It's not a secret that food issues tend to divide, isolate, and ruffle feathers.
After reading an interesting post a few weeks ago, I found myself chewing and chewing and chewing over the same question:
Does God care what we eat?
The more I chewed on this topic, the more I realized how impossible it is to answer in one blog post. Stuart and I even kicked around the idea of writing a small book on the subject matter – after all, food production and Jesus Christ are both passions of ours.
So as this idea fleshed out in my mind, I found myself flipping the coin continually – yes God does care what we eat, no God doesn't care what we eat.
These are questions, as a food producer, that I have to ask myself. Is what I'm doing important? Does a free-range chicken really matter? Are we under any sort of God-given-mandate to eat a certain way?
And while I continue to wrestle with this, I thought it best to point out a few things.
I'm the extreme foodie that I'm talking about
I care about food – call it a hobby, passion, favorite pastime, lifestyle choice, or what have you. But I am writing this article from the perspective of a foodie who gets up at dawn to milk her cow each day so that she can drink raw milk, make cultured butter and artisan cheeses. We bake our own traditionally prepared breads. Each day, we gather organic eggs from our free range hens. We maintain large, organic, heirloom vegetable gardens. We avoid prepackaged foods and GMOs when possible, preserve the summers bounty via dehydration and canning, and prepare all our meals from scratch. We grow our own pastured chickens and make bone broth from their heads and feet. We take a teaspoon of cod liver oil daily, incorporate lots of fermented foods in our diet, opt for naturopathic medicine if possible, and think breastfeeding our babies aids in a healthy gut and optimal development.
I am part of the foodie culture. But I am also a part of the Christian one.
Someone's gotta define the terms.
A lot of foodie conversation revolves around determining which food choices are “better” than others. But the difficulty with this conversation is that the term “better” remains undefined and carries with it a bag of assumptions. For example, a family on a tight budget may be able to accurately argue that non-organic food is “better” for them at the present moment – it enables them to get more food for their dollar (sure, we can argue about empty calories and long term effects, but not now) while at the exact same time an extremely health conscience individual could accurately argue that only organic food is “better” for them. In both cases the consumer is determining which is “better” for them, but the term “better” is defined by a different set of priorities and values. One values quantity. Another values quality. Another may value environmental effect, cost, ease of preparation, taste preference, or nutritional preference.
“Better” then becomes a term as defined by the consumer.
Each of us has a “better” as defined by ourselves. So when we talk about good, better, and best food choices it's important to note: we shouldn't assume we're talking about the same thing. It can make the argument a difficult one. Everyone in the conversation needs to recognize that we are defining our terms differently.
The Christian perspective
I am a Christian. This means that my entire view and the exploration of this topic is shaped by my worldview – that is, a Christian one. This is an important reality to note because while many may see this is a biased approach to answering the questions of food production, I see it as a pair of glasses with which I am able to see the world (as we all wear, whether it is ‘Christian glasses' or not).
Let me explain further.
From a Christian perspective, everything is understood by our union with Christ. Christ lived a perfect and holy life, was crucified, and rose again from the dead to atone for my sins. His holiness was given to me freely, as a gift. Christ is pure and in Him, I am pure as well.
What other great gift comes from this?
As my husband so often reminds me, “where God has not bound your conscience others are not free to”.
This is applicable to all sorts of areas in our lives: what kind of music we listen to, what color we paint our house, what car we drive, what work we do, what musical instruments we play, what food we eat, our hobbies, etc. We have a freedom to choose these things because God has not bound our conscience in regard to them.
From a Christian perspective, true freedom is only found in Christ and in Him, we are free to be individuals. We are free to wear skirts or jeans. We are free to listen to country music or folk music. We are free to go hiking or go waterskiing. We are free to eat cheese or eat McDonalds. We. Have. That. Freedom!
Isn't that great?
We don't have to look the same, act the same, behave the same, raise our children the same, worship the same, sing the same, or live the same where God has not directly instructed or convicted us. Diversity, as they say, is a beautiful thing.
So now that we've established a) the terms of the argument are defined by the consumer and b) as Christians we are free in Christ, the question becomes: has God directly instructed us on what to eat?
I'm telling ya folks, I don't think this is an easy answer. But after studying, praying, and grappling with it for some time now, I have to say: I think the answer is yes, though it's far from the dogmatic and false standards we've decided to impose on one another.
The reality is God has never said:
My people! You shall only drink raw milk from organic, pastured cows!
My people! You shall only eatest of the natural sweeteners!
My people! You shan't eat any genetically modified foods!
My people! You must only eat organic produce!
While I can easily say why these choices may be better (by my definition of better and the values and priorities which our family has set for ourselves), God has not established these same values and priorities for everyone. God doesn't care if we're gluten-free, vegan, or just a typical eater. God cares about our hearts. Not what's in our refrigerator.
Now, again, it's a difficult issue because I find myself wanting to argue a few points:
1. God did directly call us to be good stewards of His creation
2. Food fuels our bodies which are used then to serve the Lord in our calling
3. God HAS convicted some consumers about their food choices and that shouldn't be disregarded
4. Many negative aspects of our culture might be corrected by a reassessment of our set values and priorities
These are valid points, I believe, and not to be disregarded. But they also need to be debated, expanded and refined (that will serve better as a separate point of discussion).
What we've done and our hope for the future
Food is finite and temporal. It is a perfect example of taking something good that God has given to us to enjoy, only to have our sinful hearts twist and morph it into some sort of sick idol that will never bring us ultimate satisfaction. We cannot look to food as means of salvation, world peace, or for the meaning in this life. The answers to these questions and dilemmas are not in food. When we put our love of food (or anything else) above our love of Christ, we will never be ultimately satisfied.
The food culture tends to put food and healthy living up on a pedestal that is unable to support it. Good food choices will not save the world. The seeds of heirloom vegetables will be lost, animals will become existent, bees will die, resources will be exploited. I'm not saying that I want any of these things to happen or that we shouldn't fight to fix these issues (in fact, I think we should!) but what I'm simply pointing out is that our food choices will not ultimately and completely fix any of these problems because it's a fallen and broken world. Sin is present in this world and has grievously damaged it – perfection cannot be found in something broken. Try as we might, everyone in the world will not think/act/participate in what we wish them to. If we are looking to right the wrongs of mankind and fix it ourselves, we will forever be disappointed in the outcome. Individuals can accept this reality and simply grieve over the world's brokenness with no action, or they can take it upon themselves to completely heal and restore the wounds of this world. Both of these responses are inadequate. The Christian perspective allows me to avoid both ditches.
It is purposed for us to intentionally live in the brokenness of the world, all the while with a great hope of restoration. Christ promised that he would return to Earth to fully and completely redeem it once and for all. As I see the bees of this world vanish and reflect upon the countless other things that have already passed never to return, I gaze even more longingly towards that which is eternal and infinite.
The extinction of heirloom vegetable varieties doesn't make me curse conventional vegetable farmers who aren't doing “what they should be doing” in helping to preserve heirloom varieties. It simply makes me long for Christ, in whom is promised all the things that will never pass away.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I want you to know and experience the beautiful freedom you have in Christ. The pretentiousness of the food world can be suffocating, can't it? Do you ever feel like your choices aren't good enough? Do you hide the Cheerios in your diaper bag around your crunchy mama friends because you're embarrassed? Do you lie about your family's food choices so that you feel more accepted in your social circles? Do you feel like you're failing as a 21st century Mama in getting the perfect meal on the table three times a day?
Christ lived, died, and rose again so that you could know true freedom. God gave you personal choice and freedom in so many areas of life so that you could develop as an individual with individual tastes and preferences.
Don't feel guilty about a self-imposed standard that God has not set for you.
Don't look down on other people's food choices just because they eat differently than you, whether you see it as “better” or “worse”.
Give others the freedom to make choices for themselves. And love them. Because in Christ, God loves them. And you.