There was a time in my life there was no where I would rather be than a Whole Foods store. Between the vast selection of all natural personal care products and the variety available at their hot food and salad bars, not to mention the pretty swell wine selection, I was in hippie girl heaven. At this particular phase of my life, I was deeply interested in the topic of alternative health and finding natural ways to help the body heal itself. So interested in fact, that I was at the cusp of taking courses that would hopefully enable me to practice in this field. What could be better than helping people learn to heal themselves of simple ailments, without being at the mercy of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry for every little bug and virus? How empowering would it be to take your health into your own hands?
My family had been involved with natural foods, vitamin supplementation and even dabbled in homeopathy long before it was cool (or at least long enough ago to make us weird in a small Ohio farming community). I did then, and still do, firmly believe that there are foods, vitamins and herbs at our disposal that can heal our bodies in a healthier way than incessant antibiotic usage. I can attest also to the power of self-hypnosis for pain management as this was my only pain killer for my daughter’s birth and I have seen lives positively impacted by acupuncture and massage therapies. However, a little over a year ago, I started to be vaguely troubled by the natural foods industry and the direction it was taken, not to mention the avenues it began to occupy.
In 2014, natural and organic foods are no longer merely fodder for hippie diets; they have transitioned not only into high-income suburbs, but also into churches. Christian books are issued claiming that God’s intention for our bodies is for them to function naturally, supplied with the proper fuel from locally grown, healthy foods. Verses sited include how our bodies are temples, therefore, we must honor God with our bodies and references to seed-bearing plants that are to be our food. Churches offer workshops on the dangers of GMO’s and the benefits of essential oils. They offer gluten-free donuts with fair-trade coffee during fellowship time. As a long-time natural health enthusiast, I should have been over-the-moon delighted about this, but I wasn’t.
God has granted me the privilege in recent years of being exposed to people who live at income levels many of us cannot imagine. For these people, trips to Whole Foods or purchases from Young Living are not an option, unless they chose to live without electricity or a roof. I try to imagine how I would feel if I were them, entering a place of worship for the first time, seeing posters advertising healthy eating, when I’m just worried about my family eating. How it would pain me to hear someone telling me eating organic is a way to honor God with my body, when a few organic items would diminish my weekly grocery budget substantially. Also, I’m pretty sure Medicaid does not cover chiropractic visits and supplements.
It would be easy to read this post and think I am against healthy eating; that I’ve turned my back on quinoa for the sake of the Big Mac. I can assure you this is not the case; I hate quinoa and Big Macs with equal fervor. I believe strongly in the virtues of healthy eating and living but object to how we’re teaching it. I believe as the body of Christ, one of our foremost concerns at all times is to be the poor among us and I would strongly caution against dialogues that make them feel excluded or demeaned. Why not formulate a weekly menu based on an $80 or $100/week budget that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and proteins? Why not emphasize balanced eating instead of focusing on grain-fed and non-GMO?
In Colossians 2, Paul cautions against obsessing over what goes in our physical bodies, saying,
“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
While it is highly unlikely he is referencing organic food frenzy in this statement, the central point remains: any time anything occupies our minds continually, be it alcohol, drugs, sex or grain-fed, hormone free steak, it has the potential to become a distraction and a stumbling block to us, not to mention the possible effect it has on others. I am not saying this to be condemning;I am saying this because I myself I have been there. While I was busy reading ingredient labels and researching where my chicken came from, did I miss someone in need of help? In my fervor to educate the world about the evils of simple carbs, did I alienate someone who sat there munching a bagel because it soaked up the excess acid in their stomach caused by their nervousness at being in a new setting?
Healthy eating and living can be of tremendous value to those who abide by its principles and I believe the church in it’s ideal incarnation makes a priority of the healing of bodies, souls, and minds. I would only ask that we make it a healing that is accessible to all. One of the most noticeable characteristics of Jesus Christ is how his message was completely available to all, regardless of race, income or education level. We must be wary of any presence of elitism and seek always to love, serve and teach the least of these among us.