There was, what we might call, a little hubbub in response to my recent post, The Soggy Reasoning of Crunchy Mamas. If you didn’t catch it, it might be best to read that first before moving on to these points, but hopefully the following will stand alone. We shall see. The comments and feedback I received were, on the whole, gracious, but many asked for follow up and clarification. As I think that would be helpful to the discussion, here goes.
- Above all, we must be biblically minded. We are seeking to shape our families, churches and communities in a way that glorifies God and is clearly Christian. Therefore, when it comes to food we know that the underlying principle is that we should eat to the glory of God. Paul, in addressing the controversy in Corinth, regarding meat sacrificed to idols, gave us a principle which I believe may be applied here,”Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1Co 10:31).” Our end goal is to glorify God. I would assume that my Christian readers would agree with me here. We’re on the same page, same team.
- Paul gave this warning in Philippians 3:18-19 “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” We might think this is addressing the gluttonous pagan orgies and feasts; however, given the context (Phi. 3:1-6), it seems plain to me that Paul is actually concerned here with Judaizers dragging Gentile believers in Philippi into the trap of thinking that if you really want to be considered God’s people you need to eat in a Kosher way. In our modern lingo, this “judaizing” might be phrased more along these lines, “Because we are to be good stewards of our bodies, we really need to be careful that we aren’t putting poison inside of us, and thus dishonor God.” Notice that it frames food considerations in a way which could stumble some souls into believing that in order to truly honor God they need to eat in the gluten-free, GMO-free, free range, all-organic, naturopathic way. It is this “judaizing” temptation which I see as a greater temptation for conservative Christians.
- Which leads me to this third point, in my experience, in the Christian circles I run in, obesity, “junk” food, and binge eating are in the minority. Precisely because of Paul’s admonition that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and the prohibition against gluttony (Pro. 23:2), Christians generally (again, in my observation and experience) are not as likely to be obese or given to “junk” food. They are prone to create a New Covenant version of the Pharisees’ food codes. This is what my Crunchy Mama post set out to address. Let me use a different issue. Say I wrote a post someday (which I probably will) about the dangers of an “intelligentsia” in Christian circles; I might point out how academic study of God’s Word can become a form of idolatry. In response to this, some might complain “why didn’t you address doctrinal illiteracy, don’t you know some people don’t even read their Bibles at all?” In addressing one problem–in this case Crunchy Mama evangelism–I am not negligent of the fact that there are certainly problems in our society that have resulted from “junk” food (i.e. obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.). As Christians, we need to have our “pet-sins” exposed; in this case it comes in the guise of health food fads.
- We must resist the asceticist and gnostic temptation to put the sin in the stuff. Sin isn’t in the Microwave dinners; maybe not even cancer. The industrial revolution brought us an age of convenience, and around the 1950s there was a temptation to view “pre-made meals” as what “responsible” homemakers did for their family; this sort of pressure and food-imperialism was also wrong. I believe we are in the midst of a pendulum swing in reaction to our mothers’ and grandmothers’ approach to homemaking. This is why we see an overemphasis on all the food snobbery, and this is especially directed towards “pre-made meals.” In Crunchy Mamas’ crusade against processed food, there is a real tendency to overhype the “toxicity” of refined sugars, artificial flavorings, etc.
However, with all food choices we have to ask what we are comparing it to. Microwave meals perhaps aren’t the ideal as a general rule for Christian mealtimes (see point 6). However, take for instance, a single person with some form of physical handicap or impairment (i.e. a missing arm or paralysis), who may not have much money and few friends or family. In this case, microwave meals should be seen as (for the most part) a blessing. There is no sin here. It is really incredible that we live in an age where food of some form is available in greater abundance than at any time in history. Microwave meals, processed foods, artificial flavorings are in this sense a real blessing. Are there perhaps “bugs” that need to be worked out (i.e. carcinogens in some of the artificial ingredients)? Sure. This shouldn’t prohibit us from exploring how to use the materials God has filled this world with to bring sustenance and nourishment to each person. As this article wonderfully illustrates, with the right data points ANYTHING (even “organically” grown broccoli) can be made into a cancer-causing freak-food to be avoided at all cost.
- The emphasis should be on the meal rather than the food.Now for some principles that I believe should guide how Christian families should, as a general practice, approach food & mealtimes. First of all, the emphasis should be on the meal rather than the food. “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife (Pro 17:1).” And: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith (Pro 15:17).” Notice that the wisdom taught to us here, which is intended to preserve our life (Pr. 2:11), emphasizes the gathering together in peace, love, and joy as being of greater importance than what is on the table. Better a microwave dinner with cheerful peace and loving fellowship, than a plate of paleo with a side of smugness, strife, bitterness, fear, and insecurity salad. We want feasts, not foibles, at the dinner table.We want feasts, not foibles, at the dinner table.
- If possible, a Christian family should take the husband’s hard earned cash, buy various groceries, and the wife (as the keeper of the home) should oversee the transformation of those raw ingredients into a marvelous creation of scrumptious dishes. She is to beautify the simple ingredients, and turn them into something else entirely. This is her calling. Make whatever she will, but make it glorious. While a factory worker could do the same thing, we should lean towards how God has uniquely gifted women with beautifying things. She takes wheat, oil, yeast, sugar, and water and makes a loaf of bread. She takes egg whites, confectioners sugar, vanilla flavoring (real or artificial), and turns it into a meringue to end the feast with. Not every family or person will be able to do this, but this is what we should aim for.
Though some commenters on my original post seemed to think I was advocating for processed food only (see point 3), ironically, our family eats what is probably considered healthy. My wife wonderfully makes most of our meals from scratch. But we also usually have some Doritos in the pantry, Dr. Pepper is most likely in the fridge, and ice cream in the freezer. We don’t lose sleep over whether our tomatoes have pesticides on them; or what level of toxicity is in our pantry. I just planted my first attempt at a garden. There are busy days when it is a blessing to enjoy the convenience of a frozen, store-bought lasagna. We receive the garden-fresh vegetables (which I hope to harvest later this year), AND the factory processed meal with gratitude. That frozen meal is someone’s livelihood and the way in which they are putting food on the table for their family. If I am to be a thoroughgoing Christian in all of life, I must give thanks for this, and scarf it down with nary a thought about how this could affect my gut health.
- Eternal life is not found in temporal meals (whether that meal is a hot-pocket or an all-organic, homemade soup). The goal of earthly bread is to remind us of that heavenly bread which came down from the Father (John 6:49-50). We were made to eat, and in fact, eating was part of God’s first instructions to man (Gen. 1:29). However, earthly food will never bring the eternal life which only God’s Spirit can impart. My primary concern with the food-fussing of Crunchy Mamas is that there is a distinct sub-culture in the organic, health food world and it is largely driven by secular-minded folks (i.e. the hippie sort, yoga-pant moms, metrosexual urbanites). These godless groups are searching for ethical purpose and many are turning to food codes to satiate that desire, as these two articles show (The New Religion & Purity Through Food).
So, when I see Christian women jumping on the bandwagon of certain food fads, largely propagated by godless subcultures I want to give a caution. For many of these women, it is almost inevitable that they will not stop with just that food fad. What starts as “eating healthy” moves on from “discovery” to so-called “discovery”, and leads them to spend money on expensive supplements, superfoods, and to shop at allegedly “all-organic” markets. To illustrate, Celiacs disease is a real thing, and doctors prescribe avoiding gluten for those who have been diagnosed. This, I think, has given rise to the perception that gluten-free is a wise health choice for the broader populace, even though “there is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population.” But sadly, we hear stories like this one, of this couple which self-diagnosed their infant as dairy-free and gluten intolerant, and so they kept it on a quinoa-milk diet; it passed away from malnutrition. This is clearly an intolerable way of life for Christians to maintain. We are to trust that this body withers away despite what sort of food we eat to sustain this fragile thing we call life. It is only the Gospel which can impart eternal life, no food code.
- Pleasure & enjoyment should be the overarching atmosphere. Are there big, noisy “mmm–mmm–mmm’s” around the table? Does the family push back from the table rub their bellies and sigh, “Oh that was good!” That is a sign that things are going well. Furthermore, thankfulness sanctifies food, as Paul declares in 1 Timothy 4:4-5: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” Our family mealtimes should be practice for the wedding feast of the Lamb. There only joy will be found, no food-fussing.
We should be care-free when it comes to what food is on the table.Which is why we should be, in large part, care-free when it comes to what food is on the table. Of course, we should be mindful about what we eat, but not anxious. You could eat only marshmallows or only kale. Neither is sinful. However, the hedonist who eats only sweets will face the consequences of his marshmallow diet, and the ascetic who eats only kale will face the consequences. We should be cautious of the temptations found in both food-Hedonism and food-Judaism.
- Do not push against technological developments as intrinsically evil. The big food companies have made some mistakes, and our bodies perhaps suffer as a result of these errors. That said, as Christians we should push harder for exploring the marvelous ways in which the raw materials of earth can be transformed into other things. This is a dominion issue. If you’ve ever eaten bread, beer, cheese, soda, vinegar, etc. you’ve tasted the hard work of centuries of mankind’s endeavor to understand and harness the wonders found in God’s world.
You realize that the choices of farmers in 3000B.C. affect you today? As they learned to cultivate their crops, one of the first things they did was modify the grain. They chose the best stalks and didn’t harvest them for food, but saved them for the next planting season. So, in our day, a scientist studying the genetic structure of a certain crop, can evaluate the best components for growing healthier crops more quickly and more abundantly than at any other point in history. That is remarkable! God intended us to get our hands into the ground, and to learn to subdue this creation. He intended for us to order it, cultivate it, and tame it.
- Finally, all things belong to God, and were created by Him and for Him. Every artificial flavoring that the big food factories mix into processed foods exists in God’s World. Garden fresh green beans and Velveeta Cheese are both made with molecules God made, owns, and exerts His sovereign sway over. God has seen fit to fill us with a drive to discover and explore. That drive has brought us to an age where you can have oranges anytime of the year, factories can mass-produce bread that rivals Grandma’s best recipe, scientists are trying their hand at art and creating pink pineapples, and many other marvelous instances of mankind taking dominion of this planet. All this discovery should not displace the glory of a family meal, provided and prepared with love by mom and dad, but should augment the wonderful blessings God has filled this world with.
That’s probably more than enough for now. So, to riff on a pun: call me a health food fad skeptic; just don’t call me late for dinner.