Friday, September 24, 2010

They Don’t Believe We’re Made in God’s Image, but Their Nutrition Advice is Spot On!

I came across an interesting post at the Resurgence website the other day, titled, “Pastor, You’re Probably Fat: 6 Things to Do About It” by John Catanzaro.

I am not a pastor, but I wanted to see what the Resurgence folks had to say about the cross-section of nutrition and Godly living. This particular post was part of a larger topic about the theology of the body. I briefly read through some of the previous articles, and liked what I saw – humans are made in God’s image, the body is a temple, it will be resurrected again, God cares about how we take care of our body, no physical/spiritual dichotomy, etc. etc. All good stuff.

But tip #5 on “Pastor, You’re Probably Fat” really threw me for a loop:

Cut your calories by 50% and get them from wholesome food. Eat more green vegetables and quality protein (fish and organic sources of meat). There are wholesome weight reduction programs that include excellent food choices and assist in changing the negative hormone behavior. When a person is fat for a long time the body forgets how to metabolize fat and needs help. I would recommend you see a qualified doctor who can assist you with this. (Emphasis mine.)

This is great. Christian theology of the body is this awesome, awe-inspiring thing and is way better than the secular/materialistic view of human bodyness, but let’s still the follow the out-of-date nutritional advice of the secular humanists to take care of God’s special creation!

Eat more vegetables and organic meat? Who’s been pushing that nutritional worldview if not the secular humanists who run our government health agencies and environmental non-profits? The science behind “more vegetables, less meat – unless it’s organic” becomes more dubious by the day. Everyone at Resurgence is so culturally aware and on top of things, but somehow they missed this study released last summer that found there’s no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic foods.

They also apparently aren’t aware of the latest realization that saturated fats – mostly found in red meat – are actually pretty darn good for you, and that it’s not the caloric intake that matters, but rather the kind of caloric intake that determines your healthiness. The American obesity plague is a result of diets high in carbohydrates (not fat) – especially of the white flour/sugar carbs.

Gary Taubes wrote the monolithically impressive Good Calories, Bad Calories (roughly 1 billion pages long and very technical) and is following it up this December with the streamlined, easier-to-read Why We Get Fat. He debunks decades’ worth of bad fat science that resulted in the detrimental Food Pyramid, among other things. Taubes gets to the heart of the modern diet/nutritional paradigm and why, based on science, its premise – saturated fat is bad for you – has never been proven.

(Here’s a great article by Taubes that serves as a phenomenal introduction to the ideas in his books; I’ll post more nutrionally-oriented links at the end, too.)

I guess the point of all this is that, if Christians are going to have a theology of the body, how much sense does it make to have a theology of nutrition that isn’t backed by verifiable science and that follows the narrative of very non-Christian sources? It just seems a little self-defeating. I don’t necessarily know what a Christian theology on nutrition would look like, and it’s definitely not a “Gospel” issue, but I’m pretty sure the prophet Daniel got fat because he didn’t eat the king’s ribeye.

On a personal note, I really have a hard time when Christians advocate for organic foods. If we’re supposed to be stewards of God’s planet, organic food production is about the last route we want to pursue (requires more land, resources and money to produce same amount of food as “conventional” production methods; it is therefore less “environmentally friendly” than conventional agriculture). The United States hasn’t fed the whole world by using organic production methods. Guys like Norman Borlaug used those eeeeevil genetically-modified foods to feed starving Indians and Africans. In other words, conventional agriculture has performed some of the greatest “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me” acts in the history of mankind.

The advances in food science are also amazing fulfillments of the Cultural Mandate: we have taken God’s creation, and in light of the obstacles of a sin-cursed creation, we have done more with less and “subdued/cultivated” our food sources in the most efficient, globally-helpful ways possible. Only once we emerged from subsistence farming (read: “organic”) has the world enjoyed its unparalleled wealth, abundance and health on such a wide scale. Organic farming is marketed as a central tenet of a caring, responsible lifestyle. It’s all very romantic and noble. But organic farming was all the world had for thousands of years. There’s nothing romantic about starving to death and continually being held at the mercy of the land (that’s not very Gen. 1:25-28, if you ask me). What’s environmentally or culturally responsible with using more land, more resources and feeding fewer people just to have a USDA “Certified Organic” label on your carrots? But it’s a great self-esteem boost, isn’t it?

(Full disclosure: my dad works for one of those immoral and malevolent animal pharmaceutical companies that sell antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones to greedy ranchers. So there.)

If anyone from Resurgence happens to catch this post, which I doubt (thanks for your support, all seven of my subscribers!), I would love to get your feedback/comments. Here are the rest of the links to nutritionally- and scientifically-sound articles that you should find helpful/thought-provoking:

“Study: Organic food not more nutritional” by Jessica Daly, CNN

“High Yields: The Only Farming Answer” by Dennis Avery, Hudson Institute

“What if Bad Fat is Actually Good for You?” Men’s Health article

“Can A High-Fat Breakfast Be Good For You?” by Jonny Bowden, That’

“Should We Avoid Saturated Fats? Studies Say No” by Jonny Bowden, That’


  1. Organic agriculture can be spectacularly productive if done properly. Have you ever heard of Joe Thicke [1] or Joel Salatin? [2]

    I suggest you read "Food for Nought" by Ross Hume Hall, PhD to get a feel for what modern agriculture is all about. It's not about producing "enough" food. It's about maximizing productivity and minimizing cost. But cheap food has an environmental cost that never gets factored into the price paid at the checkout stand.

    1. The biggest challenge facing agriculture today is that it depends on cheap fossil fuels in a world of rising oil prices. We're making ethanol, but for cars driving on highways. In other words, agriculture produces cheap raw material (corn) to make biofuel (ethanol) for off-farm use, while paying high retail prices for fossil fuels to power agriculture. With ethanol, farmers are selling cheap and buying high.
    2. I am a Christian, and I think that the Judeo-Christian ethic calls us to realize that we are stewards of creation – that we are not to just rape it, pillage it, whatever, we are to steward it – and lays down certain principles of growth.

  2. @Mitch

    Haha, thanks. I actually really appreciate the lengths that Resurgence has gone in laying out a theology of the body. Thanks to Augustine and certain strands of Christoplatonism, Christians today still can have a poor understanding of the goodness of the physical world, and how God intends to redeem/resurrect atoms and molecules as well as our souls. So I like what Resurgence has done; I'm just looking for consistency, a comprehensively Christian approach that includes nutrition.

  3. @David

    Thanks for the commetn and the links. Both of my parents' families have extensive agricultural roots, so I have a pretty good feel for what modern agriculture is "all about," and I will still maintain that conventional production methods have less of an environmental impact than organic methods (, The Joel Salatin interview was interesting and I enjoy hearing other perspectives, but "Food, Inc." was nothing but pure propaganda.

    On a different note, I loved your Blogger profile description. I honestly can't agree with you more on that. Have you read Taubes' stuff? How is your health these days?