waffling: what should we eat?

Questions and Turmoil

Did I just say yesterday that I was eating raw again?  Was it really just yesterday?  Well, my mind is spinning with questions now.  I never thought I would be in turmoil about the food I eat.  I never thought it could be a spiritual issue.

I am constantly astounded by how little humans are able to understand.  A thinking, soulful, researching species — and yet we can’t get a grasp on the perfect way to live, specifically the perfect way to eat!  God has included so many minute details in His creation, and even the digestion and functioning of our bodies are still mysterious even though we use the functions constantly.  Perhaps our ignorance, our trying and failing are enough to remind us that we are in a fallen world.

Is striving for perfection in diet worth the effort?  If sickness and death are unavoidable, we could just throw in the towel, eat a Big Mac and be done with it.  But if you’re a steward of your body and the earth like I am, you do the best you can.  You realize that if you are going to do all things as unto God, you must eat unto God.  And that’s how praying about my food (beyond “Thanks, God, for this meal.”) has become a new habit in my life.

I have prayed over too many meals, knowing I made a poor food choice, when I simply could not put my heart into the prayer.  “Bless this food, Lord.  Help it to nourish…  But how?  Huh.  Uh, bless it anyway.  Thanks… I guess.  Amen.”  But now I find myself pleading that I will make the right food choices — ones that will honor God.  At the same time, I never want to lose my thankfulness for a bowl of rice and beans.  I don’t want to go to Ethiopia and shun the food because it will wreak havoc with my raw vegan stomach.  I don’t want to become so stringent in my food choices that I cannot enjoy a meal with family, a meal with friends. 

Do you see my struggle?  Are balance and contentment possible?

 

Eating Raw: Have I Been Duped?

Brooke at the blog. is trying to eat raw this week, and I praised her for embracing such a healthful diet.  In starting my own raw diet, I had dismissed the counter-arguments to raw foodism on Wikipedia because I found the arguments for eating raw so much more compelling.  But Dan commented on Brooke’s post:

“Most of the claims [for the benefits of a raw diet] confuse me! Enzymes get destroyed by all the acid and proteases in the stomach, and so partially destroying them through cooking should actually aid in digestion. And I don’t see any way that uncooked food would cleanse the bloodstream or eliminate toxins. Have you heard how any of these things are suppose to work? I’ve heard a lot about ‘raw foods’ but none of the claims seem to make sense.”

Hmmm.  I sense that I am a person easily persuaded.  And I thank Dan for reminding me of that.  I don’t understand his digestive jargon either, but he at least convinced me to do more research.

 

Nourishing the Body

In the article “Myths and Truths about Vegetarianism,”  Dr. Stephen Byrnes discusses many claims made by vegetarians.  He argues that many of the studies done on vegetarian groups, in which health was linked to the absence of meat in diets, did not take all factors into account.  For instance, while Seventh Day Adventists may have fewer cases of cancer and simultaneously eat only vegetarian foods, they also do not smoke, a lifestyle choice that may have more far-reaching effects than the decision to eat meat or no meat.

While Byrnes’s discussions are not necessarily addressing a specifically raw diet, he helped me appreciate a more moderate view of eating.  Tom Billings’s comparison of the idealism and realism behind a raw diet hardly seems like a well-researched approach to the issue, but it did make me see my own gullibility.  I went to bed last night, totally overwhelmed with the conflicting information but still wanting to nourish my body in a way that glorifies God.

I am in no way saying my raw diet or anyone else’s raw diet isn’t wonderfully good for their health, but it is not a cure for all ills.  I have enjoyed the benefits of eating raw.  My energy levels have caused me to enjoy my life so much more.  But I am also concerned about being underweight.  I have already lost so much weight since my pregnancy that I can take off a couple pairs of my pants without even unbuttoning them.  And when I stray from the diet, the effects of fatigue can be disheartening, drenching me with guilt.

The main thrust of Byrnes’s article, which I will explore in more detail, is that meat and animal products provide specific nutrients like DHA, protein, and Vitamins A, B12, and D, that cannot be easily absorbed and effectively used by the body when eating only a plant-based diet.  Instead of blaming the beef and butter for our chronically diseased society, Byrnes says that “what has…risen precipitously [in the last few decades] is consumption of margarine and other food products containing trans-fatty acids, lifeless, packaged ‘foods’, processed vegetable oils, carbohydrates and refined sugar.”

 

The Morality of Meat

Byrnes further argues that if abstaining from meat-eating is strictly an environmental, land-use issue, one should take into account the benefits that organic animal waste has on the land.  If animals are farmed on pasture that is not prime cropland, it can easily be considered a wise use of the earth’s space.

Byrnes does not condone senselessly gorging on meat, but instead brings to mind the Native American attitude toward killing animals:

“When Native Americans killed a game animal for food, they would routinely offer a prayer of thanks to the animal’s spirit for giving its life so that they could live. In our world, life feeds off life. Destruction is always balanced with generation. This is a good thing: unchecked, the life force becomes cancerous. If animal food consumption is viewed in this manner, it is hardly murder, but sacrifice. Modern peoples would do well to remember this.”

And then I think to myself: raw veganism sounds like such a pure, perfect diet, but even Jesus — perfect Jesus — ate fish.

 

A Beautiful Balance

The argument that intrigues me most is this:

“[C]ommercial farming of livestock results in an unhealthy food product, whether that product be meat, milk, butter, cream or eggs. Our ancestors did not consume such substandard foodstuffs, and neither should we.

“It is possible to raise animals humanely. This is why organic, preferably Biodynamic, farming is to be encouraged: it is cleaner and more efficient, and produces healthier animals and foodstuffs from those animals. Each person should make every effort, then, to purchase organically raised livestock (and plant foods). Not only does this better support our bodies, as organic foods are more nutrient-dense and are free from hormone and pesticide residues, but this also supports smaller farms and is therefore better for the economy.”

So, is it really that easy?  Or should I say, does it have to be that hard?  Was Barbara Kingsolver right on track in her quest to eat locally for a year (please read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life)?

It seems that the food issue — what should we eat? — comes down to our care of God’s creation, both our own bodies and the land.  Has our laziness been the catalyst of our health problems?  We depend on food in the grocery stores, and think little about where it has come from, or how early it has been picked from the tree.  In so doing, we depend on transportation to get the food to the store, and we exchange nutritional value for convenience.  Speaking of convenience, so-called convenience foods are often highly processed; if we gave them up, how many nutrients would we gain?

What Byrnes is calling for is not the end of vegetarianism (as he says, “there is no one diet that will work for every person”) but a diet of living, whole, local, and organic foods.  For me, I think that means I can continue to eat yogurt and eggs without guilt.  Although I have been avoiding meat for most meals, I can include them if I trust their source.  But I also think I can include lots and lots of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.  (But maybe I can decrease my consumption of my beloved bananas, shipped all the way from Guatemala.)  I have felt the impact of raw produce enough that I believe it should not be a mere supplement to meat. 

But I think it’s safe to say I’m not a raw vegan, or even a raw foodist anymore.  For now, I’d like to be known as a whole foodist, a local-as-often-as-possible foodist, an organic foodist, a grateful foodist.

 

The Price of Beauty

However, I don’t think I have to explain how 100% nourishing food would break our budget right now.  I dearly love my local farmer’s market, but it comes with a hefty price tag.

Is the only other option to do the work ourselves, to either become a farmer, or to start a first-hand relationship with one?  Community-supported agriculture requires the people who eat the produce to help with weeding and picking, to get their hands dirty.  To put an end to chemically-treated vegetables and factory-farmed meat means we have to stop supporting those industries.  Maybe that means adjusting our budgets to include the best food; maybe it means growing our own gardens and raising our own animals.  We must start a movement to get things to changed if we really want healthier food options for future generations.  And if that means breaking a sweat, if it means getting our hands dirty, I hope you’ll agree that it’s worth it.

But in the end, it’s still a journey.  We still ask questions, repent of our past, seeking contentment and displaying gratitude with every bite we eat.

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  1. Sorry this is a long comment Carrie.

    Good post. It is great you are going head on with these questions. All the information out there can be conflicting and confusing. I think you are coming to some wise conclusions about focusing on eating things the way God created them and balance of course.

    I will just preface this with saying that this is just my experience from trying these things out and I don’t think every vegan is exactly like me but I do have concerns with that type of strict diet. I think that since the fall of man our bodies do need some animal protein. I didn’t always think this though. I was vegan for 5 years and raw for several months and only later began to see the health problems it produced in me. The strict diets negatively affected my hormones, growth, bones and blood sugar. It made me focus on food and it also affected my ability to hang out with people or eat at people’s houses. It was a spiritual issue for me–a sin issue. I am not saying anyone who is vegan or goes raw has the same issues as I did but this was my experience. I found that once I let go of the strictness and had a looser hand on what I ate and didn’t eat I found freedom and the ability to enjoy the food God gives me each day without letting it be my focus. There isn’t anything wrong with eating more raw food I just think eating all raw food isn’t quite healthy for long periods of time. It was and still is a journey and God is graciously teaching me through it about examining where my focus and motivations are for what I eat and do not eat as far as food.

    After my health crash came to the surface I had to go on a pretty strict diet to help my hormones and body and blood sugar stablilize and so that meant higher protein and lower in fruits and simple carbs. After eating that way for a while my health got back to normal and now I can eat a much more balanced diet. I am so thankful for that.

    I think that there isn’t anything wrong with eating more raw food I just think eating all raw food isn’t quite healthy for long periods of time.

  2. Jessica:
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and personal comment. I can’t tell you what an encouragement it is to hear from someone who has been there!

  3. Carrie-I just want to say…praying for you in this quest of responsible eating and I admire & respect you for being willing & eager to try new things (& not necessarily easier things!) and yet willing & honest enough with yourself to listen to counter-arguments. I agree with Jessica (and also apologize for my long post!)-moderation is the best solution in tending your temple for the Lord. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Eph 2:22 What an awesome calling! We have so much encouragement to care for this temple and respect it while on earth, and I think Christ would also have laid out a template for eating habits had he believe it necessary. Just as you mentioned your new little child beginning his/her life in Ethiopia with very different food sources and quantity of supply, there is no possibility for a singular, universal diet that brings honor to God. I’m convinced that honoring God begins with our attitude, not what we put in our bodies; it was God himself who eradicated the necessity of the meatless diet after the flood in Gen 9:3 and the Jewish diet in his interaction with Peter in Acts 10 & 11. We must all take responsibility for moderation in the region where God has placed us! Personally, I like the idea of growing things myself and supporting local growers/food providers. Much of that is probably due to my dad’s farming and my Mom’s prolific gardening and canning/freezing, but I’m thankful for that background and for a husband who supports prioritizing money for good foods (thought not all organic or local, less I am misleading!), cooking with me and enjoying our creations, sweating in our garden and excitedly watching it grow, and my parents who still supply us with homegrown beef 🙂 Now to find us a chicken farmer!!

    Over the past couple years I have fallen in love with this treasure from the Word of God “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinth 6:12). It has so many applications in my life and encourages me in so many ways (and I’ve witnessed it be a powerful tool in the minds & hearts of born-again but struggling, pressurized teenagers!), but mostly in my quest to experience the liberty in which Christ has made me free as Romans 8:2 and Galations 5:1 tell! I pray the Holy Spirit can use it to encourage you toward the freedom which God has gifted you and me and all of us covered by the blood of Jesus Christ! Love ya!

    • Natalie
    • October 15th, 2008

    Hi Carrie. I love your discussions regarding food. I currently am under the influence of Barbara K. from A,V,M, but go back and forth (spiral?) on these issues month to month and year to year.

    One other consideration in seeking a purifying, cleansing, balancing relationship with food is fasting. Keeping in mind that I want to eat to live, not live to eat, I occasionally follow a half-day fast. I have several sources of inspiration for this, including Ron and his roommate (from college days) who used to turn a financial lack to good use by mindfully fasting.

    My yoga practice also includes a directive to safely fast; one 24-hour period per week is recommended, but that is difficult with a family. Fasting requires a sort of shut-down of activity, turning inward, and that I cannot do with Henry, and other family needs. So for now, as a householder, a half-day beginning after a slow, nutritious lunch works the best. I deal with food minimally the rest of the day (= leftovers for supper).

    Of course fasting is part of Christianity, at least historically, and presently in many (most? all?) religions.

    The gratefulness with which I view a cup of herbal tea during my fast, as well as any and all food after a fast, is my reward, as well as lightness (spiritually and physically) and self-satisfaction (probably not such a good thing).

    Peace,
    Natalie

  1. June 26th, 2008

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