Paleo or pescetarianism? Lacto-ovo free or gluten-free? Special diets abound these days, and it can give a spiritual person quite a bit of food for thought. On the one hand, vegan living is lighter on the land — animal flesh being a resource-draining food product as well as a moral conundrum for many. On the other hand, I can’t imagine God making human beings omnivores as some kind of cruel joke: Cats are obligate carnivores; they die without meat. I don’t judge my cats for eating meat. They are as God made them. And so am I. On the third hand….
With so many options out there, it’s easy to lose one’s bearings. What to do? Here are some ideas to chew on:
- If you choose to eat meat, own your choice. I know people who have no problem chowing down on a nice, juicy steak, but cannot bear to touch raw meat with their own hands. That’s a problem. I personally think that every meat-eater should be required to watch a video showing how hotdogs are made (I have!), just so they understand what they are committing to. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a carnivore. But I accept what that means, ethically and physically speaking. Which leads me to my next point…
- Buy local foods. It’s lovely to open a carton of eggs and know exactly where the hens that laid them reside, to look at their varying colors and catch a glimpse of the many-hued feathers of their originators. Local food tastes better and is good for the community. You exercise more control in buying locally because you know where your food is coming from, how it is raised (without pesticides, for instance, or free-range), and whom it supports.
- Buy ethically. If you can’t buy locally, take care to favor providers who do act in an ethical manner. Know whether your milk is hormone-free, if that matters to you. Don’t buy from corporations who treat their workers poorly, who pollute, or who engage in other dubious practices. One way to know: Look for Ellis Jones’ Better World Shopping Guide.
- Remember that food is for nourishment. It is not the enemy. It is not your friend. It is morally neutral. How you use it, however, is another thing altogether. If you obsess over every mouthful or restrict your diet needlessly, you may have a problem. If you rely on food for comfort (as I sometimes do), you are looking for love in all the wrong places. Food shouldn’t hurt your body.
- Remember, too, that most of the world isn’t having this conversation. Food is so scarce in most of the world, the scrutiny we affix to it would be laughable if starving people could, in fact, laugh. Don’t take food for granted. Don’t waste it. Do what you can so that others less fortunate might eat, too.
Need an example to follow? Who better than Jesus? While the Bible notes a few examples of meals he consumed, we also hear about him fasting. It does not appear that our Lord placed a whole lot of emphasis on food: He provided it to others when needed, understood that the hungry should be fed, but did not spend his energy thinking about it. He ate as his mother ate, as his people ate. He ate the foods of his locale. He ate to live, not vice-versa.
Your own moral compass must inform your food decisions, whether you choose vegetarianism or raw foods or a steady diet of cheeseburgers. A chef I know once said (and I paraphrase) that when he ate a carrot, he thanked God and thanked the carrot, and when he ate duck, he thanked God and thanked the duck. That seems to me a viable happy medium. Bon apétit!