Friday 26 July 2013

Fast Food Nation

By Artur Suski, S.J. 


Some of you know all too well that one of my interests is nutrition. My academic background is molecular biology, and I have put this knowledge to good use as I recently have been doing more reading on the topic of nutrition. Why the interest? Simply put, God has given us a body and we are to be faithful stewards of this magnificent creation. Are we to abuse it or to take good care of it? I think the answer is clear. The same applies to nutrition; are we to abuse our bodies by giving it garbage or real food? One would not fill a Ferrari with sugar water, yet this is what we’re doing to our bodies today, especially with our Western diet– one that is dominated by processed foods; too many calories from animal products and hydrogenated vegetable oils; not nearly enough greens; and so forth.

But believe it or not, my entry is not on nutrition per se. A friend of mine, who happens to be a medical doctor, shared a very interesting observation with me recently by connecting our Western diets to our spiritual lives. She started by saying that It is no secret that faith has declined in the West this last half a century. She further noted that a boatload of health problems have sky-rocketed through the roof during this time. Can there be a connection between these two changing phenomena? She thinks that there is, and a strong one at that.

Her keen observation touched on the fact that living out one’s faith in an authentic manner requires a great deal of self-discipline and willpower. She also added that to eat healthy foods we also require a lot of self-discipline and will power. In fact, she went further and said that since our faith lives have a much deeper psychological root than most other spheres of our psyche – since we embrace and start practicing the faith at such a young age and our social sphere is utterly permeated by it – what happens to that root has an effect on other parts of our lives. If that root is strong and unwavering, it usually follows that the other aspects of our lives also benefit because of this stability and firmness.

Another observation that she shared with me: she knows a number of fellow doctors who do not eat a healthy diet. How can this be? Aren’t doctors supposed to be eating healthily because they know what’s best for our bodies? Aren’t they the ones giving us “healthy nutrition advice”? She was brave and asked a number of them these very questions. The answer was the same for all cases: I know it’s bad food, but I just cannot help myself! Or, another favourite (St. Augustine would have liked this one): I’ll get around to changing my bad diet some day, but I still have lots of time before problems may arise! They simply did not have the willpower to stop themselves. We people of faith often forget that such simple “ancient” Catholic practices of fasting from meat – or from all foods, for that matter – on Fridays not only served to unite our sufferings with those of Christ, who died on a Friday, but also to help us master our weak wills. If you have ever tried fasting from all food once a week, you will know what I mean when I say that this takes a lot of willpower. Suddenly even the horseradish looks appetizing! Not to mention that science is discovering amazing benefits of fasting, one of them being the regeneration and creation of new brain cells!

These are all interesting observations. One may deduce a number of things from them and I do not think that we ought to make a well-defined statement based on them. Otherwise, does this mean that all junk food eaters are non-believers or are not living out their faith well? Or, are all healthy eaters saints? I doubt this. It seems that there are many more questions than answers to these observations. It gets even trickier because most of us get very defensive about our weight and so conversations on this matter become heated and perhaps they are altogether avoided. Finally, many of us are simply ignorant of what “healthy” eating is. We eat what we’re told or what is available in the stores.

Speaking from my own experience, however, I can attest to the fact that it does take great willpower to resist eating badly. After all, our bodies love taking short cuts, so if only one Double Big Mac will give us our recommended daily caloric intake, why not go for it? No need to waste energy preparing food – or hunting for it in the bush – when so many calories are given to us on a platter. All the better for us, we think. And, just like in the spiritual life, once we start eating healthily and putting in the effort, things all of a sudden become easier and it does not take so much effort after all.

Let us assume that there is some connection between the faith and nutrition. It would be interesting to hear about your own experience. Our faith is an incarnational one, and so it truly does touch all aspects of our being, including the food we eat. Perhaps it is that both sides help each other: eating a healthy diet may aid our faith life, and vice versa.

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