Eating the Bag Itself

This morning I sent out a link to what I called an edifying food rant, which you can read here. Having done so, I thought it might be good for me to summarize a few basic observations about food and the modern Christian. This is by no means exhaustive, but it should give the lay of the land. This is why this subject is of such major concern to me.

The basic food law for Christians is love. The basic food law for Christians is that of reducing friction to table fellowship. Adding diet barriers increases potential points of friction. Whenever diet barriers are necessary for medical reasons (as they often are), we should work with them, of course. But we should all recognize what our shared goal should be — free table fellowship, for all Christians, in every direction. Two Christians, with completely different brown bag lunches, should be able to laugh and talk together over those lunches, even though one bag is filled with food that is full of pure thoughts and the healthiest thing to do with the other lunch would be to eat the bag itself.

Whenever I write about food, which I am constrained pastorally to do, one of the standard dismissive responses that I see in comments and web chatter is that I am not educated on the subject, that I have not read the right studies, etc. But I am not making these observations as a food expert (though I am reasonably well-read on the subject). I am making these observations as someone who has been studying people in depth for four decades or so. I couldn’t recognize gluten under a microscope to save my soul, but I can recognize monkey-see-monkey-do when I see it. I do know how to identify a young woman with daddy issues that are all heaped up on her nearly empty plate. I know what food wowserism looks like. I can recognize a green produce pecksniffian. I know what a moralistic crusade looks like.

For those whose food choices are different from mine, and who are not doing these weird people things, then I am quite prepared to bless God for every one of their menu choices. Honestly. But to appeal to that great Seinfeld line — “People! They’re the worst!”

So the issue is the people, never the food. Jesus declared all food, as such, clean. He didn’t just declare what I like clean. He declared the following clean — sun-dried raisins, bacon, clam chowder, tofu, GMOs, Wonder bread, Grape-Nuts, and the yogurt, strawberries and granola I just had for breakfast. When the food is just food, and God is thanked for it, and there are no hidden ideological agendas, I couldn’t care less what my brother eats. I wouldn’t dream of taking him to a restaurant and ordering for him. And when he orders, I wouldn’t dream of turning up my nose at his choice, saying, “You know, studies have shown . . .” Okay, I might say something if he ordered grits with shrimp, but only in a jolly, comradery way.

As one sage has said, knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in the fruit salad. This principle of knowledge and wisdom applies to more than just tomatoes.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Jason

    Did you pull an intentional Dan Quayle by leaving the “e” out of tomatoes?

    And you really don’t like shrimp and grits?

  • Michael A. Coughlin

    Excellent. Getting to the artichoke of the issue is the key, dear brother!

  • Matthias

    About a month ago at work, someone threw a bunch of sugar into the garbage because there were ants in the little cup where the Raw Sugar™ packets (as in, enclosed) were held, next to the coffee machine. It seemed like a huge waste to me, but then again I suppose they could have been GMO ants.

  • Matt Robison

    But bacon is really, REALLY clean.

  • larry

    Your comments are right on the mark, as far as attitudes are concerned, but I wonder whether the local church – and pastors – ought to look a little more into the subject of nutrition. It has been said – and may well be – that churches are far behind the curve in terms of healthy eating. We seem to think that there is nothing better for us than carb upon carb and we wonder why – or maybe we don’t wonder, but should – our prayer lists for physical recovery are sooooo loong. Are we faithful witnesses if we are fatter and more unhealthy than the general population?

  • Moor

    This reminds me of the sermon I read recently, where a liberal mainline pastor said of the “give us this day our daily bread” petition:

    “…we are praying with these words that God will help us control our own appetites to simply eat less and that what we do eat will be diverse, organic, not genetically modified, and grown by small farmers.”

    Among other things, the quote made me wonder how small the farmer had to be (like, does he or she need to be legally classified as a “little person”?).

  • Frank Turk

    My only real concern with the whole Bible, when it comes right down to it, is the OT restrictions on eating bacon. It’s the only time I worry about inerrancy.

  • Paul

    It seems to be that there are 2 kinds of sins when it comes to food. The first is food legalism. This what Pastor Doug usually addresses. The other sin is that of gluttony. It would be nice if Pastor Doug would lay out the limits of each so that the charges in Luke 7:31-35 do not stick.

    If, through my diet, I have given myself diabetes and sleep apnea aren’t I a glutton but if I abstain from carbs to cure the diabetes and sleep apnea have I not become a legalist?

  • L Butler

    Mmmmmmmm…grits with shrimp. This is actually what I ordered while out on a rare date with my husband for our 10th anniversary. Low country boil shrimp on a bed of the tastiest kernels of deliciousity you ever tasted. Nice restaurant, too, hope to go back someday. I’m certain it was all unethically sourced and contained traces of Round-up. Mmmmmmmm…

  • Douglas Wilson

    Jason, oops on your first point and not on your second.

  • Will Dole

    I was just giving a friend a hard time the other day for ordering shrimp and grits. Who eats grits?

  • Rachael Starke

    Pastor Wilson,

    I am currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutritional science, with far more studies ahead of me than behind me. That means that I’m likely not quite as well read as you and twice as dangerous. :) But I had to weigh in because I found it ironic that you would call what was written edifying, even though its claims re: “facts” were as substantive as those of the “news reports show the *one* trick that will help you lose belly fat!” that litter my Facebook sidebar. As in, there weren’t any. No scientific facts about her friends’ claims, but also none about her own. Rant it was. Substantive it weren’t.

    As for the role of food in the life of the Christian, of course the basic rule must be love, as it is for every other facet of life. But the nature of that love for one another must flow naturally from our love for God and His work in creation. God uses the metaphor of food more broadly and deeply than any other to tell us that there is an eating that brings life, and there is an eating that brings death. Surely that warrants more care than just “don’t harsh my (marsh)mellow”.

  • Stephen Baker

    Well, Mrs. Butler, evidently.

  • John Rabe

    I honestly have no idea what it means when it’s said that churches are “far behind the curve in terms of healthy eating.” Such a claim strikes me as necessarily fabricated.

    Since churches are not primarily dietary communities, we might just as easily slice-and-dice things in completely other ways–e.g. “accountants (or truck drivers, or Democrats, or people who like the color blue) are far behind the curve in terms of healthy eating.” Maybe, maybe not. Who could know such a thing? And even if we did know such a thing, correlation does not prove causation. It wouldn’t prove there was something unique about churches. Being “behind the curve in health eating” could just as easily (in fact more easily be attributable to regional diets in places where churches are prevalent, income, stage in life, etc. My own church has organic eaters, exercise freaks, doughy middle-aged guys, rail-thin teenagers, and just about everything else on the scale. My guess is that’s about the same thing one would find in any gathered group that wasn’t specifically gathered for purposes of diet and exercise.

    Sure, the menu at most church picnics probably isn’t geared toward health foods–but neither is that at the company barbecue or the family reunion. Nobody gathers together to eat celery.

  • Cindy

    Rachael Starke, I think the “facts” she was referring to weren’t meant to be nutritional ones, but spiritual.

  • Rachael Starke

    Cindy – that’s a good point. Likely true. But the same issue holds true – are those spiritual “facts” in the American sense (opinions that I just want to be facts)? And even if they are, are they the only ones that matter? I completely agree with her and Doug that her opening story is a violation of Proverbs 25:11 and Ecclesiastes and elsewhere about there being different times for different words. I especially agree on that point because I have had to repent of that very sin myself on some occasions! It is a fact that ours is the only faith free of any dietary mechanisms to obtain favor and forgiveness from our God. It’s just also a fact that we are to use our freedom to serve and to love our weaker brothers (not mention find ways to help them become stronger!) Rom. 14: 20b is a fact (everything is indeed clean), but so is 20c (don’t flaunt the fact to your weak brother). I truly believe, based on science, that high fructose corn syrup is legalized slow acting poison. But if a sister (or an unbeliever) offers me a can of Coke when I walk in her door, I’m going to drink it with thanks. If a bunch of my sisters are on a no artificial sweeteners kick, I’m going to decline the Diet Coke and drink the wheat grass whatever with thanks. In both cases, I’m setting aside my freedom to love my neighbor.Heck, maybe in my desire to be teachable I’ll find out that the Diet Coke bigots are actually right and I’ll repent of stiff necked persnicketiness. :)

  • Yuri

    “For those whose food choices are different from mine … I am quite prepared to bless God for every one of their menu choices.” – But is the author prepared to bless God for his child consuming too many calories and fat and almost no vegetables? If so, he is blessing God for inevitable health problems in future. With such approach the author must bless God for tobacco as well. And why make an exception for pot? After all, eating unlimited number of fat hamburgers and drinking enough sugary drinks will cause as much or more harm. Is pandering a manifestation of Christian love?

  • Arwen B

    Yuri said:

    “But is the author prepared to bless God for his child consuming too many calories and fat and almost no vegetables? ”

    A person’s children are under that person’s authority, and it is that person’s responsibility to see that the child is fed suitable food (whatever that may mean to the person in question).
    This is a different situation than any that were described by the author.

    What the author has described are situations in which persons not in authority have presumed to improperly exercise authority over the dietary choices of another person, and to attempt to shame the other person into compliance, if that person attempts to resist the imposition.

  • Sean Carlson

    Ahh, the Christian Food Police. You’ve had a run-in or two? Here in Oklahoma we might actually need a few given our predilection for chicken fried steak. Was up your way recently. Do the Christian Food Police tend to congregate in University towns along with all the other (ahem)interesting people?

  • Moor

    Christian Food Police? What’s “Christian Food”, and why does it have a police force? On another note…mmmmmmmm…chicken fried steak.

  • Moor

    By the way, Sean, that was blatant trolling, please just smirk along.

  • Rob Steele

    Here’s a little food video.

  • L Butler

    Bless yer heart, Mr. Dole, you have apparently never attended a fellowship hour at a church in The South. Grits, bacon, cheese, egg. It gets et.

  • jigawatt
  • threegirldad

    Who eats grits?

    I do–with unabashed gusto. But I can’t stand hominy. Go figure.

  • Deb J

    John Rabe’s comment just about sums it up: “Nobody gathers together to eat celery.”

    Anyone ever seen the movie Babette’s Feast?

  • Russell Smith

    2 points:
    1) I love that the word “pecksniffian” is still in use. Dickens would be proud.
    2) Shrimp and Grits, as we all know, is sweet manna from heaven.

  • oldfatslow

    One of the few good things about cancer
    my family learned this year was the great
    cheese grits and sausage patties on the
    daily breakfast menu at Moffitt Cancer
    Center in Tampa. Well worth scheduling
    an early appointment and 2.5 hour drive
    in the AM.


  • Tom G

    I have a hard time believing God said “here’s a bunch of sodium nitrate it will kill ya but I declare it clean”. You wanna eat it fine. But don’t tell me I’ve got to eat it to keep you from feelin bad about killing yourself with a poor diet.

  • Tom G

    Pastor Wilson,
    I debated about posting these comments. I suspect your done with this post anyway. However, I’m going to comment and its going to be personal, but you’ve made your personal life public here. I mean no disrespect. In fact I hold you and Pastor Wilkins in the same place as Augustine, Calvin, Jackson, Lee, Chesterton and Lewis. Which is somewhere in Protestant sainthood.

    We are not Gnostics. Our health matters in the grand scheme of the kingdom. Like education we should be concerned with what people get to eat that have little. But that should not prevent us from providing the best we can for our families. I mean, you are a great advocate of classical education and rightfully so. You speak out about the great benefits of classical Ed. And the great dangers of the junk that passes for education today. You are right to do so. And you have provided for the education of your family and many others regardless of the lack if interest or availability elsewhere. I’m sure it’s the case that many have classically trained there children because they have observed its success and want to follow others into that success. Are they monkeys too? Are they overzelouse and desererve to be ridiculed when they talk to people about healthy food and refuse to give there families poor food?

    It seems to me you might reconsider your position.

  • Tom G

    I thought better of some of the more personal stuff.

  • Tom G

    What good does it do to have a well trained child ready to make an impact for the kingdom if he or she dies at 40 because of a poor life

  • Rick Davis

    John’s comment, “Nobody gathers to eat celery,” immediately reminded me of this:

    So very true.

  • Rob Roy

    “So the issue is the people, never the food. Jesus declared all food, as such, clean. He didn’t just declare what I like clean. He declared the following clean — sun-dried raisins, bacon, clam chowder, tofu, GMOs, Wonder bread, Grape-Nuts, and the yogurt, strawberries and granola I just had for breakfast.”

    I used to believe that. But after further study, I don’t believe the historic interpretation of Mark 7 and Acts 10 can be reconciled with the rest of scripture. Much is currently being written on this, but here are some thoughts:

  • Matt Robison


    While I would agree that our health matters, we should not fall into the pure materialistic assumptions of what it means to be healthy, or how we are healthy. The Bible makes it pretty clear that our spiritual condition has more to do with our health than what we eat. Treating the body like a machine, getting the calibrations right, and so on, is no guarantee of health. All is vapor. We can be thankful for modern medical science, but an overwhelming focus on it is idolatrous.

    Paul told the Corinthians that some of them were sick and dying, and some had already died, because they didn’t treat the Lord’s Supper properly. Same food everyone else was eating. The difference was their attitude. Likewise, James exhorts the elders to pour oil over those who are sick. According to modern medical science, all that does is give their skin a healthy glow. Makes no difference.

    The great mystery of medical science isn’t really why we get sick, but why we are ever healthy.

    And this plays out in my own experience. My great grandmother ate fried chicken fried in Crisco several times a month, a regular part of her diet. She also ate a bunch of other stuff that people would shake their heads in condescension at. She lived until she was past 100.

    The main problem in the health food craze is the rank ingratitude, which is the main thrust of the article he linked to. And rank ingratitude is a serious spiritual condition that causes much more harm than anything you could put in your mouth.

  • K. Swanson

    This is great! Thank you, Mr. Wilson, for taking this on and bringing it down to the real issues. I so appreciate it.