I have have been observing food issues for quite some time now as a person living in America. I can’t present an exhaustive discussion of food issues in a single blog post, but I want to start putting order to some of my scattered thoughts as I live in a culture bound and determined to influence my view of food.
- Do I eat organic or vegan?
- Do I avoid GMO’s?
- Should I have a garden?
- If I don’t have a garden, should I feel guilty?
Though this post answers none of these questions, common conversations about such matters have spurred my own pursuit of God’s perspective on food. I will share today some examples of what I have dubbed food gone wrong and conclude with my simple food “anchors” that provide some biblical sanity in a country of dietary complexity. As always, my aim to is explore what God thinks about it all in order to align my life to His ways.
God wants me to take care of my body.
My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and my Savior calls me to use my life to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Therefore, I desire to live long and well. At the time of my death, I want to be found actively serving God in the fullest capacity possible with whatever physical abilities, mental faculties, emotional health and spiritual maturity I possess at the time I leave earth and enter an eternity in heaven.
So, yes, I need to take care of my body.
But now what?
Here are some examples of food gone wrong.
FOOD MADE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OBEDIENCE TO GOD
In the garden of Eden, obedience to God meant not eating from a particular tree (Genesis 2:16-17). However, in response to temptation:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen. 3:6)
In this scene, food was more important than obedience to God.
FOOD MADE AN ALL-CONSUMING PRIORITY (ADDICTION)
I have certainly engaged in the over-consumption of food (eating more than I needed), eating unhealthily (calling a cookie chased down with coffee a breakfast), and comforting myself with food (eating ice cream instead of taking my aching heart to God in prayer). These are all examples of food gone wrong. Such incidents are addressed in my personal life as they occur but are not addressed today.
What is addressed today is the reality that food can become an addiction that leads to a diagnosed eating disorder. I have watched some people struggle with food addiction and have paid bills received from a clinic and a counselor specializing in eating disorders.
As an example, I know a girl who was born with a propensity for counting. Her earliest memories include counting the number of steps each time she ascended or descended.
Counting steps 1, 2, 3…
This same girl was at a pool party in middle school when a friend made a comment about her fat stomach.
This same girl later went to college and was introduced to the concept of counting calories.
Apple 1, 2, 3…Bread 1, 2, 3…
Counting to get rid of that stomach, a stray sentence that arrowed right into her psyche as young girl and was never pulled out.
Somehow food became too important. Restriction became all-consuming. An eating disorder took over.
FOOD MADE A STATUS SYMBOL
Years ago I sat at an event and listened to people discussing their organic food diet, their food purchasing practices, and their low opinion of anyone who ate otherwise. The prices being tossed around were out of my budget at the time and I could not have joined into the lifestyle I was hearing about if I wanted to.
It wasn’t the conversation so much that still hangs in my head years later, quite frankly, but the tone.
Did I hear a tone of self-righteousness, a better-than-thou attitude, pride? I might have.
And all I could think about as I sat there and listened were the millions of people on the globe walking miles to a river to bring back water in a bucket to their family. And I knew such people were not conversing about what organic grains they ate, but were scrounging for what they could find and grateful for any food they received.
Extremely healthy dietary standards are only possible in wealthy segments of society where both the availability and purchasing power for such high quality foods exist. I believe I have watched this combination of factors produce a form of food snobbery.
And food snobbery can lead to being prideful, feeling superior to others who are still buying GMO apples and canned tomato soup to eat with their grilled cheese sandwiches on white bread.
In such cases, food becomes a measuring stick instead of a nutrient.
FOOD MADE MORE IMPORTANT THAN RELATIONSHIPS
My granddaughter suffered from daily belly aches until eating gluten-free. No more hurting tummy. Her dietary restrictions are necessary and grandma is grateful!
I babysat a girl years ago who was allergic to milk. It was not fun watching her struggle to breathe after even touching a surface on which milk had been wiped up. I interacted with servers at restaurants who were too casual and cavalier about answering my questions about food ingredients. It was frustrating trying to keep my precious charge out of danger and enforce her necessary dietary restrictions.
But some people (many people) seem to have adopted dietary restrictions by choice. In and of itself, that is not the problem, it’s that they hold onto those restrictions with an iron-clad grip and will not let them go…ever.
Even if they are invited to someone’s house for dinner.
Though I gladly make necessary arrangements to serve food to my guests that accommodate their needs, there is a stress level involved in doing so. If I don’t have their food, or can’t serve their diet…then either I invite them with added stress of accommodation…or I don’t invite them at all because quite frankly, it’s easier.
In such cases, food then interferes with relationship.
The question becomes: Am I interfering in the relationship because I am not accommodating their diet, or are they interfering in the relationship by holding onto their unnecessary diet restrictions even in response to an invitation?
PERSONAL FOOD ANCHORS THAT KEEP ME SAFE IN A WORLD OF FOOD DANGERS
After years of contending with and observing these examples of food gone wrong, I thought it would be helpful to share the biblical anchors for my current eating practices. In other words, how do I make my way through this mire of dietary talk while living in such as way as to live long and well in active service to God? You see, I want to say with Paul, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24) I want to be found making disciples of all nations… (Matthew 28: 19) I pray that I be like David: For when David had served God’s purposes in his own generation, he fell asleep…(Acts 13:36). Here are my simple, no-nonsense anchors:
Anchor #1: I keep my eating habits a secret.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food….So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. (Romans 14:19, 20, 22)
I never want food to interfere with any relationship I have with any person. I do not want anyone to hesitate to invite me to a meal or wonder if I am going to eat what I am served. I never want someone to serve me a meal and wonder if it was good enough or feel guilty because it was made with white flour, canned soup and non-organic meat.
None of that matters. What matters is the person I am with and the conversation we are having. So no one needs to know my private eating practices. (Please note: I have no necessary dietary restrictions.)
Anchor #2: I eat what I am served.
I eat how I believe God has asked me to eat at home based on my budget, time, family lifestyle and preference, but those food boundaries are permeable, always giving way to the surpassing importance of relationship.
Jesus seems to agree with this when he sent out the seventy-two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 10:1). He instructed them, When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you (Luke 10: 8).
Anchor #3: I do not discuss food.
It all goes back to that little girl who learned to count calories and turn food into numerical values. Even now my son is engaged in a school project that involves the careful analysis and comparison of nutritional labels. I now know that such a school lesson can stick in all the wrong places in the psyche of a little boy or girl who will later experience food gone wrong.
May God guard my mouth so there is no discussion about body shapes and sizes, portions or calorie-counting at my table. By God’s grace, may my table be a place where people are celebrated, God is talked about and food is enjoyed.
Anchor #4: I thank God for my food.
I think there is something in the thanking that makes the food miraculously sustain our bodies. When Jesus fed the crowds, He first thanked God for the provision.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied….The number of those who ate were four thousand, besides women and children. (Matthew 15:36, 37, 38)
So I thank God for my food, and lately, I have been doing it this way:
Father, thank you for this meal. You didn’t need to give it to me. Please use it to nourish me so that I can live long and well for you.
God can answer this prayer…
whether I am in a tent in front of a tin cup of river water and a wooden bowl of porridge, or eating a meal with friends at McDonald’s, or in the privacy of my own home eating as He has deemed fit for me.
I can say this prayer…
- over any food served to me
- in front of anyone with which I am enjoying the food.
- over my food purchases within my personal budget, lifestyle and family restrictions.
It would be difficult for individuals to say this prayer…
- if they were about to drown their emotions in a package of Oreo cookies, or
- if they had carefully checked the calories of their meal as part of a self-devised, restrictive plan to stay under a limited amount of calories in a prison built from rules God did not create.
Thanking God for my food helps me walk a pleasant path in a world pushing me to do food wrong.
And that, my dear readers, is the gist of how I make my way through the world of eating in my country in the 21st century.
If you happen to struggle with such matters and need professional help from a biblical perspective, here are two resources in Atlanta.
I hope this blog entry blessed you.
As for the pictures: Nothing like an active boy to keep me focused on what is more important than food….relationship.
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