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What Would Jesus Eat? Eschatology and Food Choices

There are many followers of Christ in this world who don't think much, if at all, about the connection between their food choices and their theology.  For many of these, there's a good chance they'll be eating a big slab of meat tonight, cooked over a fire, complemented by a pesticide laced salad, enhanced by an Italian Red, and washed down with coffee that was utterly affordable thanks to the rainforest that was cleared to increase the crop size.  None of these foods are seen as making a statement about their faith, but I'd argue that they do.  If I thought it was all going to burn up, especially in the near term (as I've been told it will, any day now, for the past 35 years), I'd join them in buying the most food for the least money.

Instead, I'll be having a slab of meat, a salad, red wine, and coffee, just like them, except utterly different. My meat will be grass fed, my salad organic and local, my wine from a local winery, and my coffee shade grown.  That is, at least, what I'll be eating when my food choices match my theology.  Believing that God's people are called to make God's good reign visible here and now in some small measure means that I need to make choices that exalt health, justice, and ecology (among other things) in all areas of my life, including "what's for dinner?"

Concerned about the state of environment and the horrible carbon footprint of the beef industry, I'd always believed that vegetarians were on to something, but could never manage to get there myself because when I tried, I'd be continually hungry and sick (not to mention that truth that I enjoy only about 1/2 the vegetables available).  A recent read called "The Vegetarian Myth"  (see intro here), written by a left wing activist former vegetarian, opened my eyes to the realities that the real culprit isn't meat or not meat; it's industrial agriculture.  Monocrops require heavy pesticides (oil), deplete the topsoil, which then requires heavy fertilization (oil), so that the crops can be maximized and then harvested by machine (oil), to then be shipped to warehousing locations (oil), where they'll either become something else (twinkies, made from oil), and/or shipped yet again to stores (more oil).  The problem is that this is our world, whether we're vegetarians are meat eaters, if we just run down to the supermarket and buy the cheapest beef and spinach on the market.

The food that comes out of this system is destructive to the human body, the earth, and industrial pork and cattle that inhabit it.  Why are we doing this?  Maximum profit of course, and cheap products.  Do we really think, even if Jesus were returning tomorrow, that He doesn't care about us trashing his planet, compromising our bodies, and torturing his animals like this?

On the other hand, if I buy, organic vegetables, and grass fed animal products, and as local as possible, several things happen:

1. I participate in a sustainable model that actually builds topsoil, rather than destroying it.

2. I dramatically lower my carbon footprint, by consuming things that required relatively small amounts of energy to produce.

3. I ennoble small farming and local economies, both of which are far healthier and more resilient than ADM, supermarket to the world.

4. I declare by my choices that monocrops and the forced migration of small farmers to the urban centers, a destructive global trend, is wrong.

5. I gain a healthy ratio of Omega 3- Omega 6 fats in my diet, and enjoy lower blood pressure, good heart health, and the taste of real, rather than industrial food.  I'm sick less, sleep better, and just generally feel more alive.

I'm as guilty as anyone regarding my food choices, even more so because I now know better and still choose cost and convenience way too often.  This conversation, if we take it seriously, is a portal to many other topics.  Since we who can afford to eat this way don't, how can we ever expect those with neither the means nor understanding to freely choose these healthy alternatives?  Is it enough to live 'alternatively', or is activism appropriate?  And if activism is appropriate (as I sometimes sense is the case), why do I feel like I'm wasting my time?  Wouldn't it be better to just grab a Big Mac and get on with handing out Bibles?

I welcome your thoughts!

Comments

Have you ever studied the effect of industrial agriculture on world hunger? Without farming as we know it today, much more of the world's population would starve. Organic farming could never support the world's population.

yes... I'm aware of the dilemma, and aware that there are debates about this because there are some biointensive farming methods which offer higher yields then conventional organic farming. These realities are why I said that 'having this discussion is a portal to more conversations'. Perhaps you're also aware that our current industrial farming model is unsustainable for more than 2 or 3 more decades, and that the rates of cancer among people under 30 continue to climb in our industrial agriculture climate. When the oil runs out, we'll face the same problem of world starvation, only without the luxury of slow transitions. Wouldn't it be better to have the conversation now rather than later?

From one guest to another, industrial farming is one of the reasons why smaller, local farms and family plots in poorer nations cannot feed their own populations. Huge companies either 1) come in and offer products far cheaper than what local, more sustainable farmers can offer and thus displace local economies, and/or 2) begin using technology that does increase productivity, for awhile. But eventually their machinery depletes the soil, crops are unable to resist pests, pesticides are then used, and the cycle continues. There are ways of farming that are sustainable, help the environment in which they are grown rather than hurt it, and provide opportunities for jobs and healthier food choices.

Thanks Richard for your post. I found it insightful and convicting. I have struggled with shopping at our local farmer's market, not because I am opposed to healthier, organic produce, but because of the cost. I have to continually remind myself that the extra few cents I pay per apple is contributing to maintaining a more local, healthy system for all of us.

I'm sorry, but it's simply not true that Industrial Ag. is the answer to world hunger. What about all the people that are starving today?
Please look into it more before you are totally convinced.
http://ukiahcommunityblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/fatal-harvest-the-tra...

Actually with out industrial agriculture we would HAVE the world population we have now which is out of balance.

Thanks for this post Richard. This is something my husband and I are extremely passionate about and are actually turning our yard into an urban farm. We're getting chickens very soon and already have 5 plots with veggies. This conversation is so needed. I blogged about it in a series in the Fall - here is a link to one of my posts about it: http://www.conversantlife.com/relationships/food-porn -- I wrote one a couple days later called Sterile Spirituality too that is about this topic as well.

Thanks for keeping the dialogue going!

Thanks Kristin... we've started our urban garden in Seattle last year, mostly with Kale and herbs. This year we're planning more southern exposure, with beans, peas, spinach, and of course, zucchini! Food is justice, and if Micah 6:8 means anything, we'd better be paying attention; not mention it's healthy!

Thanks for your thoughts! This has been a growing conversation among our friends lately. My wife and I are excited to move into a new house in spring where we can grow our own garden. I appreciate your suggestions to buy locally and organically.

I'm glad you posted about this. It's something I've been thinking of for a while and I agree that our theology needs to be reflected in all areas of our lives, including how we shop, what we eat, etc.

This is one of the main reasons I became a vegetarian, and I've been enjoying some great benefits of this new lifestyle. During about 9/12 of the year I buy most of my food from a farmer's market, which I walk or bike to. (It's closed in the winter.) I really hope more people will become informed about the big picture of how all this works together, rather than just ignorantly buying whatever is cheapest, which is often also not the healthiest option.

I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to talk to some actual *farmers* about the practices they use rather than relying on people who aren't even involved in agriculture for information.

I agree completely Stella. I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, with farming uncles and grandparents, and have conversations with friends who farm conventionally. They're wonderful people, struggling with these issues. I'm also friends with several organic farmers. I'm not suggesting, at all, that this issue is easy or one sided. I am suggesting that the conversation is important because the way we do it now is unsustainable for more than 30 or 40 years. It seems better to make changes now, gradually, than to have famine and plague make them for us later.

They say that, we are what we eat. It only means that the food that we consume affects not just our physical health but the whole of our being. - Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon

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The sunny days are fine because clarity allows for freedom of movement, and depth of vision. But don't forget the mist, where waters bless the parched soul, saturating us with grace and truth, providing needed sustenance for the journey.


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