Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Veg Origins: My Story (Part III)

Okay, this is the third and final post on my dietary explorations and how they came about: 

It didn't take long in the journey for me to realize that we as Americans are not “healthy” even if we think we are, and that fact alone makes me want to diverge from the norm. Unfortunately, merely opting for "wheat" bread as opposed to white, diet soda as opposed to regular or grass-fed beef as opposed to conventional, etc. is still a far cry from a diet proactively committed to health. Even avoiding meat and dairy altogether is a far cry from eating in a way that makes every calorie count toward nourishing our bodies. Tons of vegetarians and vegans can be just as unhealthy as your typical omnivore if they are simply avoiding certain “no” foods all while filling up on low-nutrient items to get their calories. (More on that here).

In fact, the point isn’t what we’re giving up at all. We like to think of things in terms of negation, but the concept of nutritional stewardship is much more attainable if we focus instead on what we can actively add to our diets to help our bodies thrive. The good news is that God has provided us with a wealth – and I mean a WEALTH! - of delicious foods in creation that enable our bodies to avoid and reverse disease, to maintain our moods and minds, and to help us live generally healthier, hopefully longer, self-controlled lives.

We know as Christians that everything worth having takes work and that everything worth enjoying requires self control (cough, sex). The reason why this concept hasn’t touched the area of food for many American Christians is still puzzling to me. Perhaps a lot of it originates with the prevalence of all the nutrition myths that have been misguiding us since grade school. The endlessly revised food pyramids, the cryptic RDA’s, and the contradictory news articles have left us very jaded, confused, and in many ways believing that we really are doing our best amid the informational chaos.

I think a lot of it also has to do with the fact that the Westernized diet of refined, meat, and dairy-based products really is extremely pleasurable, and therefore habit-forming, on a sensory level. Yes, we found out how to extract the most delicious qualities of food out of everything we can find while leaving its nutritional properties behind. Yes, we discovered that we can refine sugar into addictive crystals and that dumping it in everything from ketchup to cola will make our food more enjoyable (and marketable)! Okay, so we realized that putting preservatives in our perishables allows them to survive in a glass jar for 9 years without decomposing. Great! Kudos to us!

But ability does not authenticate ethicality; the mere fact of being able to do something, doesn't mean it's automatically in everyone's best interest to do them. The questionable compatibility of "can" and "should" arises in in many arenas: science, technology, politics, foreign policy, finances, etc. And we as Christians should analyze if the two always go hand-in-hand. Just because certain elements like fat, salt, sugar, additives, chemicals, etc. make food more scrumptious, appealing, and conveniently immortal doesn’t mean that we should encourage their consumption with little more than a blind hope for the best.

Rather, Christians are called to higher standards in everything, especially regarding the body and its appetites. "I appeal to you there, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1,2). And I know some of us might be thinking, "It's just food. What's the big deal? Does God really care if I subsist on Big Macs?"

But when we consider that eating is a highly pleasure-oriented necessity that we partake in three or more times a day, week after week, year after year, it's likely that God wants us to approach it with as much intellect, discipline, and prayerful discernment as we would other areas of devotion and stewardship. And so after all my research and soul-searching, I now feel compelled to regard food as a God-given pleasure akin to sex and to stop letting my stomach, rather than my brain, call all the shots.

And I fully consent that it might take more time, research, re-education, money (debatable), and self-denial to eat differently than the majority of Americans who are “digging their graves with forks and knives,” but aren’t we called to be counter-cultural and committed to excellence in everything else we do? Why is food any different? I think it’s because in a lot of ways, food addiction is this silent, culturally-accepted norm in American society and we simply take it for granted as such.

If anything's certain, it's that we live in an age that requires more vigilance than ever. With all this new lab technology and modernized convenience, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding the food we eat. We may not think we know what the effects of excessive animal protein, MSG, GMO’s, pesticides, fertilizers, dyes, teflon, and sodium benzoate will be with perfect clarity (although a slew of studies linking them to many of the diseases we “know and love” give us a convincing idea!). But I feel that it’s incumbent on us as Christians, in this period of doubt, experimentation, and obviously poor health, to reclaim an active role in these muddy waters of food and disease. Research commonly held American assumptions. Watch a movie or read a book that isn’t backed by the agendas and monetary interests of our food industries. Find out if what you’re eating and feeding your family is really going to lend itself to holistically healthy living. If you find out a truth that requires change, pray for the strength to make it.

Because it’s truly sad to see how food has created so many problems that could otherwise be non-issues for ourselves, our families, our children, and those who we were put on earth to minister to. And I know it’s not scientific, but a lot of my motivation comes from simply looking around. I see too much cancer and I’m fed up with it. I can count on two hands the people I know personally or indirectly who are facing cancer at early, unusual ages right now (not to mention the ones I’ve known who already fought the battle and lost). Too many children are diagnosed with ADHD, behavioral problems, constant viruses, and allergies. Too many adolescents and adults are falling prey to obesity, heart disease, and depression. These illnesses are happening en mass in what should be otherwise healthy people at healthy ages. We know these patterns are abnormal on a social scale because other cultures who don’t participate in our eating style rarely experience this running list of Westernized ailments; and yet they can quickly fall prey to them after adopting our diet (pointing to environment, not genes).

And I fully acknowledge that, in the final analysis, the buck stops with God. He holds the trump card and everything turns on the hinge of his will. We can eat clean, plant-based foods with perfection, juice ourselves till we’re tinted orange, and run a marathon on the weekly and still get smote by a truck or some other chronic illness that claims our lives if that’s what God’s written into the score.

And yet, God’s sovereignty doesn’t obviate our stewardship. We have a crucial role to play in the care and maintenance of everything we’ve been given: our cars, our houses, our families, our jobs. When something goes awry with one such possession due to negligence, our share of the blame is clear. We never (or at least shouldn't!) shake our fists at God for letting our car break down because we failed to fill the gas tank (this actually happened to me twice in a month… and it was definitely my fault). Our bodies fall under the same category of assigned stewardship, even though it seems like personal health should be God’s deal. We’ve been given a temple, God loves the body (we aren’t dualists, after all!) and He made it to do incredible things! In His thoughtful providence, He filled His creation with powerful foods to promote the health and longevity of those bodies. We just need to bring our responsibility and His resources together and allow Him do the rest!

Part I Here

Part II Here


  1. I meant to only post funny comments, but I got sucked in to reading your posts because this is something Heather and I have been wrestling with recently.

    The plain fact is that if you (the general "out there" you) are undisciplined in one area of your life, you are an undisciplined person. If you are undisciplined with food, you are an undisciplined person.

    I actually think that about 1/3 of the students should drop out of seminary because of lack of discipline. If someone in ministry can't manage the physical aspects of life (obviously, diseases and physical handicap are the exceptions), why should I listen to you about spiritual counsel?

    Keep up the good work, btw.

  2. Hey Chris! Thanks for reading and your feedback. I definitely agree that holistic discipline is an area that is hard to obtain and often overlooked. (I'm actually convicted that getting good sleep should be my next project...)

    I appreciate your insightful input on these issues and must say that our SPUR days definitely helped me to get the kingdom-now focus necessary to synthesize these ideas. I actually remember one day in the SPUR kitchen you made a comment about how you disagree with caffeine addictions and I, coffee-addict that I was, thought to myself "that's nice for you, but pass me the java!" Haha. Oh, how the Lord works on us... :)