An Apology for Real Food
The first definition of “apology” in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary is “a formal justification, defense.” This is the working definition I’d like to use in this blog, defending real food. Readers who are Confessional Lutherans can appreciate this use of the term, found in the title of one of our founding documents, “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession” written by Philipp Melanchthon.
Here are my thoughts and reflections regarding food and faith, developed from conversations I’ve had over the past year and a half. They are in a conversational format. The following isn’t exhaustive, nor necessarily what I believe to be an exclusively correct position, but it allows for further discussion and dialogue.
What’s your personal philosophy of food?
There was a time when I would have said that food has next to nothing to do with faith. If that’s where you’re at, I understand.
Food matters to bodies. And bodies matter to souls. “Nutritional nihilhism,” or the belief that what we eat doesn’t really matter to our body, severs food from its obvious God-given connection to the body. This is similar to how Gnosticism severs the body from its obvious God-given connection to the soul. To sever food from body reinforces the heresy of severing body and soul.
What would satisfy me toward the pursuit of a “Christian Worldview of Eating”? That we can live a virtuous life governed by moderation and reason, not impulses toward food. That Christians admit that nourishing their bodies is a sign of sanctified living. That we pursue knowledge toward that end. That we be good stewards of the environment and animals that God gave to us to rule over. That we use Natural Law to help us sift through hearsay about food and determine what’s healthy. That we thank and praise God for the gift of our bodies, which He will restore perfectly in Heaven, and do what we can with what we know to care for them in thanksgiving for the gift of salvation in His Son.
Do you trust in your food choices to save you?
My hope, for both earthly and spiritual life, is in God alone. He is my Rock and my Redeemer. He alone has washed me from my sins and made me clean in the blood of Christ, making eternal life after death my own.
I also thank Him for daily gifts here on Earth, including food and a mind that can think and reason. I don’t believe healthful food choices are a good work that merit my salvation; rather they are a good work I do for myself and my family as thanksgiving for the Good Gift of forgiveness that God has so freely given me, both daily and eternally. All talk of wholesome food is to be understood in that context: not a hope in itself, but a blessing lived out in faith.
No food can condemn to hell; Christ has already paid the price for our redemption. But our food choices surely have consequences for our bodies here on Earth.
Can diseases be caused by poor food choices? Doesn’t that undermine God’s sovereignty? And what about individual genetics that we have no power to control?
Illness exists because of our sin-corrupted nature in a fallen world. But, humans also gain disease by making specific choices that can, at least in part, contribute to the crippling of the body. A car accident can lead to trauma because of the nature of the tragedy, but it’s all the more likely to end in death if a person doesn’t buckle up.
There’s a distinction that needs to be made between a person being born with a disability and a person knowingly harming his or her body by direct actions, thus bringing illness upon him or herself. While I certainly agree that God is ultimately in control and allows illness with or without a person’s action contributing to it, at some level, eating “junk” is testing God.
I am not saying it’s a sin to drink a soda. But I am trying to point out that small choices over a lifetime can add up into disease.
We cannot control which genes we receive, but we do have some control over how those genes express themselves. The field of epigenetics reveals the relationship between our genetic inheritance and our nutritional choices. Think of your genes like the orchestra, and epigenetics like the conductor. How you behave, specifically your eating and lifestyle choices, can suppress weak genes from expressing themselves. We are not helpless victims! That being said, it is possible to do everything “right” and still become sick. That’s life under the cross, and as Christians, we can still see much “pruning” and character development taking place during suffering. But if we can use research to help our bodies stay strong and healthy, it makes sense to do so.
The Bible doesn’t give us specifics of what to eat or not eat, therefore our food choices are adiaphora.
Among Confessional Lutherans, the term “adiaphora” originally referred to church rites neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God. It did not mean that anything not expressly forbidden in Scripture was permissible. Even though God did not prescribe a certain diet for all time, the subject of food isn't necessarily neutral to Christians.
However, there are many passages in which God did give instructions to His people regarding food—see Genesis 1:29, 2:16–17, 3:18–19; 9:1–3; Leviticus 11; Acts 10:9–23. Christians today are not bound by Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws, but we may find wisdom there. (For example, shrimp was considered unclean by the standards of the Mosiac Law; today, research shows shrimp can be a source of highly concentrated chemicals because of its location at the bottom of the food chain.)
Beyond the specifics of diet, though, the Bible does have a lot to say about the act of eating, and especially the topic of gluttony.
Is it really a sin to overeat?
It does seem clear from Scriptures that overeating is a sin—it’s mentioned alongside drunkenness, equated with laziness, and definitely not a fruit of self-control. I want to be faithful to God’s Word, even if what it says isn’t popular.
I (not the Bible) would even go a step further and posit that gluttony applies not just to the amount of food we eat, but also its quality. Chemicals have accommodated gluttony—we can eat larger portions with fewer calories, ironically ending up less satisfied as a result.
We’ve all over-eaten. This blog post isn’t about making you feel guilty for that. We turn our sins over to Christ at the cross, who forgives every sin, including our sins of over-eating. But we also go forth empowered by the Holy Spirit to live new lives that aren’t characterized by sin, but by love.
Isn’t it okay to have a treat once in awhile?
Yes, have a treat! But realize what a “treat” is and what it is not.
It isn’t really a “treat” to consume something you know to be harmful—red dye, artificial sweeteners, preservatives added only to expand the profit of a company to the detriment of your body. What if even a little, when eaten repeatedly, can cause long-term bodily damage? Harming your body is breaking the Fifth Commandment. Let’s also consider the frequency of having a “treat.” Is it a “treat” to have junk on your birthday once a year? What about on other special occasions? Or every weekend? Or after each meal? If we choose to eat junk at all, how can we know how much is too much? In some ways, it is easier to say “no” to junk altogether and choose only wholesome foods as treats, healthful treats that we never have to regret eating.
A “treat” should still be made of food, not damaging non-food chemicals. Treats don’t have to have junk or ingredients that will harm your body. In my home, we frequently have wholesome treats: honey, fruit sherbert, homemade key lime pie, coconut candies, fudge, etc., all made from natural and nourishing ingredients, without processed sugars. I don’t ever regret eating these foods. They nourish my body and mind. They are real foods created by God. Treats should “treat” you well, not leave you feeling bad, or worse yet, leave you with a temporary good feeling that later pays with a long-term, incurable disease.
I don’t feel the need to “supplement” my diet with unhealthy treats. I haven’t regretted a single dessert I’ve eaten since starting GAPS one and a half years ago. I haven’t desired to overeat, being completely satiated by the heathful fats in my diet. Once in awhile, I feel a craving while I’m grocery shopping if I haven’t eaten recently, but now I can reason my way out of an unhealthy choice. I couldn’t do that before. Do you know why? It’s because I had a sugar-addiction.
Yogurt, pastries, candies! I just don’t think I could give up my favorite foods!
I believe our society is currently faced with an epidemic of sugar- and carbohydrate-addiction that we call anything but addiction. Carbohydrates can trigger the same pleasure center in the brain as opium. “Treats,” we say. “An indulgence.” “Just this once,” as we lick the bottom of the brownie pack, finishing it off, as if something had just possessed us.
Many people chuckle at this. But after learning more about carb addiction, I don’t find it funny anymore. As strange as it sounds, our eating habits are no better than our worst gut bacteria! We do what they tell us to do. Do you know what those “baddies” eat? Sugar. Carbohydrates. Fiber. Have you ever felt you had to eat something, even though you knew you “shouldn’t”? I know that feeling! I used to have it every day. But I don’t feel it (much) anymore. GAPS has helped me get control of those bad bacteria by starving them of their food supply. It has helped me replenish good bacteria with probiotic-rich foods and supplements. I go weeks without having a craving. All of the good fat fills me up and nourishes my body. I’ve experienced such a dramatic change in my own life that I want others to be free from food slavery.
If I seem passionate about educating others about the food they eat, it’s not because I’m a dictator looking for control; it’s because I’m a real person, I’ve been there, and I want for you what I’ve found—real, rich, whole-food, satisfying meals that fill me up and give my body what it needs, not some demanding list of “off-limits” foods. My purpose isn’t to convict people of what they shouldn’t eat, but teach about the reality of addiction and the wonderful freedom, abundance, and health benefits from eating real foods.
Isn’t food technology a blessing from God that humans should use to its fullest potential?
Absolutely! I am not anti-technology at all! I definitely believe there are great blessings to be reaped from harnessing technology.
However, we should be careful to differentiate between technology bestowed by God that can be used to uphold and bless His creation and technology allowed by God, but used to destroy His creation. It isn’t always clear where the boundaries are, and they can often be debatable. But we should be able to agree that a difference exists and seek to clarify technology’s use. Natural law can go a long way in guiding us.
People have been eating the “standard American diet” for decades. Everybody has junk food sometimes. It can’t really be that bad.
According to the study of epigenetics, the expression of diseased genes sometimes takes a few decades to show itself. If your parents and grandparents ate really well—wholesome foods from the land—you personally may have a generation or two of protection in which you can eat junk and there will be no visible health consequences. In fact, I think the past two generations have done just that. But the up-and-coming generation is seeing an incredible rise in disease: young (and old) people with cancer, diabetes, memory-loss, autism, etc. We can only guess as to the cause, but surely, surely the food we eat—the fuel for all of our bodily functions—has at least some relevance.
I have to eat prepackaged food because I don’t have time and energy to cook from scratch.
Take some ground beef (preferably grass-raised) out of a package and brown it, throw in a few diced veggies, and spoon it over a cooked spaghetti squash. It may give you a few more dishes, but it will not take any more time than unboxing a package of Hamburger Helper and assembling it.
Once you start cooking well, you’ll probably have more energy to continue! I remember being exhausted by illness when I started GAPS: I could hardly stand up to cook in the kitchen! But after a few weeks of commitment (in which many kind friends helped by bringing over GAPS-legal meals), I felt much stronger and was able to be on my feet longer. As that energy was sustained, I practiced doubling meals and sticking some in the freezer for later. Once I got over the initial difficulties, things became more second-nature. It can definitely be a challenge in the beginning, but it does get better. Yes, there are still some nights when I have to stay up later than I’d like in order to prep something to eat for the next day. But honestly, it takes me less time to do so than it would to drive to the closest pizza place or run to the grocery store and pick up something in a box.
The deeper question here is the value of time. What does it say about our culture if so many of us don’t have time to cook? What does it say about our nation if we have become people whose lives are so stressful that we can’t plan ahead with a meal in the freezer for an unforeseen need? I believe society in general has adapted to not being prepared and using fast food as an crutch. Those, like myself, with food allergies don’t have such a luxury to “fall back on.” So we survive with careful planning and no restaurants. For the vast majority of history, people didn’t have access to fast food, and they managed. Perhaps we need to foster a culture where nourishing our loved ones (i.e. cooking) receives the recognition it deserves in our schedules, rather than relegating it to merely something that must be done to survive those times when “convenience” stores are not an option.
Eating well costs too much money. I simply don’t have that kind of cash to spend on food!
What if I told you that healthful food is not expensive at all? You’d think I was crazy if you’ve ever compared the cost of organic and conventional produce. However, let’s look at this question from a different angle.
Wholesome food is not artificially expensive. You pay for the actual cost of the food. (Do you know anybody rich working at the local farmer’s market? Most are just trying to survive!)
Most food in stores (i.e. items that most people from previous generations and in other cultures would not even recognize as “food”) is not “regularly” priced—its price has been artificially lowered because of government subsidies. There’s a lot of politics behind this stuff.
America is one of the wealthiest, most educated, most technologically advanced countries in the world, but it’s also one of the most unhealthy. Why is that? One piece of it has to do with history. Back in the Cold War, the U.S.A. decided it no longer wanted to sell wheat to Russia. Now, what are we going to do with all of this stuff? The farmers will go bankrupt from low prices due to oversupply! Okay, let’s have the government pay the farmers for the wheat. Now, what will the government do with all this wheat? Let’s develop studies that prove how healthful this stuff is and create a food pyramid and jam it into all of the school lunches! (Okay, not exactly like that ... but pretty close!)
The bottom line is that healthful food costs a fair price. Junk food costs less, yes. But its price has been artificially lowered, and its consumption still costs individuals and our country a lot of money in healthcare. Although eating well may cost a fair chunk of change comparatively upfront, it may also save you a lot of money on doctor and dental bills. We have experienced this personally.
Anyone with a debilitating illness will tell you that there’s nothing on Earth worth more than a healthy body. So, what are you spending your money on, or saving your money for? In past generations, and still today in a variety of cultures, people have spent well over a third of their income obtaining food. Why should we think it’s a bargain today to spend 10% or 15% of our income on “food” that doesn’t nourish (and in most cases, doesn’t satisfy, either)?
If you’re really strapped for cash, and have been honest about your spending habits (do you really need cable?), consider your saving habits. This is something we’ve personally reconsidered. Somewhere along the line, it stopped making sense for us to save as much as we were for a future that might never come while sacrificing our health here and now when food can be a means for God to heal us and to empower our bodies to serving others. That’s one way we’ve found extra money to finance our diet.
How now shall I eat?
You are welcome to eat however you’d like. I just want to offer information and my own personal experience to help you come to your own healthful conclusions.
I wish it were simpler. I don’t have a list or a prescription for you. You have to research and experiment to make those choices for yourself and your family.
While I personally follow the GAPS diet, I realize it’s not a perfect fit for everyone. In fact, it’s a diet for very sick people who need to heal. It might be good for you, but it also might be more restrictive than necessary for your particular needs.
I’m well-read on food and I’m aware of the controversies, which make it difficult for me to recommend any specific food to others. Peanuts: great source of protein, or moldy legume? Bacon: healthfood poster child for Atkins, or smoked cancer-causer? Potato: rich in potassium, or insulin’s greatest nightmare? There’s a new “superfood” every few months. So how’s a person supposed to weed through all of the opinions?
First, ask yourself, is it (or does it contain) a man-made chemical? If so, then, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Next, use your instincts and look at history. What do other cultures do? Former generations? What are the traditions for pregnant or nursing women? (They were generally fed the most nourishing foods in interest of a strong next generation.) I trust resources like the Weston A. Price Foundation and generally respect their research and recommendations. If you’d like to pick up a book with more specific recommendations, here’s a great place to start.
I feel so judged when it comes to food. I’ll never be perfect, so why even try!
It surely is a challenge, but don’t fall into a perfectionism fallacy. You don’t have to be perfect to be doing well. Here on this Earth, we’ll never get back to Eden. But we still have a lot of control over making small positive choices every day.
I agree that “food” is a bothersome topic, perhaps because all of us could improve our eating habits to some extent, and therefore our consciences are pricked. But let’s get honest for a minute. Maybe if a person feels defensive about an eating habit, it’s because he or she feels guilt (whether misplaced or not).
Instead of getting defensive about our eating habits, what if we tried dialoging? “Thanks for caring about my kids. I know you’re trying to show concern and love for me. Tell me more about. … ” For me personally, that kind of answer is not my automatic response when I feel criticized. But, honestly, sometimes I just feel judged because of my own insecurities.
What if, instead, we stop comparing ourselves to others and look into our own hearts? Forget about the other guys always snacking on chips, the skinny girl at the office who’s always eating donuts, or that hyperactive kid at playgroup who’s always swigging juice. What about me? That’s all I can take care of. Do I feel nagged when people make comments because they are judgmental, or is it because I wish my habits were different?
Conversely, those who advocate for a healthful diet shouldn’t have to be on the defensive. Those who want to argue that eating junk is good stewardship of the body have to supply the burden of proof.
Isn’t it legalistic to encourage people to eat better?
Prudence is a fruit of faith. It isn’t part of the condemning law of sin. I want to share my own research and experience, not preach a certain food law. Eating well is like any other Christian discipline. It doesn’t bring salvation. Only God can do that through the Spirit working in the Word and Sacraments. But eating well, like other Christian disciplines, brings blessing in its practice.
Is there a connection between food and evangelism?
The harvest is ripe. Many people are more and more disappointed with the standard American diet. But when they turn to alternative health and sustainable farming, they are inundated with pantheistic and hedonistic philosophy. But these false religions stole the stewardship of the earth from God's people, to whom it was originally bestowed at creation. If we as Christians can take it back, and share the blessings of the fruit of the earth with others, we can use healthful living, proper animal husbandry, and soil stewardship as a bridge to share our eternal hope in Jesus.
Let's take our blinders off to the poisons in our foods and our world … especially so we can better have energy and health to raise our families and to share the Gospel. Nobody’s claiming that humans somehow have ultimate control over disease or death. But it is a God-given blessing for people to know that many illnesses are preventable and reversible: Not so they can somehow redeem their bodies or make an idol out of health, but so they can be empowered to live the healthiest lives they can to serve Christ in their vocations.
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018) and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).
TAGS: Healthcare, GAPS, Worldview, Christianity, Motherhood