Since I wrote about the un-Christian nature of the food fights taking place on Facebook—the ones where overbearing Christians, freshly hooked on Michael Pollan or Food, Inc., berrate others over non-locally purchased cheese—I’ve become acutely aware, once again, just what a hot-button issue food is.
In light of this discussion, I think the opinion of one food writer, chef, Buddhist and freelance journalist is particularly helpful. Eric Burkett had this to say in a 2010 article he wrote for Grist titled “Food as America’s Newest Religion“:
I am the last person to decry anyone who has made food a pillar of their lives. I cook professionally. As a journalist, I cover food safety and sustainability. As a food writer, I write about cooking. Clearly, food is something about which I am passionate. There is little doubt, as well, that our food system is desperately in need of an overhaul and that, in too many cases, profit has been put well before the needs of the public. I am heartened by the numbers of people who are willing to work for, and to make, those changes.
In other words, Burkett is writing with observations from within this trendy food community. He’s into acai berry juice and buying local, sustainability and the pursuit of ethical change within the food production industry. He had this warning to make for those of us who’d elevate food to an undue position of power in our lives:
Food is so many things: it is vital to life, it is a source of nourishment and of pleasure as well as an outlet for creativity. It fosters cultural identity and comforts those far from home. But no matter how ethical it may be, or how many antioxidants it contains, it will not save us. When we season our food with dogma and self-righteousness, we give it an unhealthy power over our ability to rationally consider its already vital place in our lives. If what you eat has become your religion, take care to serve up your message peacefully and palatably. Because it’s just food.
Burkett makes an astonishing observation we’d all be wise to consider: For many, food has become a religion that is pushed with unrelenting evangelistic fervor. And, I would add, many Christians have been duped by the subtle message buried within the agenda of the food movement—food is savior. If you could just eat enough all-natural, organic, free-range, GMO-free, gluten-free or locally grown food, you’d somehow be on the path to detoxifying salvation.
Generally speaking, the danger we face is not that we’ll wake up one day and dismiss the gospel altogether—the message of one people, united under one King, baptised into one body, joined together to eat one meal around one table. The danger comes when side issues—like the food we eat, the birth control method we use or the manner in which we educate our children—become so important in our eyes that we’re willing to tear the body apart over them.
We beat others down and make them feel inferior because they don’t share our views on certain matters of conscience. We verbally bludgeon people on Facebook about their food choices, leaving no corner of the social network for them to hide from our sustainable food jihad. We destroy the body and the unity of fellowship over non-gospel issues, and our version of “the gospel plus food” turns out to be a complete denial and distortion of the truth. It is “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6; 2:11-12).
To steal a line from Mumford & Sons, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die/And where you invest your love, you invest your life.”
If your love and life are so invested in food that you’ve become blind to the ways you constantly trample your siblings and load them with guilt because they don’t share your culinary distinctions, you need to repent. You are unneccessarily dividing the body and your life is out of step with the truth of the gospel. You’re dividing what Christ said not to. There are legitimate issues for excommunication and division, but food preferences are definitely not one of them.
If you won’t listen to God when he tells you that food can’t save you and isn’t worth destroying familial relationships over, then at least take the advice of a Buddhist: this food can’t save you.