Balanced diets in an age of foodism
If you ever see a photo of a fruit or vegetable in the tabloid press, it will be for one of two reasons. Either it will be shaped like a phallus or some other ‘rude’ part of the body, or it will bear a striking resemblance to the face of Jesus. Religion, food, and sex are inextricably linked, it would seem. Last weekend, author Steven Poole trailed his new book ‘You aren’t what you eat’. As I mentioned on Saturday, it discusses the exaltation of food to a new religion, which he styles as ‘foodism’. In this particular cult of consumption food books are Bibles, star chefs are high priests, and fine dining is a kind of panentheistic communion orMass.Furthermore, the sexual overtones of our relationship with food are becoming more sinister than playful. Nigella Lawson’s latest book ‘Nigelissima’ is outselling the mommy porn of ‘Fifty Shades’, and at any moment you can find a food programme somewhere on television describing the dining experience in a tone which falls little short of orgasmic.
Against such a backdrop, how can we talk about world hunger in such a way as to garner a hearing? Too many statistics and comparisons and we sound like food prudes, too much emotion and we come across as desperate. And yet, all the time there is an obscenity in the comparison between the cost of a Michelin starred plate of food inLondonand the cost of feeding a family in the Horn of Africa. Tonight, whilst many people eat their meals in front of yet another cookery programme on TV, 1 in 7 people will go to bed hungry.
We used to be told that a balanced diet was a good thing to which we should all aspire. How can anyone eat well, though, when the world’s dining table is tilted at such a crazy angle? Talking to a friend involved in relief work today, I asked whether Christians in the West should feel guilty about eating nice food:
No, we shouldn’t. Jesus attended feasts, in the Old Testament the Jews were commanded to have feasts, and in the New Testament Peter got told that we should eat everything. However, lots of people may not realise, but the amount of meat and dairy products we’re eating in the UK is really damaging the planet – it uses massive soy plantations in Latin America, some of which are grown on land that was previously rainforest, and the methane emissions of the animals is contributing to climate change. What if, instead of eating meat produced like this every day, we only ate really nice meat twice a week – bought from UK farmers, who’ve fed their herds primarily on grass? We’d eat less meat, but we’d eat nicer food overall and the latter is perhaps more pleasing to God. This is just one example of the kind of thing we could do.
Meat platters, slain forests and flatulent cows – who knew? That is just the point, though. If Christians want to combat foodism as an obsession it will be through researched understanding and reasoned action rather than any kind of ascetic outrage. We need to understand more in order that everyone might eat better.
Watch this space for more on food later this month.