WWJE? Eschatology and Food

If you’re one of those “it’s all going to burn up anyway” Christians,  there’s a good chance you’ll be eating a big slab of meat tonight, cooked over a fire, complemented by a pesticide laced salad, enhanced by an Italian Red,  and washed down with coffee that was utterly affordable thanks to the rainforest that was cleared to increase the crop size.  If I thought it was all going to burn up, especially in the near term (as I’ve been told it will, any day now, for the past 35 years), I’d join you.

Instead, I’ll be having a slab of meat, a salad, red wine, and coffee, just like you, except utterly different.  My meat will be grass fed, my salad organic and local, my wine from a local winery, and my coffee shade grown.  That is, at least, what I’ll be eating when my food choices match my view of the end times.  Believing that God’s people are called to make God’s good reign visible here and now in some small measure means that I need to make choices that exalt health, justice, and ecology (among other things) in all areas of my life, including “what’s for dinner?”

Concerned about the state of environment and the horrible carbon footprint of the beef industry, I’d always believed that vegetarians were on to something, but could never manage to get there myself because when I tried, I’d be continually hungry and sick (not to mention that truth that I enjoy only about 1/2 the vegetables available).  A recent read called “The Vegetarian Myth”  (see intro here), written by a left wing activist former vegetarian, opened my eyes to the realities that the real culprit isn’t meat or not meat; it’s industrial agriculture.  Monocrops require heavy pesticides (oil), deplete the topsoil, which then requires heavy fertilization (oil), so that the crops can be maximized and then harvested by machine (oil), to then be shipped to warehousing locations (oil), where they’ll either become something else (twinkies, made from oil), and/or shipped yet again to stores (more oil).  The problem is that this is our world, whether we’re vegetarians are meat eaters, if we just run down to the supermarket and buy the cheapest beef and spinach on the market.

The food that comes out of this system is destructive to the human body, the earth, and industrial pork and cattle that inhabit it.  Why are we doing this?  Maximum profit of course, and cheap products.  Do we really think, even if Jesus were returning tomorrow, that He doesn’t care about us trashing his planet, compromising our bodies, and torturing his animals like this?

On the other hand, if I buy, organic vegetables, and grass fed animal products, and as local as possible, several things happen:

1. I participate in a sustainable model that actually builds topsoil, rather than destroying it.

2. I dramatically lower my carbon footprint, by consuming things that required relatively small amounts of energy to produce.

3. I ennoble small farming and local economies, both of which are far healthier and more resilient than ADM, supermarket to the world.

4. I declare by my choices that monocrops and the forced migration of small farmers to the urban centers, a destructive global trend, is wrong.

5. I gain a healthy ratio of Omega 3- Omega 6 fats in my diet, and enjoy lower good heart health, and the taste of real, rather than industrial food.  I’m sick less, sleep better, and just generally feel more alive.

I’m as guilty as anyone regarding my food choices, even more so because I now know better and still choose cost and convenience way too often.  This conversation, if we take it seriously, is a portal to many other topics.  Since we who can afford to eat this way don’t, how can we ever expect those with neither the means nor understanding to freely choose these healthy alternatives?  Is it enough to live ‘alternatively’, or is activism appropriate?  And if activism is appropriate (as I sometimes sense is the case), why do I feel like I’m wasting my time?  Wouldn’t it be better to just grab a Big Mac and get on with handing out Bibles?

I welcome your thoughts!

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Ryan Thomas

    It seems that those outside the Christian faith often understand this better than we do. The reluctance of believers to allow Christ to transform this part of life is astonishing to me. There seems to be an enormous mis-understanding of the Genesis narrative which can taint the lens through which the entire OT is read. Rather than being stewards we have a wreckless attitude of domination. Yet there is a vibrant thread running through the OT of God interacting with his people through their relationship to the land; he blesses them with land, promises to give them a land, event demands a Sabbath for the earth. We simply cannot remove our relationship to our environment from our relationship with Christ.

    There is a great organization, A Rocha, that teaches conservation from the Christian perspective. They have been operating since the 80s in multiple countries throughout the world, and have a site just north of the border on the Little Campbell River. It could be worth having them come to Bethany to teach on this very topic…

  • Graham

    http://www.swivel.com/charts/2373-Food-production-eats-up-energy

    This is a cool article/graph that breaks down energy usage with regards to food.

    I’ve actually heard it said that the locavore movement doesn’t make sense from an energy/ carbon footprint standpoint because transportation makes up only a small amount of the total energy usage and because larger companies/food conglomerates are more efficent during production than a small local farmer can be.
    But even if you take the carbon footprint part out of the equation (and I’m not sure you can), you raise many other reasons for eating local/organic: supporting local business/ farmers with better practices, reduced pesticides/ hormones, and often it just tastes better!
    I think you’ve blogged about the movie “Food Inc.” in the past, but that was eye opening to how much of our beef is corn fed. Why? because corn is subsidized by the government, and because they can cram 1000s of cattle into a dirt pen and feed them corn as apposed to fewer cattle grass fed in the “open.”

    This list I find helpful because I don’t feel all your food needs to be organic. You can find similar lists on many websites about which food is normally high pesticide (i.e. needs to be bought organic) and which you can “get away with” eating regular style…

    from Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org)

    12 Most Contaminated

    ■Peaches
    ■Apples
    ■Sweet Bell Peppers
    ■Celery
    ■Nectarines
    ■Strawberries
    ■Cherries
    ■Pears
    ■Grapes (Imported)
    ■Spinach
    ■Lettuce
    ■Potatoes

    12 Least Contaminated

    ■Onions
    ■Avocado
    ■Sweet Corn (Frozen)
    ■Pineapples
    ■Mango
    ■Asparagus
    ■Sweet Peas (Frozen)
    ■Kiwi Fruit
    ■Bananas
    ■Cabbage
    ■Broccoli
    ■Papaya

    Now with regards to wine, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my Italian and Spanish Reds for Coloumbia Crest or Chatau Ste. Michelle, but I’ll work on it.

  • Kevin

    I somewhat rankle at the idea of moralizing food, a requisite component of human life which already exhibits a perverted ethic of physical perfection. I also get stuck on the fact that the diet that you’re proposing requires and promotes a certain degree of affluence, and that industrial agriculture already preys on and is sustained by the lower classes. We who can afford to change our habits can do so and make relatively little impact on the market, only furthering a already gaping class division. While I agree that our agricultural practices are abhorrent and that participating in that system is destructive both personally and socially, I can’t see how the implementation of economic pressures based upon consumer choice and the creation of alternate markets is necessarily in line with the heart of Christ. Do I think that what you are proposing is healthy and worthy of pursuit? Yes, definitely. Do I think that such pursuit should necessarily be considered moral within a Christian rubric? Not really. Much like Ryan, I think that this is a movement that is doing great outside of the church. The challenge, then, is not to integrate the ethic of the organic movement into the church but to move the church more fully out into the world, partnered with and participating alongside the existing movement by whatever means it can. For those who are able and desire to change their habits, feel free; for those who simply need to eat, eat.

    • Graham

      Kevin, sometimes I think you disagree just for the sake of being disagreeable, although you do so with such good vocabulary.

      • Kevin

        I understand why you might bet that impression, but this is simply the way that I feel that dialogs are moved forward. If we all were of one mind, indivisible in thought and purpose, then our interactions would be rendered inert. Mind, I’m in no way opposed to people pursuing healthier ways of living that improve their quality of life and the lives of those around them, nor do I enter my opinion on this matter solely for the sake of being contrary; if people want to live better, then I hope that they follow their desires. What I do not want is to make health and pursuit of health a moral imperative, whereby people live better because they “should.”

  • Nacheson

    Richard,

    Thanks for judging me and making me not want to listen to you.
    How about those of us who honestly cannot afford to follow our conscience because we literally do not have the dollars to do so? Doomed to sin?

    • raincitypastor

      So sorry – as judgement isn’t intended at all. I pointed out, I thought, that the realities of economics are a very real issue and that the point about food quality is a portal to lots of other conversations about food and justice. Nobody should feel judged by virtue of not being able to afford certain foods – and if I came across that way, I was wrong. Instead, I was writing to point to the issues of food, justice, and ecology, and how they’re related.

      • Nacheson

        I agree.

        I’d like hear more about how your “handing out Bibles” line is connected as well. As other commenters have well noted, this is a complex issue.Without the transforming power of God, we’re hosed. We need to pray that God heal our land from this systemic disease while exerscising the authority and responsibility He’s given us in our own spheres, yes? The interconnected issues of ecology, food, and justice convince me all the more of humanity’s fundamental need – God.

        God’s Mission is the lense that I see all this through – my starting and ending point. That’s why this even matters at all.

      • raincitypastor

        we agree Nathan, at least I think we do – the complexity of the issue shows us our great need for God’s intervention, and for wisdom. The ‘handing out Bibles’ comment stems mostly from encounters I sometimes have with people who declare that the only thing worth doing is ‘getting people saved’, which means preaching the important message of reconciliation with God and justification, and leaving God to sort out the rest when he returns. That’s a perspective I can’t endorse, believing that our calling is not only reconciliation, but manifestation of the ethics of Jesus reign – knowing what that looks like and how we do it is a big, big challenge. LIke you, God’s mission is the point.

  • Margaret

    To the offended, I believe that you missed the point that Richard was trying to speak up for you, not out against you. It is a travesty that the quality of food (or education, or healthcare. . .) should rest on income. To this, I do think the Christian has a moral responsibility. We can argue whether or not this is the responsibility of the government but the bible is very clear that it is the responsibility of the church.
    I do think that although it is arguable as to whether pursuing health and well-being is a “moral imperative” for the individual it is said that true religion is taking care of the widows and the poor. I think that it’s possible that this means pushing for more sustainable practices and affordable healthy food so that not only I, but my neighbor, known or unknown, can eat and eat well. If our purchasing decisions make more demand for nutritious food then chances are they will be more available and affordable for everyone. It is my hope that my purchases will be a kind of activism. I choose to eat as organic, seasonal and local as possible not only for myself but for my neighbor so that we can all eventually walk into any grocery, anywhere and find healthy options that don’t cost twice as much as their toxic counterparts.

    • Nacheson

      What I resent is what I see as a double yoke. I know ecology, food and justice are interconnected. The Holy Spirit hase convicted me of the “food sin” in my life and in our culture. I know I (and we, as a body) have a moral responsibility.

      I need no convincing of the problem.

      I want evidence that my organic purchaces are making a difference. I want to talk about real solutions that don’t make the poor feel guilty for being poor.

  • Becca

    My family farms. conventionally. Our fifth generation was recently born on our farm and to the extent that each generation works to pass on a better farm than the one they received, our land is sustainable. to the extent that our family cares about the land because the land is what directly sustains us, we are environmentalists. as my generation looks to take over the production of our family farm, which is very much a product of industrial agriculture, the questions richard has brought up are often discussed. for the record all farmers use as few pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers as possible, they are VERY expensive. it is only the elite farmer, with enough land or enough supplemental income that can survive as an organic farm. i guess what i want to say is please be wary in these conversations about the words and tones you use. to call someone’s life work toxic is hurtful. farmers are people. some are good, some are not as good, and most have been asking these questions a lot longer than you have. this post has not even begun to address the complexities involved in answering these difficult questions. i am pro eating local. i am pro eating in season. i am pro knowing the people your food comes from. aside from that i don’t know what the answer is but i think ii think it has something to do with eating less. we live in the age of industrial agriculture. we cannot go back. lets figure out how to continue to move forward, one step at a time, together.

    • raincitypastor

      thanks for your thoughtful words becca, and I’ll be the first to say that there are no easy answers. I’m only suggesting that the conversation come to the forefront because the issues of health, water tables, and availability of oil are all showing alarming trajectory lines – failure to address the issues now, with the luxury of dialogue and research, means that we’ll address them later, in the midst of famine and plague. I favor the former option.

  • http://www.ryanrosenbaum.blogspot.com RS Rosenbaum

    Great conversation. Since my family owns a 100% organic, grass-fed beef farm I like the direction of this post.

    Even more than the environment (which is important to God), I think the people are the bigger issue. If our purchasing habits encourage sweat shops and abuse of farmers then we should reconsider.
    I think we all will find that more and more companies are making progress in these areas. Even giants like Starbucks are increasing the number of fair trade coffees and they are involved in a lot of community development in the areas from which they purchase their beans. Clothing companies like TOMS shoes also do something positive with their profits.

    Each little purchase we make to support the types of companies that care for people can help to fulfill our calling to represent the image of God to the earth. I don’t think any of us should feel guilty, just do what we can in our context. It is not a direct comparison but perhaps the analogy of “giving our last two coins” as it relates to our purchases comes into play. Being mindful rather than impetuous about the consequences of our actions in all areas of life is what is important.

  • sp

    So am I a little “less” Christian or something if I eat the kind of stuff mentioned in your first paragraph?

    Ok seriously: why this hurdle to put up? Why hurdles at all? Remember: belong before you believe? That’s a beautiful message, brother. It’s Jesus’ message, isn’t it? Thought it was. No: I think it is. Yes. It is. Can I belong — fully — and be accepted — fully — if I eat first paragraph food?

    Back on track: it’s not even that I necessarily disagree with the premise here, but why Christianize this kind of stuff? What Would Jesus Eat? Lord help us from ever seeing WWJE wristbands. I shouldn’t have said that one out loud… I need some wood to knock on.

    Ok, He ate fish and bread, to be sure. Wine too. Some of the best of the best. All undoubtedly what we would consider today to be “organic”. Ok. Fine.

    But is “organic food” a “supporting wall” type of issue, or more of an aesthetic issue that helps the house look good? Or is it just more of a cultural/culturized thing?

    Or how about this: not saying man doesn’t matter or man is irrelevant to the environment, but isn’t the environment/nature WAY WAY bigger and more significant to what plays to the things God made the first 5 days of creation than we as Humans want to believe? Don’t ask the U.N. climate panel guys who just left their posts that question. This marketing gimmick on steroids has seen it’s brightest days as the pendulum of popular opinion is figuring out the truth: that the science just doesn’t support the idea that man is having this much impact on the environmental changes compared to what the sun has had. That C02 emissions are a literal drop in the bucket compared to the cyclical and normal effects that the earth feels from the sun doing it’s thing.

    God is in control of the polar bears too. I think they trust Him well. Better than I sometimes. I digress…

    Here’s another thought: again, while I actually like your beginning premise (but I don’t like making it a spiritual issue), to put it up as a religious hurdle seems like you’ve maybe bought off a little too hard on what the food industry has been trying to sell all of us. Yes, it’s a marketing scheme. Some valid and meritorious, and much of it NOT. As an example, the USDA doesn’t even have a definition of what is “free-range”. It’s up to the vendors to make the claim, and go ahead and market it for all of us to buy. I assume you’ve read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” or seen the movie “Food, Inc.”? If not, and you want to take a position on these issues, I would encourage you to check them out. They give great insight on these kind of issues.

    Thanks for saying you welcome our thoughts. I guess I’m believing that, and hope you welcome this too. If I’m honest, I don’t get why you put this out here in the way that you have, and I want to understand. I’m a little confused.

    I love your teaching(s). Peace~

    • raincitypastor

      I’m with you SP in hoping that we never see WWJE bracelets or make this some big and central issue in the church. The church I pastor hosts community meals and has a food bank, and all manner of food are present at both, so this isn’t some sort of deal breaking spiritual issue to me. On the other hand, I’m contending that the we we’re doing food, as a culture and increasingly as a global community, is unsustainable and even unjust. Because of this, I think Christians should care, and that some of us should be part of the conversation, because business as usual is driving us towards a cliff.

      • sp

        Thanks for your reply. In your saying that your Church’s community meals and food bank’s have “all manner of food”, is that to say that your Church has/serves both first as well as second paragraph food? Either way, thanks for clarifying, and I’m glad to know that you don’t view this as a deal-breaking spiritual issue. That was a question mark in my mind when the title of this blog is called “What Would Jesus Eat”, given that I’m a follower of Him, and aspire to become more like him through my process of transformation.

        As for your belief about the way the globe is increasingly handling food in an “unsustainable and unjust” way, I agree with you that yes, there are many cases that we can point to with regard to unjustness. For example, here in the U.S., there are far too many subsidies given to food producers, and maybe not enough subsidies given to end users (i.e., human-beings). Whether it be billionaire’s like Ted Turner receiving heavy tax credits for his “Buffalo Farm” in Montana, or companies like Archer Danials Midland who stays drunk on corporate tax credit subsidies because of the benevolent (yes, that’s cynicism) work it does in ethanol. Let’s just never mind the fact that this new “dual-usage” we get from food [now using corn as biomass/biorefinery energy] has dramatically driven up the price of corn, etc., which has traditionally been used for simple and primal things, such as filling the stomachs of around 7 billion people daily, thus making hunger and poverty even a far worse issue as the world continues to turn. So, yes, unjustness is a big problem relative to food…no doubt.

        But unsustainable issues here? I guess that’s a tough one for me. And of course, it depends on what one views as sustainable vs. unsustainable. We could go a lot of ways with this one, but the bottom line to me is that in the end, to raise the unsustainability question, at a certain level, has to correlate somehow with our level of trust in God who created all things, has His hand over all things, is supremely sovereign and powerful, does not make mistakes, and dresses even the lily of the valley in wonderful splendor.

        So…who are we? Who are we to wonder whether what He’s created is sustainable or not? Who are we to think that we could ruin what He’s created, and what He set into motion millennium’s before we ever came to have the pleasure of witnessing it?

        And you say cliff? You say we’re driving ourselves towards a cliff? What cliff? (regarding the unsustainability claim) Sorry…let me recant that a bit: what cliff that He doesn’t know about, can’t handle, or didn’t intend there to be, if there even is one?

        Al Gore talks of cliffs. In his op-ed piece last Saturday in the New York Times, he believes we “face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.” Ee gads! Doom/gloom, and chicken-little…oh whatever will we do! Seriously, I feel bad for the guy. Must be hard for him. I’m not sure He trusts God the way I would like to, and aspire to, or the way you do. I can’t imagine how he wakes up each day with any kind of hope. (unless he realizes that this is just a wonderful marketing scheme on his part, because He believed what the Bible said about mankind: we’re sheep)

        I didn’t hear Jesus spending one ounce of time focusing on cliffs, or speaking of current day (then) threats that would affect the personal well-being of the populous. Far as I can tell, he pretty much left that stuff to the “system”, which He lived in but not of.

      • Donny

        No time focusing on cliffs? How about, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? Didn’t speak to current day threats? What about consistently decrying a contextually specific religious system which was oppressive to the poor, even going so far as to take direct and prophetic action against it?

  • tessa

    I view eating and buying food as an extremely important subject. I know that whenever I buy food I am making a decision that affects myself, other people and the environment, as you have described. I know that I want each decision I make to have a positive affect; I want to choose well and I want to glorify God with in my decisions. But as Becca alluded to, it is so hard to know what’s best. It is so complex.

    Furthermore, although I regard this subject of utmost importance, I do not understand why protecting our environment is an eschatological choice. If your view of the end times is that God will one day reconcile all things to himself and set everything in right relationship with him, then why does it matter if we protect creation now? It is already so far from being right and any small choices we make are not going to fix the problem. It seems that there is no hope for redemption. And if there is, it will take power from outside of humanity and the physical world. Therefore, why does making it closer to right matter?

    I hope that makes sense. Basically, I do not understand why making wise and compassionate decisions about the food we buy is affected by eschatology. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/jadeejf Beth

    I so appreciate the perspective you bring- I find it very refreshing. I agree that there is a lot to talk about in terms of access to food, and the role of conventional farmers- I grew up in farm country, and got to know a lot of amazing conventional farmers, as well as working on an experimental organic farm. I myself, though, am guilty of choosing cost and convenience over quality. Really, I find the issue of access to produce (organic or conventional) in the inner cities to be incredibly compelling and convicting… but anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for writing this post- it’s good encouragement for me to think through my food choices, because I do think stewarding the earth is important and part of following Christ. Too bad I can’t be a nomad like Him, too ;) That would be the life!

  • sp

    I won’t hijack the conversation from this thread by slicing and dicing what we all might mean by “cliff”. Yes, Jesus talked about cliffs. Different cliffs from what I believe raincitypastor was talking about here, or the kind of cliffs Al Gore likes to market.

    My question is what the author of this blog is worried about in terms of what kind of cliff he sees us driving ourselves towards, with regard to the unsustainability question? Moreover, how our view of such “cliffs” correlate and interact with the relationship we have with Jesus Christ.

    • Glenda

      Here’s a good article on the increase of land degradation:
      http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2008/1000874/index.html

      In terms of unsustainable practices and cliffs, the loss of arable land due to deforestation and erosion will lead to a sharp decrease in our ability to feed an ever-increasing world population, an effect which will be felt most powerfully in the developing world. Some might hesitate to make any direct correlation, but I would think that our ability to care for and feed the poor of this world is right at the center of our relationship with Christ, as this was a “cliff” to which Christ spoke directly (Matthew 25:35).

      • sp

        Well said Glenda, but while I agree that Christ has called us to take care of the poor, I respectfully disagree with much of your premise. Deforestation, the loss of arable land, and erosion are NOT factors that will lead to a sharp decrease in our ability to feed the world.

        What causes a decrease in the ability to feed the world is poverty. In other words, people are poor, and therefore lack the money needed to buy food for themselves.

        The worlds food supply is hugely abundant. As of the turn of the millennium, the world food supply could provide each and every person with approximately 4.3lbs of food per day. More than enough for full stomachs for each and everybody. It is a myth that overpopulation, natural catastrophes, or deforestation cause a materially lessened ability to feed the world. Don’t believe me: go read “World Hunger: Twelve Myths” if you want to get more on this.

        If you want to fix world hunger, you need not fix the environment – you need to fix poverty. You need a wider distribution of wealth I suppose. Governments and/or companies have the ability to produce and distribute food, but they are reluctant to do so without healthy end-markets. And poverty, of course, is a conversation for another blog, if not another library.

        But it does, again, make me want to beg the question of exactly what cliff raincitypastor was talking about, or what he may be worried about with regard to the unsustainability of the way we handle food in the world. (but not the unjustness of it…I agree with that!)

      • Glenda

        Read the book; disagree with much of it. You are correct in pointing to poverty as an inhibitor to solving world hunger, but the connection between environmental degradation and poverty is nearly indivisible–if you want proof of this, just go visit East St. Louis. The point that RD seems to be making is that corporate agri-business is the primary culprit responsible for both increasing global poverty and the degradation of arable land (same assertion that is addressed in chapter 4 of Twelve Myths).

  • Linda

    Christians are called to be good stewards of the environment no matter what end time view they take. We know that Jesus will indeed come back, and it could be soon, but we do not know exactly when.

    The easiest way to be good stewards would be to reduce the amount of food we eat, too many consume too much food. Instead of a Quater Pounder just eat a hamburger. Instead of a whole steak for each person, just use one steak and make it part of a casserole. Instead of meat with every meal, only have it three times a week. Or drink things that are not so taxing on the environment – instead of wine or coffee, drink water, instead of bottled water, drink tap water.

    Reducing the amount of meat we eat, and just drinking tap water will keep us healthier and save us money. We can use the money saved and give it to missionaries to advance the gospel of Christ.

  • Ryan Thomas

    I think we’ve digressed from the heart of this conversation.

    The point isn’t moralizing food or insisting we shop at PCC; it isn’t about judging or calling someone less of a Christian because they eat meat; it isn’t about spiritualizing a secular issue. The reason we discuss what we eat is because Christ asks that we give every part of our lives to him and this stops short of nothing.

    As soon as we create a manifesto on exactly what this must look like, we’ve lost. But if we don’t even ask the question “What does a life transformed by Christ look like at the grocery store?” we’re not fully giving ourselves to the redemptive gospel of Christ.

    So let’s try to let Jesus change us in EVERY aspect, even the way we eat.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X