WWJE? Does Source Matter?

Funny story. I wanted an example of a food’s source. It occurred to me that my breakfast this morning, a package of Belvita biscuits, could be just the thing. Where did these originate? When I Googled the question, it gave an unequivocal (and incorrect) answer: Indonesia. It turns out that my Belvitas, at least according to the box, were made in Mexico.

For many foodies, “locally sourced,” is one of the principle commandments. At the very least, they would admonish us to know where our food comes from. As for me, Indonesia seemed like a plausible, and rather disturbingly distant, answer a few minutes ago.

Yesterday I took up the question of what Jesus would eat: WWJE? As promised, I would like to spend a bit of time mulling over some principles that I find useful in answering that question. I won’t hold these up as absolute doctrinal positions but rather as my best wisdom on the matter of what goes in my mouth.

Does the source, the origin, of your food matter? Clearly it matters in the area of taste and availability. Broccoli grown in our garden will most likely taste better than broccoli shipped in from California (which supplies 90% of the U.S. crop). On the other hand, we’ll struggle to grow that vegetable in the coldest and the hottest months of the year, meaning the availability is limited.

That’s all great for a food enthusiast, but does God really care about whether your vegetables are locally sourced? I’m not convinced that this is high on God’s list, but I could probably be persuaded otherwise.

When I talk about the source of our food, I think the more important thing is the ultimate source of it. God gives food to the birds, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6. He used birds to give food (from Him) to Elijah. He fed Israel miraculously for 40 years on manna.

He gives food to every creature.
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 136:25

The source of our food is not Hy-Vee or Whole Foods, not Indonesia, Mexico, or the garden a few steps from where I am sitting. My food’s source is God. It is a gift from Him.

If I give a gift to someone–and if it is truly a no-strings-attached kind of gift–then I will hope they will use that gift wisely but I won’t in any way force the issue. For example, about a year back, I gave my old car to my son. Will he treat that vehicle differently than he would one that he’d purchased? I’d like to think that he would remain grateful and responsible with it. Should he drive 30,000 miles without changing the oil, I would be disappointed, but it is his car.

I believe, when considering WWJE?, that it is more important that I remember that my food came as a gift from God than that I obsess over how many truck miles my beef or tomatoes endured before landing in my kitchen.

When we remember that each bite that goes into our mouth and sustains us is a manifestation of the grace of God, then we’re more likely to make Christ-pleasing decisions, which might include buying more locally sourced fare. But maybe not.

WWJE?

My sister-in-law will not buy produce at Aldi any more. Why, you ask? I’m glad you asked, since this would have been a very short post had you not. She stopped buying veggies at Aldi because they stopped selling ones with pesticides used on them. “I want my pesticides!” she said. (Yes, this actually came out of her mouth.)

People can get weird about their food, although I’ve never heard anybody yearn for pesticides before. Usually the weirdness comes from those who want to look disapprovingly at whatever it is that I enjoy eating.

  • “You still eat doughnuts?”
  • “I never go within 200 yards of a McDonalds.”
  • “Is that pineapple locally sourced, humanely raised, and organic?”

Do you know the type? But then as I travel around my not-quite-bourgeois city, I see the miserably obese people, the future diabetics of America, who clearly don’t think about what they eat except to think about getting more of it in their mouths. I think that the food police are misguided, but I also see the food ignorant as problematic. WWJE?

What would Jesus eat?

Would Jesus cram his mouth at Pizza Street until he could barely walk out of the place, groaning and saying, “My belly hurts; I ate too much!”

Or would he sit and point at different foods that no right-thinking person should ever consider: “Lips that touch high-fructose corn syrup shall not touch mine!

I struggle with both of these attitudes, and I think that the reason that I struggle with them both is that they both run counter to the spirit of the gospel.

On the one hand, we have a food hedonism: “If it tastes good, eat it. If it tastes bad, eat it anyway.”

On the other hand, we have a food legalism: “You must eat precisely this and not eat precisely that to be righteous in the eyes of the food spirit (today).”

Okay, so what would Jesus eat?

Actually, Jesus did not say a huge amount about food. He did, in Mark 7:19, declare all foods clean. I don’t think that means that tainted meat is suddenly healthy, and I don’t think it means that Jesus put his stamp of approval on HFCS. Instead, it means that consuming pork or a candy bar or even–I risk being expelled as a Baptist deacon–alcohol will not render us unclean before God.

To the best I can see, Jesus never directly talks about gluttony. This makes sense as he lived in a time when gluttony was much less common. Starvation was more of a problem, as the “don’t worry” teaching in Matthew 6 suggests.

The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that rules about what we can and can’t eat are misguided, but there weren’t giant factory farms, genetically-modified foods, and pesticides available in those days. Maybe, if Jesus had lived today, he would have spoken out about both the quantity and the quality of our foods. And maybe not.

In short, I still don’t know what Jesus would eat? And maybe that’s okay. Maybe what I should eat is just between me and the Holy Spirit. Maybe if my sister-in-law wants her pesticides, then it’s okay. Maybe, but I’d like to explore some principles that might move us toward an answer to the question of WWJE?

The Rumpelstiltskin Effect

If it is possible to spin gold out of straw, a la Rumpelstiltskin, we are well equipped, with fifty square bales of wheat straw piled up next to our garden area. Penny is determined to plant the bulk of the garden in these bales. The process might be something that I’ll take up at a later date, but today, I would like to consider the idea of turning straw into gold, or, as Dire Straits sang, “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.”

After we took delivery of the bales, Penny felt some concern. We dropped $350 on these things. Straw bales, it turns out, are not cheap. At some point, we have to think about spending more time and money on the growing of vegetables than on what those things would have cost at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Have we reached that point?

You can’t plant your artichokes in the middle of the grass, so we have to do something to prepare a bed for planting. We could spade it up by hand, which is a titanic undertaking and sure to leave our backs aching for days. We could buy a rototiller, which is probably not the best way to prepare a bed and would run us about as much as the straw bales if not more. We could build raised beds, which would involve a good deal of lumber plus some trucked-in soil, plus a lot of work. The bottom line is that there is no free lunch–or at least no free bed to plant your lunch veggies into.

We can’t magically turn those straw bales into a side of beef. We can’t even get an unreasonable amount of vegetables from our seeds. But we can get plenty, even after investing a fair bit. Proverbs warns us about trying to turn straw into gold.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.–Proverbs 28:19-20

Similarly, when we’re in too big a hurry, when we’re looking to get rich quick–whether those riches be in gold or in asparagus–we’re behaving foolishly.

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.–Proverbs 13:11

If we’ve been wise with this approach to planting, then the harvest will be plentiful. It won’t make us rich, but it will yield a profit. And when the season is done, the straw will have composted, leaving our soil richer and better prepared for next year.

We’ll keep you updated.Square Hay Bales.

First Step to Bountiful

Tomato seeds have officially sprouted! Lettuce also. Yesterday, it was just dirt. This morning, there were two little tomato sprouts. Now, we have tiny plants popping up in every tray. It’s the miracle of life!

Who claims the credit for this marvel? Me? Not hardly. I had nothing to do with it. Yes, as noted earlier, I did pick up the package from the front porch when it arrived, but I did not prepare any trays, plant any seeds, or even control the grow lights. Instead, my amazing wife deserves all the credit.
https://giphy.com/embed/QhLi1PvRCMxsQ

Simply having seeds is not enough. We have to plant those seeds. We have to care for them, water them, and all that sort of stuff. They might keep us waiting for some time, but eventually, they will burst forth into life. In time, they’ll also burst forth into edible stuff: fruit, leaves, and so forth. But it all starts with the planting, the sowing.

Paul speaks to this in 2 Corinthians 9:6:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Our intention this year is to sow bountifully–not just in our garden but in our wider life. We intend that, but the flesh, as we know, is weak.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress of our garden. Get ready for bounty.

Are You a Good Egg?

I’ve been thinking about eggs recently. Back when we lived in the hinterlands, we produced our own eggs. More accurately, our chickens produced the eggs that we snatched from them.  Since we’ve move back to the suburban wasteland, we can no longer keep chickens and have to buy eggs from the store.

What eggs should we buy? The options are, if not limitless, certainly broad. Do you buy the cheapest eggs at the cheapest store? Or do you go for something more exalted.

We can opt for brown eggs over white eggs. Brown eggs look like the ones that our flock on the farm laid, so they at least seem better. But of course, brown eggs raised in the same condition as the white eggs are exactly the same aside from their shell color. They may well have been fed a diet of drugs while residing in tiny cages with several of their closest friends, who may or may not be alive today.

Pay a little more and you can control for what you egg layers were fed: non-GMO feed, organic feed, vegetarian feed. You can also pay a premium for how the birds are raised: cage-free, free-range, or pasture raised.

What should the Christian buy? Should we be shamed into spending $50 a dozen for certified Kobe eggs, laid by hens who are paid a living wage and guaranteed to live out their natural lives in a national park? Should I feel bad if my eggs come from chickens that are not GMO-free? In mulling that, I’m reminded of something from Paul’s writing:

Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ. (Colossians  2:16-17)

Don’t let anyone judge you, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge for ourselves. I’d suggest judging on two criteria:

First, are you buying the best eggs you can buy? Eggs laid by chickens that go outside, that eat bugs, that clip blades of grass, and that live lives fairly close to how God designed them to live, are, not surprisingly, better tasting and more nutritious than the anemic, cage-produced eggs you can pick up for $.69 at Wal-Mart. The yolks are darker, and the taste is richer. Why would I eat substandard food?

Second, can you feel good about yourself knowing how the chickens who lay your eggs live? If a hen has to live in a tiny cage, given about ninety square inches in which to “range” so that I can buy cheaper eggs, I’d say that price is too high. For comparison, imagine spending your productive life in an airplane bathroom. Maybe you think that’s okay for the source of your omelet. I’m not supposed to judge you, but I can judge me.

In the end, I’d argue that way too much judging of others goes on while far too little self-reflection occurs. People will cluck at those who eat non-organic eggs, while others crow about the folly of spending money for something as nebulous as free-range. PETA types line up on one side while pro-business conservatives populate the other. Enough!

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that food and drink and days are not important. He just says that we shouldn’t let others judge us over them. That doesn’t release us to live in blissful ignorance.

My Kingdom for an Egg

Day-Old ChicksIt might be time to stock up on eggs. Of course, since they don’t have the greatest shelf life, maybe the time has come to cook up a bunch of eggs–maybe 10 or 12 dozen–and put them in the freezer for future use.

Why? It seems that a huge grocery chain in Texas has begun limiting purchases of eggs to three dozen per customer. This news, reported in the Washington Postevokes images of bread lines and ration books.

The news, as the grocer suggests, comes on the heels of what has been a devastating several months for egg farmers in the United States. Avian flu, which has proven lethal in other parts of the world, has spread throughout the United States like wildfire. Since April, when cases began spreading by the thousands each week, the virus has escalated to a point of national crisis.

While this information might not portend quite the level of dread that might accompany the apocalypse, it does point out just how fragile our food economy is. Should chicken and eggs rise dramatically in price, consider the ripples that would follow. More to the point, consider the impact such increases would have on your budget.

So stock up on those eggs soon. While you’re at it, fill your freezer with chicken. The food funds you save could be your own!

Defeating the Onions of Doom: The Nerd Fitness Pantry

How many times has this happened to you? Your neighbor, that attractive person you’ve been desperately wanting to meet for months, comes to the door and asks to borrow a couple of oranges. You think, “Shazam! It’s my lucky day.” Immediately agreeing to help, you dash to the refrigerator to retrieve said oranges only to find your refrigerator stocked entirely with onions.

Martin Short and Tina TurnerMany years ago, back when Saturday Night Live was funny, Martin Short did one of his Ed Grimley sketches in which Tina Turner showed up at Ed’s door asking for oranges. If you didn’t sleep through that first paragraph, you can guess what Ed found in his fridge.

Sometimes that’s how I feel when I go to the kitchen in search of food. In my case, my frustration usually arises when my food-snarfing son has gone all conehead on me and consumed mass quantities of whatever I had counted on finding, but the lack of healthy, edible food is a significant obstacle to successful eating.

That’s why I was so pleased that the guys at Nerd Fitness determined to take the common sense approach of describing the Nerd Fitness Pantry. The idea here is to have a flexible selection of ingredients that will keep you from finding your refrigerator full of onions when hunger strikes. In normal Nerd Fitness style, the piece is presented using a video game comparison.

Each item you’ll be gathering on your grocery store mission is like a tool used during questing for one or more purposes. Think of coconut oil like the hook shot in Ocarina of Time: it’s going to take some effort (and real-life rupees) to obtain, but after you have it, you’ll be using it all the time.

Others items are like potions, great to keep around in case of emergency (like if you didn’t have time to cook before work).

This longish entry on the NF blog goes into a lot of detail on both what you ought to buy but why you ought to buy it. It prioritizes things and takes the incredibly commonsense approach of pointing out that you can vary the list to suit your own needs and wants. They even provide a handy chart.

Penny and I have been working on stocking our kitchen in just such a manner, although with different details. What we’ve found is that by having the raw materials on hand, we’re able to eat healthier and waste less while we resist the temptation to throw up our hands in frustration and order a pizza. This sort of planning just seems like good stewardship all around.

 

Eat Food; Not Feed

Red wattle pigUntil fairly recently, I owned a small farm where I raised chickens and the occasional pigs. As adorable as piglets might be when you first get them and can pick them up by a hind leg, they soon become good for one purpose only: feeding them out to a size suitable to be transformed into pork chops and assorted other foods.

My pigs doubled as garbage disposals. If we had leftover dinner that wasn’t going in the fridge, we’d give it to the pigs. If some produce went bad on us, the pigs got it. When I’d stumble across a clutch of eggs that the chickens had secreted in the bushes, the pigs received a raw-egg treat. They’d also eat grass and leaves and trimmings from the garden.

But to get my pigs to 250 pounds as efficiently as possible, most of their calories came from 50-pound bags of feed, little processed pellets of who-knows-what that I bought at the local feed store. The feed I typically bought was called Muscle Pig and trumpeted 16% protein. The pigs ate it with abandon and enthusiasm.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on Michael Pollan’s famous dictum: “Eat food, not too much.” Pollan goes on to add that most of our food should be from plants, a determination that we could question, but I’d like to focus on the “eat food” part.

We can eat food or we can eat feed. Food grows on trees or plants. It can be obtained from animals. Feed, on the other hand, comes from factories and is enhanced by the marvels of modern chemistry. The feed that I gave my pigs was extruded. That is, it was squeezed out of a press, like the old Play-Dough Pumper.

(Remember that all the best food is extruded!)

Feed, as it relates to pigs, is designed to put weight onto the animal. Even in the case of a non-meat animal–a horse, for example–feed exists to make the animal useful to someone else. Can that apply to humans? Human feed typically makes people useful to corporations by producing a profit for them.

Food, however, is more than feed. It does all the things that feed does, including making a profit for food providers, but it does more. It nourishes. It strengthens. It delights. It blesses. As much as you might enjoy Fruit by the Foot, you can’t honestly say that it is a blessing, can you?

Think about a food that says “home and happiness” to you. I’m guessing that it’s not extruded. I’m guessing that it doesn’t come from a factory. Yes, it might be processed, but it’s probably processed in a kitchen rather than in an industrial plant.

Eat food, not feed. Feed is for pigs, and pigs are food.

The Trifecta of Food Stewardship

Cooking at HomeIf you haven’t already figured it out from my posts, I am enthusiastic about wise eating, that is eating that is

  1. Healthy
  2. Economical
  3. Simple

Of course, food ought to taste good too, but I feel as if that goes without saying. The problem with a lot of modern eating is that it misses out on at least two of the three factors by being done via restaurants.

An article by Taylor Lee over at Pennyhoarder goes right up my way of thinking but adds some practical suggestions for how to make cooking at home not only cheaper and healthier than restaurant fare but also at least as convenient as getting in the car and heading to Applebee’s.

Every meal I plan has to fit three requirements:

  1. It has to be a recipe I enjoy eating.
  2. It has to be easy to make, with no more than 30 minutes of prep time.
  3. I should already have all the tools I need to prepare the dish on hand.

She has plenty more good stuff to share as well. Check it out.

Egg-stra Healthy Eggs

Buff Orpington Hen--not one of oursAn article from the ever-helpful O Magazine, looks into the terms on egg packages, evaluating them for actual benefits. In this round-up, we discover that brown eggs are not inherently more beneficial than white ones. No real news there. What do they have to say about organic eggs? Are they “egg-stra healthy”?

Maybe. With these eggs, it’s possible you’ll minimize your potential exposure to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that may be used in conventional chicken feed, says Michael K. Hansen, PhD, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union.

I’m not sure I want to pay a premium for a “Maybe.” What we learn here is that what goes into a food strongly influences what it will do for our bodies. Unfortunately, most of the time we eat eggs without the slightest notion of what the hens ate, where they lived, or how they pursued their life goals. (Just checking to see if you are awake.)

Ideally, we could all raise our own eggs. That’s one thing that I miss from living in the country.