This year for Lent, I decided to focus on my relationship with food. At first glance, this might seem a little superficial and unrelated to anything spiritual. But the truth is, in our increasingly secular society, food has become somewhat of a religion unto itself; a little idol that we set up and worship and sacrifice to. It can feed into the sins not only of gluttony, but also pride and vanity and a host of other “little” sins. And our current culture just encourages all of this.
Over the last several decades, we have, as a society, forgotten how to feed ourselves. And it’s not surprising, with the invention of so much processed food that simply didn’t exist 100 years ago, and with the rise of advertising and corporations that are more interested in selling their products than they are in the resulting consequences of those products. It’s a very confusing time, with many conflicting messages about the “healthiest” way to eat. You never know who is talking with actual concern for your health and who is just out to make another dollar.
I will be completely honest, I love food. Food is how I show love and affection, both to myself and others, and I don’t believe that there is anything inherently wrong with this, if done in moderation and with prudence. The same could be said for any of the forms that we use to show affection. If you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages,” he lists the five ways of showing affection as: receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch. I always like to add a sixth love language: food. But if you think about it, any of these things can become unhealthy and detrimental if taken to an extreme, and food is no different. But that also doesn’t mean that food itself is bad, just like the other ways that we show affection and attention are not bad, as long as they are expressed in the proper and appropriate fashion.
Food is also perhaps the most important factor when it comes to our health. More and more studies and research are coming out about how large a role the food we consume plays, not just when it comes to weight but in treating and preventing serious illness, especially autoimmune and inflammatory diseases to say nothing of diabetes, cancer, and the like.
I’ve been thinking and mulling over all of this (the confusion about what to eat, my own relationship with food, and the health costs/benefits of food) for several years now, but then recently added some spiritual dimensions to that inner dialogue, as well. Am I relying on food to comfort me when in reality I should be turning to God? Am I using food as a reward while forgetting to actually show gratitude for what it is I am celebrating? Am I showing proper love and respect for my own human dignity by properly nourishing this one body that God has given me?
With all of these thoughts bouncing around my head, I decided to take this season of Lent to really sort them all out. As I said in a previous post, Lent is a beautiful time of year to me for the self-discipline and self-denial that it encourages as a way to discover the truly important things in life.
In the last year, I’ve become a devotee of Melissa Hartwig, the popular food guru and co-author of The Whole30 (it is not just another fad diet geared towards weight loss, I promise). I am also a big fan of Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. What I appreciate about both Hartwig and Pollan is that they aren’t interested in telling you what specifically you should be eating (with the exception of the actual 30 days of doing the Whole30), but instead they just want you to think about what you are eating. Hartwig has helped me sort out my own relationship with food, and also made me pay attention to how different foods actually affect me. Pollan opened my eyes to the modern food industry and made me pay attention to where my food is coming from and how it is being produced.
Eating per the rules of the Whole30 during Lent helped me to tie all of this into a spiritual practice, as well. Instead of turning to food for my comfort and consolation during difficult or stressful times, I learned how to better turn to God. I was able to turn my thoughts away from just wanting a quick weight-loss solution, and instead focus on nourishing and loving this body God gave me.
I am still far from perfect; in my eating, in my faith, in my self-love. But one thing that we believe as Catholics is that conversion is always an on-going process.
I’ve been slowly drafting my own Philosophy of Food over the last few years, to help remind myself of what I’ve learned so far and what I need to keep re-learning. It’s far from complete, but it’s a start.
- Eat food as close to its natural state as possible.
- If you are craving something, make it from scratch and really enjoy it.
- Eating out should be about community and fellowship, not indulging in food and drink.
- Eat mostly plants.
- Focus on what you are adding to your diet (i.e. more vegetables), rather than what you are giving up. You will be too full to eat the junk.
- It’s okay to not finish your plate. Save for leftovers, or just toss it if it’s something you don’t need to indulge in a second time.
- If I have already paid for something, it doesn’t make a difference if it ends up in my stomach or in the trash.
- I will not starve to death if I skip a meal here and there, and will actually be better off if that meal is not healthy for me in the first place.
- Food doesn’t always have to be appealing. Sometimes food is just fuel.