When Broken People Eat Whole Foods?
Pondering the Spiritual Dynamics of Food Choice
By Dave Park
“Those dang hippies.” This is what I used to think to myself when I heard about those who were giving their lives to what I call a Moral Choice Health Diet. These diets are on the rise due to the ability to expose how corporations give us our food but this isn’t a new idea. In fact, it seems historically, that people and diets have gone together like peas and carrots (Forrest Gump reference). Hindus have been doing this sort of diet since the early Vedic periods reaching as far back as 5000 BCE. In the Western world, it all really started with The Orphics in the 6th century who abstained from anything that was of an animal (ancestor of the Plant-Based Diet) but can be traced even as far back as Herodotus who tells us of the Lotophagi, a people in the 4th century who only lived on the flesh of a Lotus plant. Ever since, there has been the spread and evolution of Moral Choice Health Diets. But the Moral Choice Health Diet, as old as its ancestors are, is essentially different and has social implications that beg investigation. “Those dang hippies…”
The 2000’s brought with it some interesting innovations and changes, especially for Gen Y’ers. There was a resurgence of anti-corporation ideologies in the sub-culture and we saw droves of young people flocking to mom-and-pop-style establishments once again. But it was an interesting mix. Unlike the hippies of the 1960’s, the new hipster generation went anti-establishment with iPhones and GPS’s. They were waving the magic wand of big-business technology while going to a 300 square foot natural foods market in Portland in search of the best local chickpeas. At the heart of it all, it was a search for true quality. The now booming celebrity chef industry showed us that there were things in the world like truffles and saffron. Apple was setting a new world standard for how people interacted with each other, and it was fast. The financial crises that hit the job market so cradled the anti-establishment mentality that young people didn’t ‘hippie’ as extremely as in the 1960’s. They still wore button downs to work but they were from Urban Outfitters instead of Banana Republic. Young Christians and for the first time in America, Asian Christians, were becoming social activists. Justice and Mercy were again at the forefront of the battle cries and people like Dave Park were scrambling to put together conferences to cater to such a crowd. What a world!
These different mentalities married together in a very interesting way. The revolutionist mentality challenged giant corporations like Monsanto and Tyson. These people were now armed with video cameras and now being backed by old but defiant scientists who had been writing about food safety for decades. Not only that, the rise of those now able and wanting of food choice had Trader Joe’s in each town they could go to for their whole wheat pizza dough. Then, backed by the veteran food safety warmongers of the science world, they went to battle. Videos of hundreds of chickens trapped in cages were coupled with crazy corn cows who screamed, “GRASS!!!!” Food scientists showed graphics of animal evil thingies that clogged principal arteries. The young people shouted, “Enough.” Thus, from the corned filled poopies of Monsanto, was born the Whole Foods, Sustainability, and Plant-Based Diets.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. But as we know, that’s not all. Mandi Ehman, a Christian writer and blogger, wrote an article last year entitled Food Choices Are Not a Moral Issue. In this, she tried to argue that food choice is not moral choice that should be judged by others. In the end, I was thoroughly confused about her title because her article seemed to argue, “Do not judge” rather than tell us that food choice is not a moral issue. She quoted from another blog by BLEAT:
A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self- definition - localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese - will find the casual carefree choices of the less- enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to the Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.
To this, Ehman argues that food choice is not something that she should be judged for and she called for her “Right to disagree.” She even went to 1 Corinthains 8 and ended with a note with practical applications on how to deal with the tensions of food choice. After reading Mandi Ehman’s article, I agree with her applications (Yes! Bring others to your home and be open-minded), but I disagree with her assessment of morality. Food choice IS a moral decision we make and YET we should not judge.
When the Ehmans and Lotophagis of the world make these choices, often it is based on moral issues. Those corn crazy cows invoke a visceral reaction in our bellies that touch on morality. In a pocket of United States history, diet was all about health. First, ice cream gave children polio (Freakonomics, baby!) Then we were supposed to eat more carbohydrates than anything else (oh, crazy old food pyramid…). Then a crazy man said carbohydrates was the enemy! Time to put the gloves on! And the mad man was right. I lost 100 pounds!…and then people said like it caused heart attacks or something like that. But throughout all these well-meaning food discoveries, the essential issue was health. And health could be derivative of morality in a distant sense, but the correlation between health and morality was not a straight line. The obese woman in the ‘hood was not considered ‘bad’ because she was obese. But then when she gave her two-year old son M&M’s for breakfast…the faces soured. The correlation was not direct and defined. That is, until the food choice revolution began to take place. Now Jamie Oliver was going to run down cities and proclaiming Food Messiah-ship. And all were to follow, or they were closed minded Neanderthals. On the other side of the boxing ring was Anthony Bourdain, who gobbled down six beers with pork belly fats and told you, “This is who you really are, don’t fight it.” In the same show, he would sit down with a lovely and so-cute-you-want-to-pinch-their-cheeks family to share the most meaningful meal he’s had in years. He was preaching a singular message: “Food tradition is at the heart of who a people is.” The pork belly fats of Europe have a thousand year old family tradition, and you hippies want to mess with that??? He seemed to say. Who’s right? Who has rightful claims to the food-souls of America? Was it the local Brussels sprouts in Jamie Oliver’s corner? Or was it the gravy and meatballs of Bourdain’s family dinners? There were now established two misguided caricatures in our minds: the Bacon Eating Epicurean from Monsanto and the Flower Picking Vegan from Trader Joe’s. And the kicker was: they declared war on each other. Not just a food war, but a who’s-right war. Now food choice wasn’t merely a health issue, but it was a moral dilemma and therefore a religious one.
I am not informed enough to write a hearty social commentary on the food choices of America. But I just observed the social dynamics happening around me and they made me curious. How serious is this mentality among the people? I’ve seen the guilt that some foods cause to my friends and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that other foods cause to my other friends L Over time, I began to get a sense of religiosity from all of it. This is not merely from my friends and family, but I’ve sensed it in myself also. I have gone from over 260lbs (but still handsome) to 160 lbs in one year. And ever since I have struggled to maintain a ‘manageable’ weight. In that, I realized that food, diet and appearance have had not only a physical affect on me, but a mental one and in turn, a spiritual one. There are really insidious sins of pride and guilt on both sides of health. I have been very prideful when I was running five to six miles a day. I have also felt pride when I wasn’t one of those superficial people who run five to six miles a day. I have felt guilt when I spent two hours a day at the gym and have felt guilt when I had to wipe the dust off of my gym membership card to Retro Fitness. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of sin?” (Romans 7:24) My first concern really isn’t the animals and Monsanto, but it’s the church. Even Rome with all of its evils rose and fell. So will every nation, company and way of life. But the church is God’s “green-sustainability” project for it’s going to be here forever. My concern is: “What if we save our bodies but hurt our souls? What good is that?”
Now, I know that we do not embark on a dietary journey with the intention to judge others or to make a big religious thing out of it. I’ve started many and have ended many. I know that the purpose is really just to take care of the bodies which God has entrusted to us. And I know the Christian movement for food choice isn’t really anti-establishment, but it’s a matter of proper stewardship. But as the journey continues, we realize that there are some who are not on the train tracks with us but rather on the sidelines. What do we say to them? I know that those on the outside (I consider myself one) look into the Food Choice movement and raise many questions about motives, results and implications. But we really aren’t trying to discourage anyone. But at the same time, there is a feeling that much of what we treasure and enjoy (all good gifts from God), are being bashed. Images of family dinners and meaningful meals come to mind. A grateful southern family holding hands to give thanks for the buttery holiday meal comes to mind. Both sides have valid values they are trying to protect and guard. Trader Joe is trying to love stewardship of both Creation and Body. These are mandates from God Himself! And Baconator is trying to preach acceptance and graciousness maybe even while not exercising them himself. Both sides have important things to bring to the table. No one means to berate any other, but in the process it seems to happen. What do we do?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God is the Word of God. And yes, 1 Corinthians is probably the most direct text that gives us the context for this issue, but I also take a look at 1 Corinthians 13. No, its not just for wedding ceremonies but it is pertinent for us. In the Corinthian church, there were some who had received amazing spiritual gifts. These were good things from the very hand of God. Some were able to speak in tongues like Paul could. Some were able to prophesy and even preach for the edification of others. Others were even able to heal physical bodies. They received pure and lovely things from the hand of God. But there was something funny going on too. These gifts were not helping the church, but hurting the church! Some others were judgmental of those who had the gifts and knowledge. They saw that these were good gifts, but the results were not edifying at all. Paul, not denying the importance of these gifts and acknowledging that they are good things from God said…”There is a more excellent way.”
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The ultimate question is whether we are loving to one another. Sorry Mandi Ehman, we are making ethical and moral choices in the church. And they are all different. In fact, we have whole groups of churches making different ethical choices just like this! But, we have something that is bigger than even our own ethical choices. We have God who calls us to bind all these difference choices together by love. Its only be the grace He gives that church members with different choices can worship together. He binds us. While ethical choices vary and abound, He is constant and calls us to love the brother or sister next to us as we love ourselves. Your body and his will fail. We have resurrected bodies waiting for us (not like Avatar though). With failing bodies he’s called us to love one another so much so that the world may see it and ask, “Why are you like that?”
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Here’s to good eating J