Letter from the Editor: Food Righteousness Isn’t Right

Americans love food fads. From diets to cuisines to trending ingredients, we run after whatever has stolen the spotlight like the food lemmings we can be. Then we see the star food everywhere we look. Avocado toast and La Croix readily come to mind here, both of which have vehement opposition from those who find the latest food fad unconscionable. But before avocado toast and La Croix, there were SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes.

In 1994, Nabisco’s SnackWell’s line of reduced fat cookies and crackers hit the shelves and promptly flew right off into carts. The whole SnackWell’s line was a hit, but it was the Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes that turned grocery aisles into pop-up WWE rings where customers got their boxes at any cost.

Because of its power, food prompts us to behaviors and habits that can be odd, at best, and even deadly, at worst.

Why would a pre-packaged cookie cause such a rumble? Nabisco’s team got all the variables right: the promise of indulgence without the fat. Fat had just been crowned the latest villain in nutrition, and everyone was looking for ways to cut out the extra calories by choosing food devoid of its presence. Reduced-fat and fat-free foods represented the evil we could expunge from society at large. And maybe even from within our very own souls.

Food is always more than just food. It calls us together to celebrate with loved ones. It becomes our sole consolation after a stress-filled day. It keeps us alive. And it can kill us. Food’s power is in what it does to us deep within, fueling our bodies toward life or even death, filling heart needs we sense but cannot see. As a necessity, food’s place in our lives is locked in. But the way we incorporate it into our daily living reveals much about our disordered perspective, both personal and collective. Because of its power, food prompts us to behaviors and habits that can be odd, at best, and even deadly, at worst. We over-indulge. We diet. We become enlightened. We crown new food villains. And we wear our food righteousness like a badge of honor.

The way we interact with and obsess over what we eat is telling. But are we able to listen?

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the feature essays and curated support articles speak to various ways we fight with our food. Our first feature from Gina Dalfonzo, “Bread of Fellowship: A Review of The Reading Cure,” highlights the struggle British writer Laura Freeman has faced with food and eating and how reading good books brought health and healing:

I love the idea of learning to eat again from books, and not just because I love literature too (not even because Charles Dickens is my own favorite novelist). I love it because, to me, it’s a reminder that God, the giver of all good gifts, didn’t just give us food—he also gave us other people to enjoy it with us and to help us learn to enjoy it again if need be.

[…]

So Freeman’s rediscovery of food in books was just as much a discovery that she wasn’t alone. Authors through the ages—a community of people no longer with us and yet still very much with us—were reaching out to her, beckoning her back to health and wholeness. Their love of life and all the good things it had to offer was so real, so irrepressible, that it spilled over into her life. And that in turn prompted a new appreciation of the people who were all around her—her family, her friends, all the people who cared for her and encouraged her to care for herself again. The invisible community of writers had guided her back to the visible community of loved ones.

Dalfonzo’s analysis is spot-on: So much of food’s joy is found in the way it connects us with others and makes us whole. As food pulls us together, it fills our empty stomachs even as it also fills our need for fellowship. Disordered eating steals that from us, leaving in its wake a deep void. The void is part of us though, and unless we gain perspective on the way it shapes our thinking, we will go on our disordered way. A surprising contributor to disordered eating is identified in Liz Ranfeld’s article, “Nancy Drew and the Case of the Fat-Shaming Trope“:

When I anticipated that the [Nancy Drew] books might not have aged super well, I was right. There are small narrative inconsistencies, and even my first grader found them to be pretty predictable. What I wasn’t expecting? All the body negativity and weight loss talk.

The Nancy Drew books of the 80s and 90s are aggressively anti-fat, and it’s easy to see how they likely contributed to young girls’ earliest encounters with weight loss, dieting, and negative self-image. As I read the novels to my daughter, I frequently skipped paragraphs or lines of dialogue, protecting her for just a little longer from the novels nobody in my childhood ever considered could be problematic.

Messages about food and eating come at us from unexpected places. We take them in; they nourish us in ways we never see, shaping us to think about food and our bodies in ways that are far from life-giving. These biases lurk in the shadows of our minds and hearts, shading everything in connection to food: what we eat and how much, acceptable size and weight, and so on. Our rules remain until confronted head on, which is what the highly popular TV show This Is Us did by including us to Kate Pearson, an overweight character, in its story. In “Let Us (All) Eat Cake,” J. Nicole Morgan explains:

When Kate was a fat stranger, the only concept of her as a person the viewer understood was one in which she had a love-hate relationship with food. She was a fat caricature. Her entire story, her entire identity, revolved around food and her relationship with it. After two seasons though, the viewers know her. We know she is not consumed by a singular focus on food. So, as we enter into the life of Kate Pearson, we want to forget all the negative stereotypes we have about fat people when we see Kate. We certainly don’t want to deal with our biases and our prejudices on her wedding day. We want to tell ourselves we are enlightened; we want to call her beautiful; and we want to relish the joy of love. But there’s one thing we can’t seem to embrace: Our collective cultural brains don’t know how to celebrate a fat bride eating cake. “Shouldn’t she have skipped that?” we would ask, words forming from somewhere deep within. So, the producers leave that part out. They erase some of her joy, some of her wedding day to make her celebration more palatable to an audience that doesn’t want to, or know how to, celebrate a fat woman eating cake. We don’t have space at our table for fat people to join the feast.

The way that we accept and exclude one another based on food and consumption standards is the epitome of food righteousness. The apostle Peter was reprimanded by the Lord for such standards ( ), so this is nothing new. But it seems every decade brings with it a new approach. One of the more recent and popular has been the Whole30 cleanse, adopted by many and spawning an entire line of foods, cookbooks, and support groups. Sophie DeMuth shares her thoughts on Whole30 in “Whole30 and the Counter-Cultural Nature of Self-Discipline“:

While on Whole30, I had to navigate a work goodbye lunch hosted at a Mexican food joint. I called ahead and lied about having a food allergy to see if there was anything gluten, dairy, and joy free on the menu. Turns out, you can eat unseasoned fajita meat and grilled veggies and nothing else. During the actual meal my mouth watered as my coworkers chowed down on my number one food temptation: chips and queso. It took everything within me not to dive headfirst into the gooey cheese armed with a chip in each hand. At that point, I longed for homemade plantain chips and Whole30-approved salsa.

[…]

Personal self-discipline, whatever form it takes, has a cost. Any personal decision we make to deny ourselves will ripple outward, and confront the self-indulgent world. For me, the 30-day challenge created unwanted distance between me and my friends and family. My limited diet clashed against their freedom to eat whatever they wanted. Other acts of self-discipline come with their own set of losses: an earlier bedtime, shortened moments at home, or fewer places to hangout. Each sacrifice grinds against the norms of the world around us, causing us to wonder if discipline is even worth it.

The way we consume food affects us on every level. Whether we have no restraints or adopt the Whole30 plan, both modes affect us inside and out. But that’s not all: our food choices affect everyone we’re connected with. What we eat and how we eat it speaks to our struggles and biases and knowledge and ignorance. We have much left to learn.

Disordered eating goes deep in us and is embedded in our cultural mindset. We’re looking for something more from the foods we eat, causing them to bend under the weight of our expectations and needs. But one day, all that will be set right. There is a table being set in “a far kingdom” where all our food righteousness will fade, all our confusion surrounding health and nutrition will be long forgotten, where everyone is welcome and has a prized seat, where no one talks about calories or extra pounds or the latest diet. What a glorious feast that will be.

In This Issue

Bread of Fellowship: A Review of The Reading Cure

God, the giver of all good gifts, didn’t just give us food—he also gave us other people to enjoy it with us and to help us learn to enjoy it again if need be.

by Gina Dalfonzo

Nancy Drew and the Case of the Fat-Shaming Trope

The Nancy Drew books of the 80s and 90s are aggressively anti-fat, likely contributing to young girls’ earliest encounters with weight loss, dieting, and negative self-image.

by Liz Ranfeld

Let Us (All) Eat Cake

The church has far too often failed to critique the way our culture shames the bodies of those outside the ideal and given theological weight to claims that some bodies are more godly than others.

by J. Nicole Morgan

Whole30 and the Counter-Cultural Nature of Self-Discipline

Though the extremism of Whole30 isn’t necessarily a model for Christian self-discipline, but it does amplify the tension between the undisciplined culture and the narrow path of self-control.

by Sophie DeMuth

The Problem with the Daniel Diet

“Although the Daniel Diet is helping Christians become more conscientious about their health, the trend raises some questions.”

by Ryan Hoselton

Oprah’s Best Body and the Body of Christ

Fat Christians represent the Body of Christ just as much as their thinner counterparts in the church, even if Oprah Winfrey’s new Weight Watcher ads tell us otherwise.

by Amanda Martinez Beck

A Living Sacrifice: The Beauty of a Body Broken for Others

We can pretend that bodies are shrines to our youth, but they are better considered as places. They can be havens and homes. They can be agents of mercy. But what they aren’t meant to be is preserved.

by Amanda Wortham

How Seventh-Day Adventists Convinced You to Eat Breakfast Cereal

We devote huge amounts of time and energy guilting each other over what we eat.

by Luke T. Harrington

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