Many people are concerned about their health. This is understandable. Who wants to get sick and, even more, who wants to die? So much money is involved in our health-care industry. Medical costs keep going up. Medical breakthroughs keep being discovered. Obesity and Diabetes have become national problems. Dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry. In spite of our material prosperity, we are a very unhealthy nation when compared to other countries. We are beset and stymied by the diseases of affluence: heart disease, cancer etc. Many voices on TV and Radio and the Internet tell us contrary things about food.
I remember in one of Woody Allen’s early movies, he travels into the future and discovers that science has discovered the nutritional benefits of milk shakes and banana splits!
Why is it important to see that what we eat is a spiritual issue? If we begin in the Book of Genesis (not a bad starting point!), we learn that we are made in the image and likeness of God: hence, the great dignity that is the human person. We are sacred since we come from God. Therefore, what we eat to sustain this glory has great importance. If, for instance, we identify the body not with a temple (which is an image that is not too familiar to us) but with a church, than we can more easily recognize that to treat the house of God shabbily; to keep it dirty; to pile stuff into it as to make it a kind of storeroom; to do things in it that are not appropriate (could you imagine how shocking it would be to have a BBQ in Church!) would be a terrible thing. So it is with the treatment of the Church of God that is our body, our selves. It is a very interesting fact that the first sin involved inappropriate eating! Remember the apple?
The need to see eating as a sacred act continues in the Hebrew Scriptures with the many laws regarding what is suitable for a Jew to eat. Everyone knows that there are kosher laws restricting greatly what is to be eaten. Some foods are unclean and avoiding them is a religious act.
Even beyond this, we have the story of the three young men in Babylon who refused to eat unclean foods from the Pagan King’s table. They bribed the guard to feed them only vegetables. When they were presented to the king with the rest of the young men designated for service to the realm, they were the handsomest and the strongest.
At the very center of Jewish observance is the Passover meal, and this was brought over into our own Christian faith in the Mass. The Mass is a commemorative meal: we gather together each day and eat together the Eucharist. So food and eating are interwoven with our faith in very profound and basic ways.
Now science has started to open up to us the destructive aspects of our own Western way of eating. Our abundance is creating a series of diseases of the human person that severely limits our ability to serve God. These so -called ‘diseases of affluence’, such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer, are ripping apart families and causing untold grief and misery. To think that there is a simple way to approach prevention—altering our diets—is to ask why it is not tried. Clearly, a plant-based diet has shown itself to be incredibly effective in preventing many diseases of affluence. But who wants to give up or even limit eating meat and other animal products? Could it be, also, that the powerful industries that provide such an unlimited amount of animal based products, with their hold on governments through lobbying and contributions, do not want us to go in that direction? We all remember the fight the tobacco industry put up to continue to market their products, which had been proven to be disastrous to health?
And do we think that the pharmaceutical industry wants us to be healthier and not need the vast array of medications and devices that is their livelihood?
We have a moral obligation to take care of ourselves so that we can serve God in the brief amount of time that He has apportioned to us here on earth. This means that we must take the ordinary means in preventing diseases that curtail our service to Him.
Learning the laws of eating correctly and heeding them, even in spite of the pressures put upon us socially and politically, is a very important factor in our obedience to the will of God.
That does not mean we must become vegans or even vegetarians, but simply that we must discover and follow the simple laws of nutrition that God wants us to follow so that we can serve Him in this life and be happy with Him forever in the life to come.