Food is still at the fore front of a lot of people’s minds in this post-Christmas regretting-our-over-indulgence haze, and as we try to stick to our New Year’s resolutions to rectify that indulgence.
Someone once told me that food was the one truly controversial topic of conversation – politics, sex and religion were tame compared to the passion that challenging someone’s diet can ignite. Mind you this was before the days of Brexit…..
But the point still seems to hold, discussions around food can become very heated, very quickly.
Some 20 years ago there were only two questions involved if you wanted a cup of coffee: with or without milk, with or without sugar. Now, of course, especially if you are going to pay for your coffee, there is a choice on the level of milky-ness, its frothiness, it’s size, it’s flavouring, it’s topping, is that to go or drink in?
A similar thing seems to be happening with food now. Again, 20 years ago, if you were going to invite other people for dinner, an idea of their likes and dislikes was a polite enquiry. A few were vegetarians (I think Linda Macartney was the only one I knew of), and even less (and even more perplexing) were vegans. Now inviting someone to dinner often requires a full disclosure agreement!
We not only have organic foods but there is a rise in terms like gluten free, lactose free, nut free, soya free, sustainable eating, food as medicine and conscious eating. The number of people who are vegetarians and vegans is rising. And the reasons behind this are interesting and varied: it is often not just about the moral and ethical concerns about killing animals for food. For some, the methane produced by cows, and its effect on global warming, is a good enough reason to stop or reduce eating red meat.
There is also a genuine increase in the number of people who are sensitive, intolerant or just point blank allergic to certain foods – gluten, lactose and nuts being the most common examples. The commercial rise of “free from” foods in supermarkets is a measure of how serious and wide spread this is. The “free-from” aisle that never existed 20 years ago. There is a question about whether people were always this prone to being sensitive to these foods and it was just undiagnosed, or if is there something in our environment, or the way we live and eat now (more processed food, for example), that has caused these intolerances to increase. Some people are keen to eat a sustainable diet. This is a diet that has a lowenvironmental impact, seeking to reduce the detrimental effect on the ecosystems of our planet. Foods that are organically produced are important if sustainability is a concern, as well as food miles (the distance food travels before it reaches the consumer). The amount of plastic packaging is also a concern if following a sustainable diet: there is a grass roots movement growing towards waste free/plastic free supermarkets.
As to food as medicine, someone I know has managed to control symptoms of chronic fatigue and chronic pain by adjusting their diet. They no longer take any drugs prescribed by the doctor for these conditions and with a carefully controlled food regime, that involves no processed foods at all, can function at an almost normal level - certainly better than being bed bound for 2 years.
A phrase of great interest to me is conscious eating. This seems to draw together all the elements behind the issues raised by the other ways of eating. It seems to be saying be aware of your food and focus what you are eating around what you are concerned about. For example, if it is your weight that concerns you then eat in moderation and exercise more; if it is an allergy that will affect your quality of life then don’t eat that trigger food; if its global warming that worries you, reduce the food miles and shop for local produce. But, and here is a reality check, some people are limited to what they can afford and things like organic, plastic free, sustainable foods are just not an option. It is interesting to ponder that whatever your view on these issues, ultimately it is affordability that will determine what you buy. But there can still be awareness of what is being consumed and why.
To be challenged on what you eat feels like an attack at very personal level, and maybe the reason for this is embedded in the phrase “we are what we eat”. This is where it gets interesting for Christians who receive Holy Communion - the bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Christ. It is an important part of our fellowship and discipleship. Another word for Holy Communion is the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. A way of becoming more conscious of the food we are eating is to give thanks for it before we eat -this very often focuses our attention on the process of how the food has arrived on our plates and helps us to remember that not everyone has enough to eat.
We are what we eat, but we are also how we eat. Maybe this new year can challenge us to focus our eating, and ourselves, on being grateful and conscious.
With Love and Light
Curate to the United Parish