A Theology/Philosophy of Food – Part 2

Here are some final thoughts on food. I was thinking I would create one or two more separate posts, but it turns out that daily life doesn’t present me with much time or motivation for a lot of writing! So here is a hodgepodge of other diet/food related thoughts.

We are created to serve God by serving our neighbors. Does my body prevent me from doing my duty? What are the specific tasks that I must do?

Personally, I am a homeschooling mom with 4 children ages 6, 4, 3, and 1. I need to feed them, clothe them, teach them, and then have time and energy in the day to also try to be nice to my hard-working husband. To fulfill these tasks I need to be able to move around freely, bend over, lift moderately heavy items, and occasionally sprint towards a straying toddler or dog.

I also need to be able to change diapers, lift and pour pots and milk jugs, and sew buttons back on clothing. Those small handiwork tasks have proven to be more difficult over the years because I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and so I have numbness issues in my hands. I am definitely not as thin as I used to be, but I am perfectly capable of completing those larger full-body tasks. What I eat and the fact that I don’t workout is not keeping me from fulfilling the tasks that God has set before me. If they were then I would need to change what I could so that I could do my vocation. I am sure that I would do my tasks more cheerfully if I got more sleep, but unfortunately that factor is out of my control. Just ask my youngest.

For some of us, some things truly ARE harmful for our bodies. Those with certain diseases, allergies, and sensitivities should not eat what could make them sick. However, just because some people are lactose or gluten intolerant, or allergic to peanuts or shellfish, or have Crohn’s or diabetes, doesn’t mean every single one of us must be restricted to what are better food choices for those specific people.

We also should not get caught up in the idea that what we will eat will extend our lifetimes or make us better people. Only God knows the span of our days and how long we will live. We could have the healthiest bodies but still die young from accident or tragedy. We certainly cannot view our health, diet, and exercise habits as an insurance policy against death. Also, skinny does not equal healthy. Many people with chronic health problems are skinny, and unhealthily so, and so are some people that have had organ transplants.

With modern medicine even overweight people have been able to live long and relatively healthy lives. Disease and poor health are often a sign of old age regardless of body size. Spending time and effort to perfect our body image is usually no more than turning the body and its appearance into an idol.

God gave us bodies designed to work and serve. If our choices have made those bodies ineffective at work, we have sinned. If we are constantly striving to make our bodies look and feel better based on societal assumptions of beauty, we have sinned. Let’s strive for the happy medium of caring for God’s good creation of our bodies insofar that we can gladly do the tasks He gives us, for there is always work to do.

Advertisements

Guest Post – The Religion of Food: A Nurse’s Perspective

My sister is awesome and had this written before I have even taken the time to think about my next post for my Theology/Philosophy of Food series. The rest of this post will be her words.
——————————————————-

Let me start off by saying that the following expresses my opinion and I happen to be a nurse. My opinion is not to be taken as the opinion of most or all nurses, most or all medical professionals, and I am not a nutritionist. I am a bachelor’s degree prepared Registered Nurse who works on a floor that specializes in Oncology. While I have taken all of the classes concerning the disease process and treatment of cancers that all registered nurses take as well as a few additional classes at my place of employment, I have not yet received special certifications in chemotherapy or Oncology. Though I have more education and training in nutrition, preventative and curative medicine, and the disease process and treatment of cancers than the general public, I in no way claim to be an expert and my advice should not supersede or replace any of the advice that you have received from your medical doctor or a certified nutritionist. All opinions should be taken into account, but when in doubt, listen to those with the best training and education. In the case of diet and health promotion the BEST information comes from certified nutritionists and fully licensed and practicing medical doctors.

There is no doubt in my mind that food has taken over our lives. Our culture plasters pictures of near naked, impossibly thin women everywhere. It is to the point that if you venture onto the internet or out of the house to run errands for thirty minutes or more, you are practically guaranteed to see at least one of these pictures. There are two major problems with these images right away. First of all, a high percentage of the models that feature in the pictures are clinically anorexic. Secondly, almost all of these pictures are altered and airbrushed to further distort the images represented. The average American woman is five foot four inches tall and a size 16. The average model featured in these pictures, especially after alterations to the picture, is five foot nine plus and a size 0-2. These images alone are enough to set us up to be completely obsessed with body image and food.

There is a relatively new movement, especially among young adults, which is bringing our obsession with food to qualify as religious devotion. This group shuns anything that they do not view as all natural. Words such as “toxin” and “toxic” are being used to describe anything that has experienced any type of modification or other interference by man or machine. Genetically modified foods, processed, and manufactured are dirty words to this group. The words toxin and toxic have historically meant something that causes serious injury/illness or death. Quantifying something that is not even necessarily harmful to the body as “toxic” can create a lot of confusion and undue fear to those that are not familiar with this group’s liberal usage of the word. While there is nothing harmful in eating only organic, non-processed, non-modified, non-manufactured foods; there is not sufficient evidence that it is overly beneficial, especially when the high cost of these foods is factored in. Due to the increased demand for “organic” foods and the government red-tape companies have to go through to get their foods labeled as “organic,” the price difference between the “organic” foods and the foods sitting next to them on the shelves that have not been labeled “organic” is significant. Using a weekly ad from the grocery store that I frequent as an example, you can buy a 12 oz. bag of salad mix for $0.99 or 5 oz. of organic salad greens for $2.45. Organic food sometimes has different storage requirements and/or may spoil faster.

As I said, there is no harm in eating only “organic” food, but there is little proof of increased benefit, and there is definitely an increased cost. Especially among young adults, there is a lot of pressure to join the “all natural” movement. There are some practices in this movement in terms of their views on medicine, especially preventative medicine, which can be very harmful to the heath of the participant and detrimental to public health, but that is a topic for perhaps another blog. The main problem I have with this movement is the peer pressure and bullying that can sometimes arise should a person not follow these practices. For many the main issue is financial. There is also an increased time demand for following the “all natural” practices. Those specifically related to food include more frequent trips to the grocery store or farmers market due to more rapid spoilage, increased meal preparation time due to minimal prepackaged, frozen, or ready to eat foods, and for some time-demand of home-growing food and/or tending farm animals for eggs and milk and/or animals for butchering.

For those who have the time and money required to maintain an “all-natural/organic” diet, by all means go for it. There are some benefits to this type of diet, which I will more fully explain in a moment. However, this lifestyle is not for everyone, and that is ok. For some the issue is money, for others it is time. In our society, the majority of homes are two-income households with the kids enrolled in school and extracurricular activities outside of the home. Though this is definitely universal, money and/or time can be an issue in most American homes. Another reasonable issue is motivation. There is little evidence that even if time and money are not an issue that the extra effort is worth it. There are many simpler things that people can do to maximize their health and minimize their risks of diseases.

First and foremost, everything within the body is done at the genetic and chemical level. The body does not use a vegetable, but carbohydrates (specifically glucose), fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. The body needs a certain amount of carbs, protein, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fluids, and calories, but because everything is processed at the chemical level, in truth, the source doesn’t really matter. As long as everything that is needed is present, but not in excess, the body will process it effectively and will function properly. In theory, you could eat mostly “junk food” and get everything else from supplements, and experiments have been done doing just that with no harmful effects or weight gain. In theory there is no problem, in practice it is not that easy. Supplements can be used improperly and, let’s face it, if we are not full/satisfied by the food we eat, we are going to eat more.

Secondly, there are some foods that can increase the risk for health problems. When it comes to health problems, the primary culprit is genetics. Our genes regulate all growth, metabolic, immune, etc. processes. There is a reason why certain diseases run in families. Almost all of these diseases, though hardwired in your genes, require some sort of trigger. The number one trigger for most diseases, especially cancers, is cigarette smoking followed by exposure to asbestos, and carcinogenic chemical exposure whether by inhalation, consumption, or topical exposure (such as UV rays). Anything that has the potential to cause tissue damage (DNA damage) has the potential to cause cancer. There are many cancers that are caused by viruses even. I know of at least five cancers that are caused by HIV alone. Every time tissue (DNA) is damaged, it has to repair itself. Most of the time it repairs itself correctly. Often, if it repairs itself incorrectly the body recognizes the cells with the faulty DNA and kills them, though sometimes the cells with the bad DNA are missed. This is what causes cancer. There are some foods that are known to cause tissue damage when consumed frequently and in high amounts such as fatty and or/smoked meats which are linked to colorectal cancers. Obesity related diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and diabetes increase the risk of cancer. Any conditions that weaken the immune system (which usually finds and kills cancerous cells) can increase the risk for cancer. Excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and spicy/greasy foods can cause GERD or exacerbate it. Obviously any foods that cause allergies or food intolerance should be avoided due to the damage that can happen to the GI tract, respiratory system, or the skin (rash/hives).

The truth is, even if you do everything right, you can’t control your genes and you may still develop these diseases. So it all comes down to risk and benefit. What I suggest is treating food as what it is: fuel. Food is neither a friend or an enemy. All food is ok, but not all food is beneficial. I spent 12+ years trying diet after diet after diet, in the end netting a 100 pound weight GAIN. About a year and a half ago I finally decided that I was not going to spend the majority of my time thinking about food anymore whether by treating or denying myself. For the last year and a half I have eaten what I wanted when I wanted, stopped when I was full knowing that whenever I got hungry again, I could have whatever I wanted. In that time, I have actually lost 30 pounds. By allowing myself to eat what I wanted whenever I was hungry, no food is forbidden (which lead to binging when I would finally give into “temptation”) or put on a pedestal. I try to make reasonable choices and will sometimes make slight changes to my habits if I find that I am drinking too much soda for example. Is this the right way for everyone, of course not. I am a diet addict and to place any significant restrictions on my diet will almost surely trigger my dieting addiction. So far my method is working for me, but I do not recommend the same method to everybody.

What I do recommend is this: we need to fix our relationship with food. Food obsession leads to food addiction whether the addiction is to overeating or over-restricting. No food (besides that which would cause an allergic reaction) should be completely off limits. Any diet that is too restrictive is going to lead to cheating and binging. Anytime we depend on food for comfort, it will also lead to binging. Everyone needs to know their own triggers, their own limits, their own needs, and find their own balance. The food wars NEED TO STOP. No one way works for everyone. The “all natural” diet is great, in theory. In practice it can be too expensive, too time-consuming, or just not worth the effort. Success or failure in any lifestyle or diet does not make or break you as a person. The size 2 is not going to be in front of the size 22 in line to get to heaven. God does not judge us on what goes into our mouths, but on what comes out of them. The only meal with specific mandates in place is The Lord’s Supper. As for the rest, all is permitted, but not all is beneficial.

-MLM, RN

A Theology/Philosophy of Food – Part 1

It seems to me that we are in somewhat of a food war. Which is the best diet to eat? Are some foods toxic? Is it wrong to eat certain foods? Can we even call processed food “food”? Many conflicting viewpoints exist on what is the best food for the human body. One camp says that a vegetarian diet is best. Another says that a low/no carbohydrate diet is the best. Another says to avoid any processed/manufactured/packaged foods. The words “toxic” and “toxin” get thrown around as if they mean something less powerful than I have always understood them. The difference of opinion available among food “experts” can be overwhelming and confusing for those of us with a family and the desire to raise healthy, happy children.

Our American society has made an idol of the body. Movies and pictures show us skinny women with perfect skin and no extra weight. They show us men with well-toned muscles and no extra weight. We are told that we are lazy if we don’t exercise and that we are harming ourselves if we occasionally eat a candy bar. If we don’t have perfect looking bodies and eat whatever food is supposedly best for the human body then we are in the wrong. I think we need to approach the idolatry of the body in light of Christian freedom, vocation, and original sin.

Both 1 Corinthians 6 and 10 have the phrase, ““All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.” Chapter 6 goes on to say, ““All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.” Chapter 10 continues with ““All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” 1 Corinthians 6 is dealing with sexual immorality and 1 Corinthians 10 is dealing with food sacrificed to idols. However, both chapters are dealing with the burdened consciences of those trying to figure out how to live a God pleasing life and those who think they can do whatever they want without regard for what is right and what is wrong.

Christians are not obligated to follow any dietary laws. The Apostle Peter had a vision, as recorded in Acts 10, that told him that Jewish believers no longer were required to follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament. Christians especially are not required to follow these dietary laws, as Paul wrote much about not requiring Christians to become Jews in his epistles. Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” The world may argue over what food is, what is healthiest, what is best, but a Christian should remember that we have no obligation to make laws for ourselves. We should especially not call ideas of men the commandments of God.

Individual Christians can decide what they want to eat and feed their children, but should not push others about what they eat and feed their children. Food is not a salvation issue, not a doctrinal issue. The only food that is salvific and doctrinal is the Lord’s Supper, and Christians have been debating that topic for hundreds of years. If we want to talk about diets as Christians we should be discussing spiritual food and the Holy Meal provided by our Lord Jesus for our forgiveness and benefit.

In future posts I will talk about food in light of vocation and original sin. Today all I have time for is Christian freedom. I may also ask my RN sister to write a guest post about the physiology of the body in relation to food.

Chocolate Chip Sweet Potato Muffins

Since my husband became the pastor at our current church back in May 2012, we have received tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, homemade bread, corn on the cob, and sweet potatoes from various church members. While we live in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO, the area we live in used to be a farming community, so many of our church members grew up farming and still have home gardens.

When we first received sweet potatoes at the end of last Summer I had no idea what to do with them. I’d only really tried sweet potatoes once before, and they were too sweet for me in a savory dish. The typical sweet potato pie with marshmallows on top did not appeal to me, either. I wanted to do something with them, however, because I didn’t want them to go to waste. A few of them were passed on to my mother, one or two went to one of my sisters who had a baby at the time, and then I searched for recipes for what to do with the rest. I settled on using the sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin in a pumpkin pie recipe, which was delicious, and you couldn’t really tell the difference. I also found a Sweet Potato Muffin recipe on Rachael Ray’s website. Since chocolate chips make everything better (when a dessert recipe calls for nuts I always substitute in chocolate chips), I slightly modified her recipe by throwing some yummy chocolate in.

Today I boiled and mashed up some sweet potatoes to make into delicious muffins. My children enjoyed them, I enjoyed them, and I’m looking forward to eating some later.

Here’s the recipe for your enjoyment, straight from Rachael Ray’s website:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

Grease a standard 12-muffin pan or line with paper liners. (I often use a mini muffin tin instead for the kiddies.) Mix everything together until just combined, but don’t overmix or the muffins will turn out tough.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the middle comes out clean. The muffins should have a spring to them when you touch the center. Dump them onto the counter to cool.

I typically make mini-muffins, because my children eat them better than regular sized. Those should bake for 7-9 minutes. Also, feel free to add however much chocolate chips you would like. I know I will!

Dirty Work

As I was eating my breakfast and drinking my coffee this morning I read this article in WORLD Magazine. The article talks about getting our hands dirty when we are given work to do. The author mentions that she had pests in her garden that she tried to rid with insecticidal soap, but ultimately had to get down on her hands and knees and pick the destructive bugs out of her plants one-by-one.

The only way I found finally to defeat the harlequin bug was to get on my hands and knees in the lettuce bed, face down into the green leaves to pluck the little pests by hand, one by one, sometimes feeling their tiny pincer legs and their slime run down my grimy thumb before dropping them into a bucket of hot soapy water. I had to examine each leaf, up close, and sometimes chase the little bugs with my fingers through the dirt.

I can relate to that story because we found a destructive green worm in our garden a week or two ago. Fortunately, we found it early before it sapped the life from our tomato plant, or any other plants in our garden on which it may have also decided to munch. Again, fortunately, I had my husband to do the dirty work for me. He plucked the worm from the plant and dropped it into soapy water so that it could do no more harm.

Earlier in the article the author, Mindy Belz, mentions a story about how St. Paul’s Cathedral survived the London Blitz in 1940. A group of firefighters, called St. Paul’s Watch, looked after the building to ensure its preservation. StpaulsblitzThey got their hands dirty to preserve something that was important to them. The Cathedral would not have survived the Blitzkrieg’s bombs and the fires of London without the sweat and handiwork of those people.

Belz concludes her article with this thought:

In the incarnation of Jesus Christ—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)—we have the miraculous coming of God into the mire of life. In the coming of the Holy Spirit we His followers become His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), His hands and feet. Our translation even in this life gives us freedom to move toward people, toward problems. And sometimes to get our hands dirty.

The work God has given to us in this life is important. We need to get our hands dirty resisting temptation, serving our neighbors, and in doing such serving the Lord. But our work  will never be as great and glorious as the dirty work that Jesus accomplished on our behalf. He became one of us to redeem us. He took on lowly flesh to cleanse all flesh through His death and resurrection.

Thanks be to God that He loved us enough to come into the dirt of the world and save us.