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May 4, 2010

You Are What You Eat

Does God care about what we put into our mouths?

A few weeks ago I embarked on a new adventure: veganism. Maybe “adventure” isn’t the right word as much as “challenge” is.

A vegan diet is basically a step further than vegetarianism: no animal products, particularly meat, eggs, and dairy. Many vegans even go to the great length of avoiding fur, leather, wool, down, and any other item made of animal products.

A restricted diet—or any diet for that matter—is not very like me. I love food. I love sugar. I love carbs. I love chicken. And I will gladly ingest some methylcyclopropene if it means chocolate is involved. However, I’ve always had an interest in nutrition and health, and as I began learning about where our food comes from, I realized I needed to make some changes.

My vegan journey began when I watched the documentary Food, Inc., which chronicles how our food industry is run. As you might guess, it has some pretty unpleasant things to share about the food we consume and the way in which animals are treated in factory farming. After being moved by the documentary, I wanted to make sure what I’d seen was, in fact, true, so I picked up a couple books that further discussed the problems with our food industry and our penchant for filling our bodies with foods that are just not good for us. I learned about organic versus conventional fruits and veggies, grass-fed, free range meat, and the affects of our food choices on our bodies and on those who supply our food.

One thing that really stood out to me was the condition of industrial farms: the places where nearly 10 million animals are raised and killed and manufactured for us to eat. All it takes is a quick Google search to see the inhumane way animals are treated and how dirty and unhealthy these facilities are. Animals are treated as a product rather than a living being, created by a God who deeply cares about all life. They are fed foods that they are not designed to eat, and they stand or lie in their own feces in confined areas. The employees work on an assembly line, making the same repetitive movement to an animal carcass over and over. Working at such a fast pace easily allows feces and bacteria to get into our meat. Since it’s cheapest to feed herbivores corn instead of grass, there are high rates of salmonella in the beef coming out of factory farms. Instead of feeding the animals grass, most meat is treated with ammonia to kill the bacteria. Chickens are pumped full of hormones to cause them to grow twice as fast as normal.

It’s all about money. And it’s all about demand. The average American is eating more than 200 pounds of meat each year. If we want so much meat—and want it cheaply—factory farming is what we’re going to get.

So I made the personal choice to try and remove meat and dairy from my diet, my reasons being (1) for my health; and (2) as a stand against the unethical treatment of animals at factory farms.

The information presented in these documentaries and books resonated with me because of what the Bible already says about food and health and our bodies. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). As Christians, taking care of our temple requires us to be mindful of what we put into our mind, body, and spirit. Chemicals, fat, cholesterol, sugar . . . these are all tangible things we can keep out of our body to keep our temple clean and pure.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve begun to eat more wholly: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other natural items. I’ve found that I now think a lot more about the food I’m putting into my body—I have to consider the ingredients. I’m choosier and I eat less junk. I make less rash decisions about what to eat, and I plan ahead more. It hasn’t been easy, and I don’t always follow it to a T, but I’ve really enjoyed learning new recipes and new ways of thinking about food. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” By consciously making healthful and ethical food choices, we can honor God and his creation.

The Bible also calls us to respect other living things. (Proverbs 12:10: “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”) He gave us control over the animals of the earth, but—as many argue—we have distorted that. When I saw the horrors of how some companies produce our meat, it created a natural response in me to not want to participate in supporting those companies—especially since so much of our power and voice really come through how we spend our money. As a person made in God’s image, I want to be able to stand and say, “No, this is not okay.”

Implementing these changes in my diet has brought me to a position of greater thankfulness toward God. It’s caused me to look at his creation and the food that gives us life differently. My prayers are more focused on thanking God for his provision. I am more aware of our great need and dependence on God for our sustenance, and my heart is softened to those who don’t have enough.

Cutting meat out of your diet isn’t the only response of course, but for me, I think it’s the right one for now. I don’t think that it’s wrong to eat meat and dairy products, and I do realize eating organic foods is a privilege that not many are afforded. I’m trying to do what I feel is right for me and trying to do it in a financially responsible way. What might be the right response for me may not be the right response for another. There are many ways to make a difference, including buying locally, buying organic, and buying ethical meat. Support farmers who do things the right way. Researching these topics, educating yourself about where your food comes from, and implementing changes can be a God-honoring way of living a healthier life.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Related Tags: Health; Social Justice

Comments

Rachel, I love this thoughtful and thorough post. One thing I've found in this endeavor of eating ethically is the joy of moderation. There really is pleasure in new measures of denial and in patience. For example, grass-fed beef might be more expensive, but that makes it all the more satisfying when I buy it once a month at the farmers market. It becomes something I value more and can anticipate. This applies in so many areas of life! and I think food is such a great place to start. Eating is meant for nourishment and pleasure! And I think the more careful and moderate and mindful we are about what we buy and take in, the more joy we really do find in it.

Thanks so much, Rachel!! :)

Good thoughts! I only buy hormone free beef now. Yes, we should honor God with our bodies. It starts with the mind...then the mouth.

Interesting. You do know, I'm sure, however, that it is necessary for us to eat fat and sugar in order to survive. You can't have meant that fat and sugar are "bad" for us. Perhaps you meant certain types of fat? Or sugar to excess? After all, many plant-based foods are high in one or both.

It would be nice if we could all afford to buy free range eggs and chicken and hormone-free beef, but they are much more expensive than factory-produced. For now, what my family does is eat several meat-free meals each week. It's a compromise we can live with. I just cannot give up dairy, though. My kids love to drink milk, and I need my cheese!

Robyn, I'm sure the author was pointing to these things (fat, sugar etc.) in excess, not that we should stay away from these things altogether. Eating meat-free a few times a week is a great healthy, affordable, and earth-conscious choice. I think being aware and making appropriate sacrifices is key. We can't do it all, but we can be a little uncomfortable for ourselves, others, and God's creation. Great post, Rachel!

Hi, Robyn. You're right--we do need these things in moderation for our health and I'm not saying we need to eliminate them from our diets completely. I am, however, trying to consume less sugar and fat—it is so easy to overindulge and not even know it, with sugar and corn syrup being in so many food products.

I like what you and Sarah and Bonnie said about moderation with meat. If buying ethical meat isn’t an option, eating less meat is a great choice and a good way to help you think about how to get the nutrients meat provides us (protein, iron, etc.) from other foods.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Hi Robyn, I really appreciated your article. I am also on a similar journey, although from a slightly different angle. I have been reading the book called “The China Study” by Dr Campbell. It is a very thorough, detailed, and comprehensive book outlining a lot of the scientific studies that have occurred over recent times regarding the link between nutrition (what we eat) and our health (disease). It really opened my eyes – by getting most, if not all, of our protein from plant sources and in a whole foods way, instead of from animal sources, we give ourselves a very big head start in keeping our bodies healthy. I also see this as part of honouring God – if I can know what works best for my body (which God created and gave to me) then why wouldn’t I want honour Him by doing my best to make the choices consistent with what I know? I would definitely recommend the book, and thanks again for the article!

It's high time we sat up and took stock of our lives - internal as well as external. We can see for our selves the events unfolding daily even before we catch up through the media, the extensive heat waves, sudden downpour of rain, hailstones and ofcourse the recent volcanic eruptions. Thanks for awakening our thoughts through this post. As a mother, I can create this awareness first in my very own home. Let's pray for each other.

God called me to veganism four months ago. Although it has been a struggle, I have learned to rely on God and not food for hapiness. Many people think that food has no effect on our lives. I am a living testiment to the opposite. I have lost 20 lbs and have a happier disposition.Thank you so much for this story. It is refreshing to find others who also believe that God cares what we eat. A good site to find local farmer's markets and local farms is http://www.localharvest.org/.

Good article, Rachel. When we think more carefully about what we eat, I think we're more inclined to see food not as a purely gluttonous pleasure, nor as an inconvenient interruption in our efficient day, but as a continual reminder of our dependence on God to live, and live well.

Thanks for these ideas, Rachel. It is so good to hear a voice of faith in the midst of the food discussions of today! And by making food decisions that honour our own bodies, we also honour our communities as we become more connected to the people round us - farmers and shop owners who are trying to create more wholesome ways of producing and sharing food in the shadow of industrial food corporations. Food should be about convenience. It's about nourishment. Thanks for making the conversation bigger.

While I agree that we should watch what we eat - let's face it none of us wish to be considered a glutton. However, we are also told through scripture that it is not what goes into our mouth that will make us unclean but rather what comes out of our mouth.

This is a good and timely article. I recently watched a doctor on PBS discuss how he helped people reverse Type 2 diabetes by switching to a vegan diet. My goal right now is to keep the meats, dairy, and sweets to a minimum, and eat more vegetables, fruits, and beans. I really want to get away from eating processed foods because the chemicals in them do tremendous damage to the body and cause all types of medical problems. A doctor who works with Christian ministries stated that people are eating themselves to an early grave because of all the chemicals in our food. I believe there is a healthy lifestyle everyone can practice regardless of income but people must be willing.

Re: Linda's comment: "However, we are also told through scripture that it is not what goes into our mouth that will make us unclean but rather what comes out of our mouth."
It's an important point - we need to watch what we say and type, too. But we also need to think about the idea of being "unclean." It shouldn't be taken too far out of context here. It is a statement about community participation. When you are clean, you are able to participate fully in community. When you are unclean, there are things you need to work through. I don't think our diet choices should cause divisions among us, but I do think that by spending more time thinking about the sources of our food, we are better able to honour God's creative love by honouring God's creation.

I think you need to get ALL the facts. You've been duped by a documentary that was produced to make money. Too bad they have distorted the facts.

I became a vegetarian after seeing Food,Inc. as well. It was a shocking but necessary look at the food industry and the focus on cheap food at all costs!! I have been told that the poultry industry doesn't use hormones and I was under the impression that chickens were selectively bred to become large breasted to particularly meet the needs of fast food outlets. Obviously meat has used hormones and as a breast cancer survivor who is estrogen receptive I am avoiding all hormones in meat or phyto-estrogens. The use of land for grazing cattle is another reason to give up meat.Think of the amount of food that could be produced on the acres of land dedicated to cattle!

Great post, Rachel, and good luck as you navigate your lifestyle change. May God be glorified in it! I’m finding that a drastic change in diet due to health reasons is “accidentally” causing me to rely more on the Lord and learn what it means to go without. One last note: you mentioned two very worthy reasons to become a vegetarian or vegan: for your health and to protest the unethical treatment of animals. But I would argue for a third and equally biblical reason: creation care. Our current culture of food is not a very good one for our planet – or our bodies.

I'm amazed at all the people who watched Food, Inc. and were moved to compassion for the animals, and have nothing to say for the farmers, the arrested illegal immigrants, the lower-class factory workers, the hunger issues worldwide....when did animals take the focus over people?
are specialized vegan diets more important than our prayers for those being oppressed and exploited?

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