Thursday, September 18, 2008

Food Dilema

The best thing about a good song is the beat. Now a days, people are always making iPod playlists, car soundtracks, and video montages with that perfect song because life is just a bit better when walking to a beat. This is most likely one of the biggest driving forces behind the sales and the obsession with the iPod. According to arecent study there are approximately 70 million current iPod users. [1] Take a second and think about that number. An average heart beats103,680 beats in a day. That means that if music was blood, there is enough music being played in to give 67,515 people breath. These white ear-buds give it’s owners the ability to drown out the societal noises of cars honking, baristas screaming and even their own thoughts and get lost in a rhythm that seems tobeat the same thump-thump of the emotions of their heart. But why, why must there be anelectronic phenomenon to create this rhythm? Is this world so chaotic that ears must be stuffed full ofbeats in order to truly hear? Must footsteps really be in tune to the latest and greatest song, or were they meantto hit the pavement to different sort of rhythm?

The Old Testament is filled with rituals, dietary laws, and festivals all centered around food. Celebrated yearly, at the same time, and with the same guidelines, these feasts and festivals imprinted a rhythm on the lives of the Jewish nation. They were feasts the Israelites could count on, rules they knew like the back of their hand, and blessings which they hoped for. These rituals have been continued on till today, and food holds the central part of the guidelines. One Rabbi refers to these festivals as a map of understanding and referenced these festivals as “lodgings for travelers making their way throughthe year.”[2] They have become more than holidays, but instead sign posts of the cyclical calendar of food and Scripture. Remembrance of provision. This calendar puts into place a seamless connection between food theology and God, and unlike in the Church today, they went together like peanut butter and jelly,not like water and oil.
Take the Passover meal. Today, it’s known as communion. Some take it weekly, some monthly and others never have really gotten the point of it. The communion meal began as Jesus’ Passover dinner. It commemorated the Exodusfrom Egypt and served as a reminder of God’s provision and faithfulness among His people. This story was knownby everyone who was Jewish, and so the Passover meal played a central role in their faith. Food, not only in Passover, but other contexts as well, became the beat that held the rhythm of remembering God’s faithfulness together. Could it be, that this rhythmic pattern of food has been lost in culture today? The number of people with eating disorders is three times the number of people who are diagnosed with AIDS.[3] If that is not shocking, then perhaps the fact that 15% of women who are pregnant have eating disorders and will give birth to babies who are malnourished. Globally, the price of grains and bread has sky-rocketed by 83%[4],making something as easy as bread to buy be close to impossible to some foreign countries, yet in some parts of the world there is an over abundance of food. Didn’t Jesus teach His followers to pray for “daily bread?” Why, then, is it so hard to find? In 1970, the average amount of food available to an average person was 1,675 pounds of food in one year. Since then, it has jumped by16% and now the average person has 1,950 pounds of food available a year. [5]With more food, then shouldn’t there be less starvation? The problem is that with the rise in food production, there has been a rise in food consumption. On average, people are consuming 42% more calories a day, and people are 74% more likely to be obese than in 1970 yet over half of Americans do not think their diet needs to change.[6] The statistics are jumping all over the board, but so is humanity. Food in overabundance and in deficiency costs $250 billion dollars in medical costs a year with over half (53.3%) of caused deaths. On some level the issue is overweight and underweight-neither are healthy. But on the other, more prominent hand, the question should not be pertaining to the amount of food available, but what is done with that which has been given. God gives man authority to enjoy food and drink in Genesis. In the New Testament Christ feeds 5,000 with two loves of bread and a few fish. However, how come these essentials to life have become so incredibly mis-treated?

Over eating, hording, under-eating, starvation and wastefulness is an epidemic that is just as awful as the starving children in the Sudan, and honestly; it’s worse. Many can afford the food but it has so much control over their hearts that they choose to starve themselves. One of the top three causes of death in America is dieting.[7]What sort of rhythm is that? Thisis just as awful as the consumption of food going up…whether we are eating too much or too little, there is not a rhythm in our lives and it is invading that which has been designed to remind us of God’s provision.

Close in on Sarah. She is a seventeen-year-old girl who, like most her age, is struggling with her body. Is she too skinny? Too fat? To dark? Too light? As she harmlessly posesthese questions in her mind, she begins to dissect her being. Day after day she dissects a bit farther and it’s not long until that scalpel has penetrated her core. She begins to hate the way she looks and she wants to change it, and so as she flips through the TV commercials, she can’t help but notice that food seems to be the proposed answer. Drink Juice for 72 hours. Eat only vegetables. Count calories. Get the results you want. Overwhelmed by all the choices, she walks away decides to try the mall. Determined, she begins to control her intake of food, her exercise habits…which eventually, will controlher body…her mind…and the way she views everything else.

About 45 million Americans diet each year, spending about $1 to 2 billion dollars on weight loss programs a year.[8] Whatever happened to a balanced diet and regular exercise? The truth is that that takes time, money and effort, none of which people have excess of. Weight Watchers is the only diet that has proven effects of weight loss, and this program takes lots of time and effort[9]. One must calculate out food, can’t eat whatever they want, and must exercise as part of the program. Other fad diets, like manufactured pills, eating only a certain kind of food, and never having to exercise give results for a few hours or few days at best, but do not show long term change. This is because food is not meant to be consumed in this way; it is meant for health, balance, structure and a reminder of that which is sacred.

God chose to use food to explain His Kingdom fully aware of the imbalance. Manna was given to Israelites in the Exodus on a daily basis, each day they were given what they needed for that day alone. No more and no less. In fact, if anyone tried to save some for the next day because they did not believe it would be provided, it would be inedible in the morning. In addition, Jesus begs His followers not to worry about food and drink, because He knows it will be provided for them. But in a culture that is obsessed with diet and control, he provision of God’s kingdom is not understood, because there is not a practice of understanding the provision of health that comes from food.

Fast forward six years down the road from Sarah’s teen years. She is now 23 and after long sessions of eating disorder counseling, countless sharing of her testimony, and daily battles, she has stepped over the bridge of mental turmoil and into a place of healing. She can eat her food now and not think of the calories, she can go to the gym because she enjoys it, and she can look in the mirror and believe that she is beautiful. However, regardless of what she eats, how much she eats, and what she does for exercise, Sarah seems to struggle with other issues in her life that never seemed to important before. She has no money. How will she pay off her loans? Payrent? She is constantly worried about the well being of her family. Are they safe? And after a string of hopeless relationships she begins to wonder if she will ever get married. Like any “good” Christian would do, Sarah opens her Bible to the teaching of Jesus. She is immediately faced with parables,examples, writings, of that which used to haunt her: food. Banquets. Feasts. Wedding dinners. Feeding 5,000 out of two loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus relies on food to tell about the provision of His Kingdom. It is open to all, and will provide for all. But Sarah is so used to controlling food and the results which it will produce, she is having a hard time fighting off controlling the Kingdom in her own life.

The treatment and understanding of food should be parallel to the treatment and understanding of the Gospel . Unfortunately, the power asserted over food and the effect it has, has been transferred into power over the Gospel. Paul warns the Church about this power struggle Romans 14. In fact, he uses food as an example of a divisive nature. He knows that food has the ability to separate and to judge, just as much as it has the ability to bring people together. So in a world that is divided much by food, a correct diagnosis of the problem is needed. In a recent study, 6 out of 10 Americans say that Aids and poor nutrition are the most serious problems in Africa. By ignorance, we have labeled Africa as the only place with these problems. What is not seen, is that globally, 88% of Africa suffers from poor nutrition and 80% of the rest of the world suffers from it as well. The problem cannot be diagnosed as only pertaining to under-developed countries. Foreign Aid policiesare often marked by needs which are thought the most important, but often they are grossly mistaken. Instead, it must be understood that it is an epidemic that has invaded humankind. As Christians, it as part of the cycle of this world, but also as having deep ties to Christ and the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately food as the source of life is marked by control, doubt, greed, waste, gluttony and pride and the deeper understanding that food is supposed to give has been lost. Is the current state of food consumption a reflection on the consumption of the Gospel? Pick and choose what tastes good, what will give the desired results, and throw the rest to those who we think need to hear it.


[2] Strassfeld,Michael. The Jewish Holidays, Harper Quill. New York, 2001.p 1




[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid



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