The task this morning is to follow up on some reasonable questions raised in the comments of the previous post, God’s Bistro. The basic outline of my response will be to grant a point at the center, but to differ as to what the appropriate responses and applications ought to be.
The questions I want to address concern the pervasive force and influence of advertising, questions about justice in the production of food (e.g. fair trade), and the matter of basic health issues and diet.
I quite agree that advertisers and mass marketers have figured out that there are a lot of people out there who are like sheep without a shepherd. They want to prod and steer everybody into various purchases and brand loyalties, and they industriously work at it. This is something we should respond to, but my suggested response would not be to say that people have to choose between Ads and Adbusters, between corporate and fake alternative corporate.
Protesting the new global economy and actually escaping it are two different things.
My response has been to encourage the establishment of Christian schools that teach kids how to think like Christians, how to identify fallacies, how to stand up to group-think, and so on. Nothing is more truly counter-cultural than holiness. There is nothing new about any of this — the choice is the same in every generation, and that choice holiness or the world. There is nothing new under the sun, including the lie that there actually is something new.
So we must not trust in worldly alternatives to the world. That just gets us opting into secular right/left divisions, or becoming a Laurelist instead of a Hardyist. And we can’t fix things by opting for a thin Christian veneer of these right/left distinctions — Sean Hannity or N.T. Wright.
So in trying to lean against this problem of thoughtless brand loyalty, I don’t want to trust the critical outlook of people who would stand in line for three days for the latest iPhone. They might not know what the actual problem is, and so perhaps we should call them iPhoneys.
Full disclosure: I do own an iPhone myself, but I have managed to do this without being one of the cool kids. The issue is not the thing, but rather our approach to the thing. Same as with food. Our temptation is to objectify the problem, trying to locate sin in the stuff — in the tobacco, in the alcohol, in the gun, in the donut — instead of where sin is actually located, which is right under the breastbone.
On matters of gross injustice in the production of my dinner, I quite agree with the principle. In other words, if I knew a restaurant in town with the best-tasting steak got those fantastic results by flogging its cooks out back, cheating its wholesalers, double-crossing the waitresses on the tips, and sending representatives out to the stockyards every month to taunt the cows, I would not patronize that restaurant. I don’t want to bless known scoundrels with my business. So the principle is fine.
But the problem is with that word “known.” To assert injustice is not the same thing as proving it. Much ado is made over the concept of “fair trade,” for example, but largely by people who don’t know what “fair” means, or what “trade” is. In short, I flat don’t believe them. Sometimes the business is run by scoundrels, and other times the agitating protesters are the scoundrels. And going back to the first point, how many people who drink fair trade coffee were stampeded into it by a marketing campaign? A lot more skepticism is in order.
Another question concerns basic health issues. I would take the same general approach here. That is, I would grant the principle, but dispute the plethora of contemporary applications. If we concentrate on the how and why we eat together, and the emphasis is on love, of course a faithful mom is going to make sure her kids get enough citrus to enable them to avoid scurvy. That is all to the good, and is common sense. To my detractors, I would simply say this: I approve of little children not getting scurvy.
The problem here is not what we know, but rather what we think we know — and how quickly we start pressuring and condemning others on the basis of what we think we know. The issue here is that claims about health and well-being are very much like claims about global economics. A lot of what is said just ain’t so. Daniel was willing to put his dietary request to the chamberlain to the test. After ten days, are we ruddier or are they ruddier? After ten days are we fairer and fatter in flesh, or are they (Dan. 1:14-16)? Mom, have your husband run a blind taste test for you – put an organic apple and a regular Safeway apple in the kids’ lunches for ten days, without telling you which one is getting which one. Then after ten days, you tell him which kid has been eating healthier.
But if the claims stand up, as they do with Vitamin C and scurvy, then the point stands. Sure. Everything else being equal, a family should be served a healthy, well-balanced meal. Mom should not let her teen-aged son ruin his dinner by wolfing a bag of chips half an hour before. Marshmallow pop tarts are not the breakfast of champions. My phight against phood pharisaism should not be taken as a ringing endorsement of maple bars with bacon on them . . . although I might try one sometime. It is simply that a lot of the dietary harum-scarum these days is based on statistical hoodoo, galloping fads, shrewd marketing, and crony capitalism (again, see the first point). Again, a bit more skepticism before making any claims about food that reflect on any person’s standing with God.
You don’t need to be so skeptical that you won’t try anything new. You can sell the food options without selling the guilt. In fact, the pastor said, that is what you must do.
And finally, apropos of nothing in particular, but staying on the general theme, I thought I should share with you this short video on how McDonald’s makes their Chicken McNuggets. Bon Appétit!
this is completely off the subject of this post, so please delete it at your leisure, but I don’t know where else to ask it: any reflections on the Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate last night?
But Doug….are those free range chickens?
J, not any more.
Well played sir
Don’t you know that when you taught the sacred cows the bull gets made? Great posts and this coming from a small farmer in Massachusetts. I could sell my eggs for $7 a dozen just because of the hype from all around the media but we don’t $3 is fair all around. But that leads me to a question Could I as a believer tip the scales of commerce in my favor just because I can?
Surely sometimes the sin is (at least in a sense) in the thing: Or are there no Rings? But also, what about Heroin? Heroin destroys, and it really is good to try to get off Heroin, and often (but perhaps not always, for instance with girls enslaved by Heroin) there was sin in taking Heroin. (In that case, the sin was in giving Heroin, not in taking it.) But for the Heroin addict, now the problem is just as much the thing as the heart–and perhaps more in the thing than in the heart. That’s a bit of an extreme example, but… Read more »
Regarding the masks: Those are for the Catholic revolution that’s brewing in England.
One more point:
Delete the adjective “thin” and I’d agree. A thick Christian veneer isn’t any better–it’s probably worse. But then, that’s why I found your scapegoating “those liberals” so bad.
I want to start by saying that I love Doug Wilson. His ministry, his mind, his son (and his writing) are awesome. They have really expanded my understanding in many different ways. However, food issues are one area where I think that Doug can be overly reductionistic. I hear and appreciate his sentiment when it comes to food. My paraphrase: “Our motives (food-thoughts) matter. How and why we are eating are important, but there is no intrinsic holiness/unholiness in food per se.” I’m not quite sure that I would agree with the second clause of my paraphrase. I agree… Read more »
Where is Eric the Red to point out that Doug must therefore be pro-scurvy for babies and older children?
Are you then ready to condemn the modern American diet? We may not know what the “right” diet is, but clearly we have the wrong one.
I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken back in 1971 when the story circulated, and was well believed, that somebody found a deep fried rat in their bucket of chicken. Knowing first hand how the chicken was cooked – yes fresh; not frozen bird – on site; breaded; deep fried; cress-cored; packed and sold, I was able to debunk the rumor in my area. But it is amazing to me how many folks over the years have told me they heard and believed the story. I have become a skeptic of stories about ‘fair trade’ just the same as I am… Read more »
In my experience, many Christians who advocate for some form of food legalism advocate for a diet that is as close to the raw and natural state of food as possible, justifying this position by saying that food was like that in the garden before the fall. Aside from the practical considerations of this (especially considering the Noahic changes to the menu – MEAT- have you ever taken a bite out of a live free range chicken or cow?…they don’t tend to hold still), it ignores the fact that Adam and Eve were told to take dominion, to subdue the… Read more »
Dan Glover wrote:
That there may be more and less optimal ways to farm is something that farmers need to consider in subduing the earth. This is not a commandment for the consumer.
Yes, optimal (ethical) ways of farming are the primary responsibility of the farmer. However, in a free market economy (ours is slightly free), dollars spent are votes given. If the consuming public consistently bought products that were ethically produced (not just environmental ethics, but ethically all-around), we wouldn’t even be having this discussion in my opinion. One supports the producer and the production of an item that they purchase and all that that entails. It’s not that simple.
Sorry, I meant so say, “It’s not as simple as your statement: ‘This is not a commandment for the consumer.'”
A response to the video on how McDonald’s makes their chicken nuggets….
Luke, if the abuse is clear and well known then as a consumer I may choose to buy my food from another source. However the drive to identify the morality behind everything I eat and wear is (generally) unnecessary and often distracts us from doing real good. Much that is claimed to be the moral choice may be anything but the most moral; and the approval we give ourselves and each other for buying local, free trade, organic tofu is at best worthless and at worst contemptuous.
bethyada, I agree with your statement that identifying the morality behind everything one buys can distract from doing real good. However, it is arguable that by not researching what one purchases is one of the big contributors to creating environments/supporting systems which further institutionalized evils indirectly. Again, I don’t think that this issue can be this easily simplified and “solved”.– For example, I am a huge advocate of supporting local business and buying local (not locally sold goods, made in China). Buying local promotes accountability. When I buy a beef from a rancher that I know that raised the cow… Read more »
Dan Glover, I agree with katecho – nice post. The last 2 sentences are great: “We are meant to create because we are made in the image of the Creator. Going back to the garden isn’t the plan now because staying in the garden wasn’t the plan then.”
its not “it’s”. Sorry, I’m a poor proof-reader–mainly, because I don’t.
I read Doug’s comments about food and the result is that I feel FREE to eat this or that, or to not eat this or that, for whatever reasons seem good and right. I read the comments of others and I feel like I’m being dragged (or drug, whatever) into a world where having breakfast requires more research and study than I have the time or inclination to do, compounded with the risk of having even more sins to confess than I already do if I choose wrong (and sins that I can’t even find a verse for). There is… Read more »
Luke, I don’t have a problem with you doing that, and perhaps I might do that in some minor way. Say use the same business (say car repairs) to build relationship even if he does not always offer the cheapest or most convenient option. // My concerns are that I think people are frequently mistaken about food and health; they think what they are doing is eumoral (morally good) when it is indifferent; they advocate that other people should do what they are doing (which, if the activity turns out not to be eumoral, is Pharisaical and thus advocating it… Read more »
Greg: I think “drugged” is a reference to my post, so let me offer something of a response: Of course be free. Don’t be caught up in the decision, God loves you either way. God is your protection in the land of the living, and will hear your complaint, when you shew him your trouble. When your spirit overwhelms you, when there is a snare laid privily in the way wherein you have walked, God knows your pain. And he cares–he knows your pain–even the persecutor who is stronger than you lays snares made of food. — Likewise, if you think… Read more »
I would add that health problems related to food in the West are almost all amount to the quantity of it and not the quality.
Bethyada: I haven’t commented on your discussion, but I do have a comment on this last one. Michael Pollan agrees with you. The problem with our food isn’t that it’s unhealthy: In small portions it’s good, and yummy. The problem is that the marketing, and the fat/sugar/salt content, make it very difficult to eat it in moderation. The food is a little addictive, and the marketing exacerbates the problem.
Did you know that heroin was a trademark item for Bayer? Before people understood how addictive it was, Bayer used to sell it.
But the treaty of Versailles ending World War I also ended Beyer’s heroin trademark. Also, this image is very weird. Anyway, thanks for the anecdote, that was interesting.
My sister read a popular book, the title of which escapes me, about the issue Matthew keeps alluding to–how the food industry conspires to make food “addictive” by adding just the right ratio of fat/sugar/salt. She was convinced by this book of something sinister about the whole thing. I admit to not having picked up the book, but I do find it strange to criticize food producers for making their foods too appealing. I mean, I can’t quite imagine deliberately preparing recipes with just a little too much of this, and not quite enough of that, so that people won’t… Read more »
And no, I didn’t know. But wikipedia filled in some details. :P Thanks!
Ree: I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, I think there’s a small, but noticeable pressure in that direction, that has had a real effect over time. — I think in the area of music we can appreciate criticize something for being “appealing”, though, we would call it “catchy” there. There are a lot of pop songs that are hard to stop listening to, that are absolute trash, musically. It’s fine to listen to, say Miley Cyrus, sometimes. But her music is meant not to be good, but to be catchy–to get you to listen to it steady. I don’t know that I’d call… Read more »
Matthew, no, “drug” was not a reference to your post. I simply didn’t know what form of the verb was correct.
Matthew, I don’t mind that the food industry tries to make food more pleasurable. I do realise that for many people this makes it hard to eat appropriate quantities. While companies may bear some responsibility and may not help the problem I do think it is predominantly people who make their choices. I am amazed at how much food is bought pre-made in the US (from what I hear). // That said, I don’t have much time for advertisers. Though advertising is legitimate, and amoral in itself, it seems advertisers (in all areas) have frequently erred on the side of… Read more »
Not on “fair trade” but in that same vein…food for thought. Need to track down a good econ article on how “fair trade” actually works out in reality.
Podcast on free trade v. fair trade
Pressure in what direction? To make the food taste better? If a company is creating a new chocolate bar or potato chip, are we suggesting that they should make the sugar/salt/fat ratio less optimal so it’ll be a little less tasty? Do they have an obligation to under-salt the chips to make sure people will want to eat just one? Like pop music, we know these foods aren’t nourishing, and that’s why, if we choose to eat them, we need to use restraint. I don’t have a problem eating 3 or 4 chips, so if I crave a little salt,… Read more »
I would add that health problems related to food in the West are almost all amount to the quantity of it and not the quality. Not exactly, since those are related. You can eat piles of vegetables and never have a problem. On the other hand, it’s pretty much impossible to eat even modest amounts of fast food and not run a caloric surplus (outside of atypical situations, like you are Usain Bolt). Related, we’ve proven that man cannot stay thin while eating piles of corn and corn products every day. Doug seems terrified that someone might force him to… Read more »
Well, I have certainly benefitted from this dialogue. Wish I had something thoughtful to contribute, but all I have is this silly video:
Matt wrote: “Imagine making the recipe as normal, then adding a bunch of sugar, or even better corn syrup. You may say no big deal, but the expanding backsides of America suggest otherwise.” Let’s grant, for a moment, that this is exactly what food corporations are doing. Certain follow-up questions make all the difference. Are these corporations conspiring against their customers, leading their diet? Or are they following and supplying an existing demand? Perhaps it is some of both, but these are different motivations. More importantly, what should be done about this? Is this just an awareness/education issue? Is it… Read more »
katecho, Your first paragraph highlights thinking well about these issues by differentiating it into clearer categories. However, your section on criminality and State intervention could use some further expounding and clarifying questions perhaps. I would argue that much of the State’s intervention into the food realm has contributed to the problem of food quality and institutionalized injustices. Therefore, I would be reticent to invite more of their “help”. There is a lot of history to be invoked here, which I cannot quickly surmise in this format. This is again where I would encourage those who are truly interested in… Read more »
Ree: The pressure is to create food that makes money, not to make food that’s good. There is some overlap between the two, but they are not identical.
I’d also like to add: Food Phariseeism would be insisting that we should all follow the Torah, making it our light and lamp, praying the Shema regularly, not working on Sabbath, and then, also extending that to food, so that we only eat Kosher. Though Christ has come, that sounds like a definite step up to me.
Wow. Summarize, not “surmise”. That turns the whole statement on its head! Whoops!
Are these corporations conspiring against their customers, leading their diet? Or are they following and supplying an existing demand? Conspiring in the sense of doing it on purpose, yes, but not “against” as though they were nefariously trying to make people fat. At this point, it’s been going on so long that people are used to it and don’t demand otherwise, which isn’t quite the same as actively demanding it. But in any case, there are no criminal charges to levy here. The actual story is much more boring than that. More importantly, what should be done about this? The… Read more »
Matt, I agree with you completely! That is much closer to the heart of the problem (or one of the major problems). Apathy and ignorance (from the consumer) and too much government involvement, destroying true free markets.
If I may add: One thing that could be done is creating strong communities that recognize sometimes it is necessary to, say, eat at McDonalds, but that treat eating well a healthy part of a Christian life, so that we together can learn to redirect our desires.
Matt wrote: “The first step would be to scale back or end subsidies of corn and sugar. That may well take care of the problem entirely. Unfortunately, there seems to be no support for this.” Excellent point. Subsidies are an example of State intervention in the market that is almost never justified within the legitimate government sphere, and almost always has long-term unintended negative consequences. Matt is also correct that neither party has any political motivation to address the abuse of subsidies. Part of the problem is related to globalism. When the governments of other countries subsidize their own industry… Read more »
bethyada: I would add that health problems related to food in the West are almost all amount to the quantity of it and not the quality. Matt: Not exactly, since those are related. You can eat piles of vegetables and never have a problem. On the other hand, it’s pretty much impossible to eat even modest amounts of fast food and not run a caloric surplus I was meaning caloric amount not weight. I agree that veges are healthy but you can get fat on potatoes. The first step would be to scale back or end subsidies of corn and… Read more »