Last month, I picked up Michael Pollan's small, very practical, guide to eating called "Food Rules." It condenses much of the information he's learned as a journalist documenting our current food system into a pocket sized eating guide. He basically boils down how we should eat into seven words, which comprise the three sections of the book: "Eat Food; Mostly Plants; Not Too Much."
It sounds so simple. But when we move in and out of a grocery store, and begin to pay attention to what we ingest that merely poses as food, it actually becomes a little more complicated; hence the need for 'Food Rules," and the middle two words- "mostly plants." However you look at it, Americans especially are dying because of our eating practices, with many food related diseases hitting poor people of color the hardest. When 75% of healthcare costs can be traced to what we consume as food, we know we have a problem.
A few years ago, Joy and I didn't think too much of what we ate. We would eat cheaply, shopping at the local grocery that carried the lowest prices. We felt the pinch of eating on our wallets, not our stomachs. We got into a pretty good routine of recycling through the same 14 meals, usually high in meat, starch, sodium, and sugar and low in greens and vegetables.
When I was in grad school, I did one of my field placements at an inner-city food pantry. I witnessed the way that poor quality food given for free exacerbated already existing issues in poor communities. The director at the time conceived of a network of community gardens that aided as both a teaching tool and food distribution model that introduced a variety of healthy foods grown locally in low access neighborhoods.
I remember sitting down with him at the beginning of my internship. One of his first questions was, "What do you eat?" I simply said meat and potatoes, and I don't eat vegetables. He quickly retorted, "We can change that. You just haven't had vegetables prepared well enough to enjoy." The next week, he took some day-old Panera Bread, broiled with olive oil and salt, and walked to the garden and picked fresh tomatoes and swiss chard. Once the greens were cooked down, we had an open face sandwich that was so simple and so delicious that I went home and made it for my wife (except I added a fried egg).
Over the next year, Joy and I began to pay closer attention to our food choices. We realized a few things.
- We knew nothing about where our food was grown, processed, or killed.
- There was no color variety on our plate.
- We had no idea how to actually cook.
- Joy was pregnant with our first child (Justice) and knew that the nutrients she consumed were going to our baby.
But, the whole process of re-learning to eat seemed so daunting. And so, we decided to purchase a share in a local farm. We'd pay upfront for 20 weeks worth of veggies and produce that we'd pick up once a week at the market. We'd talk with our farmers, ask for recipes and cooking tips, and explore throughout the week different ways the food could be prepared. Some meals were fantastic and others were not so great. We planned our meals around the foods we received at the market, making sure we'd have a variety of veggies we had to try.
I wasn't trying to lose weight. I have always been a relatively small, skinny person. But over those 20 weeks I lost 20 lbs. I dropped three inches off my waist, and I was feeling better, more alert and less sluggish. I didn't take a pill; I didn't jump on the newest guaranteed diet. But when it came to the most important human act for living in a body, everything changed. From what foods we bought to the time we spent preparing meals, from the way we budgeted for groceries to the appreciation for the gift of food, from the way we felt/looked to the dreams we began to collectively have about growing our own food, everything changed.
We realized that eating well is a lifestyle, not a fad or a diet that comes and goes. How and what we eat is passed down to us from our families, our traditions, and our culture. The decision of what we eat is formed by habits of eating. When I explain my move from "meat and potatoes" to "Eat Food, mostly vegetables," I can only conceive of that move as a transformational cultural shift in my approach of the most mundane thing humans do. It was retraining my eating habits, and it couldn't have been done without being a part of a community where eating well was practiced daily.
Eating healthy is a lifestyle, not a once-a-week salad at lunch.
How many of our churches speak of complete transformation and redemption while maintaining a culture that eats salad once a week? The proclamation of the Gospel is that God, in Jesus Christ, has fundamentally changed the way we see and work in this world. Because of the Cross and Resurrection, everything has changed. And yet, I get the sense that churches seem more interested in providing an experience of faith once a week than creating a culture of faith that re-orders how we live entirely. I once read something that put it like this:
A discipling culture is about encouraging and cultivating the development of a missional lifestyle (faith at the center of everything we do) rather than missional events (faith at the center of the events we organize).
I believe this is an important distinction. We must be able to move beyond inviting our friends to church (even though this is important; an entry point to a new way of living) and become the community that opens our very lives to our neighbors in compassion. The first approach assumes that God's place rests only within the confines of church activity. Faith is cordoned off for a particular moment during the week, but it doesn't really require much more than showing up. But showing up doesn't retrain our prior habits of living.
The latter approach recognizes the work of the Spirit moving in us and the world to redeem all brokenness and sin. This approach re-orders our life to make room for the Spirit to change us. It is what we call the process of discipleship, learning to be more and more like Jesus. It is habit training, culture forming work. And this approach might very well change the way we relate with our neighbors, spend our money, play with our kids, eat our food, engage in acts of hospitality, befriend the poor, and reconcile cultural differences.
In short, the missional lifestyle changes everything.