Powers and World Forces: Sugar, Salt, Fat, Coke, Kellogs, Kraft, Coke.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness….” Ephesians 6:12

This story on NPR caught my attention yesterday because it came just as I was doing something I rarely do anymore:  stuffing my face with chicken McNuggets from McDonalds while I was driving home from a study day in the mountains.  It wasn’t the best of days.  Forgetting the computer cord meant was I done studying (or at least writing my sermon) earlier than I’d hoped.  During the hour I’d intended to devote to skiing, a ski popped off at the top of the run and slide at least two hundred vertical feet down the slope, meaning I spent my precious hour slogging thigh deep through wet snow to retrieve the ski , tweaking my ankle a bit in the process- nothing glorious there.  To top it off I’d been battling something intestinal and hadn’t been hungry for a few days.

As I’m driving home though, I begin to feel a bit of hunger return just as I see the golden arches over there by the freeway exit.  “I need protein.  I’m tired.  I’ve had a bad day.”  With that trinity of rationalization I’m soon standing in line, in spite of the fact that I know what I’m about to do is bad for animals, bad for the planet, bad for my body.  Still, while I’m eating them, I know they’ll taste good, providing a hit of pleasure for less than five dollars.

Back in the car, stuffing my face, I hear this story about how the food industry, which begins back in 1999 when:

a vice president at Kraft addressed a meeting of top executives of America’s biggest food companies. His topic: the growing public health concerns over the obesity epidemic and the role packaged and processed foods were playing in it. Michael Mudd stated his case, pleading with his colleagues to pay attention to the health crisis and consider what companies could do to hold themselves accountable.

That sounds reasonable right?  It would be in a world where health, prudence, and a commitment to the common good reign as meaningful values.  Iceland, for example, is in the midst of banning porn on the internet in its country because of their belief that children shouldn’t be exposed to the violent and destructive images that present themselves as porn on the web.  It’s not in the best of interest of either the children or the family to have such things so easily accessible – to anyone apparently.  Iceland!  They’re a Scandinavian country that values freedoms of speech and choice, but they also recognize that there are limits.

In our culture though, libertarian economics would say that there are no limits to freedom, would say that personal health is solely the responsibility of consumers, that they need to just say no to the products we’re offering them which are bad for them.  Which brings us back to food.   The poor VP of Kraft was met with this from General Mills:

“Bottom line being, though, that we need to ensure that our products taste good, because our accountability is also to our shareholders. And there’s no way we could start down-formulating the usage of salt, sugar, fat if the end result is going to be something that people do not want to eat.”

Shareholders.  Of course.  If I can produce a product that’s bad for people like, say, cigarettes, or the perfect cocktail of fat, sugar, and salt, the fact these products are directly implicated in say, lung cancer, or obesity and type II diabetes, is merely what, collateral damage?  Apparently.  The bottom line, you see, isn’t the common good, it’s the good of the shareholder, which coincidentally happens to be good for the CEO too, and all the employees who work there, at least until their jobs are no longer needed due to mechanization or outsourcing, both of which are also in the vital interests of the shareholder.

The bottom line is the dollar.

Then, the corporate bottom line meets the personal bottom line, which is that when I’m hungry, tired, disappointed because my computer battery died, and weary from slogging through wet snow for an hour, I don’t care about whether these nuggets are healthy, only that they’re cheap and taste good.  I’m seduced.  For others perhaps, it’s less about seduction and more solely about their own financial bottom line.  If the cheapest calories are sugar, fat, salt; if I can buy 40 nuggets for $7.50 and that’s about the same as my hourly take home pay, why wouldn’t I?

I’m not really writing to advocate regulation of nuggets because libertarian or not, our world will always have a long list of bad choices easily available.  Hence, every time my willpower gets lazy, there’ll be a cheap moment of pleasure available.  Those cheap options are part of what Paul says we’ll battle against on a regular basis.  And battle we should because the best way to battle the destructive forces of this or any culture is to live differently, to march the drum of a different king and kingdom where generosity, celebration, wholeness, and yes, even real food, are the norm rather than the exception.

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.

  • Steve B

    “Hence, every time my willpower gets lazy, there’ll be a cheap moment of pleasure available. Those cheap options are part of what Paul says we’ll battle against on a regular basis.”

    Are you implying here that Chicken McNuggets (the “cheap option”) are essentially a sin? God, through Paul, has commanded us to battle against the selling, purchasing, and consumption of McNuggets?

    • Richard Dahlstrom

      not implying that nuggets are sin for everyone every time. I don’t know that I’d even use the word sin for my situation last night. I would say it wasn’t a wise decision.

      • Steve B

        Thanks for the clarification. That makes much more sense.

        It just get confusing when you talk about McNuggets using the terminology of spiritual warfare. Describing them as something that seduces us when we are either cheap or lazy, and it is cheap options like McNuggets which Paul tells us must battle against. I’m assuming you’re eluding to Paul’s exhortation in Eph 6:12 when you say part of our Christian battle is to make “even real food . . . the norm.” I guess when Paul says we don’t struggle against “flesh and blood” he wasn’t considering cheap, fried chicken flesh — *That* we should struggle against!

  • Steve B

    Follow up, also do you really believe we live in a libertarian society with libertarian economics and regulations?

    • Richard Dahlstrom

      I don’t believe we live in an entirely libertarian society, but I do believe that Adam Smith’s philosophy of free markets are deeply imbedded in our culture, so that maximum profit becomes a mantra that’s often lauded.

  • Hope T.

    The clearest sin is not in eating the McNuggets, but in the corporation which makes the maximisation of profits its greatest goal. (If an individual person said that “getting the most money I can” is more important than anything else, the sin would be plain.) The nugget-eater is a victim of that sin, though also probably sinning (as I do) in not recognising and treating the body as an amazing gift of God that needs to be cherished, cared for and enjoyed to its utmost.

  • Lisa Fligor

    I don’t read your blog often enough but when I glanced today a saw the topic was food, of course I have to comment. I love the topic of food and spirituality. While I agree, chicken nuggets shouldn’t be illegal I do advocate for better choices. I blame a fallen world for the state of our food industry. I know that when I eat bad food all I want to do is sit on that couch and feel bad about myself. When I’m eating well I have energy to take on the Christ-tasks that God has laid on my heart, to take those baby steps towards becoming who God has made me to be. So I do think our relationship with food affects us spiritually. Thanks for bring this up. Looking forward to that feast in heaven!

  • Ryan B

    I had to think about this one for a while. A chicken nugget itself is amoral. It isn’t right or wrong, it just is. The first chicken nugget was not a difficult invention, just some ground chicken with breading and deep-fried. The difference between that and a modern McNugget is the process it goes through. The meat for a McNugget goes through a questionable production process where quality, ethical treatment of animals, environmental impact, and public health concerns are compromised in an effort to make profit. A farm-raised, homemade chicken nugget is probably a far better alternative, although is by no means health food.
    So why all the processing of food? I’m going to take a wild stab at it and blame our culture of constantly seeking pleasure. What if everyone agreed that chicken nuggets aren’t evil, but we only get to eat one, let’s say, once a month? One, tasty chicken nugget and a salad. What’s wrong with that? If we ate one nugget instead of 20 or 40 or 100, the demand would go down, lots of food processing wouldn’t be necessary and the quality may be much improved.
    Here’s another example. I’ve made a homemade version of an Oreo cookie. I make chocolate shortbread cookies and make some frosting to put in the middle and bam! Delicious. How often? Maybe once a year. The impact to my overall health is minimal, if any. But if I go to the store, I can buy a whole bunch of processed Oreos for a couple bucks and eat them all by my next grocery shopping trip.
    Pleasure is not terrible. But our culture tells us to CONSTANTLY seek pleasure. Don’t enjoy one cookie every once in a while…eat a cookie whenever you feel the urge. And as we feed this fire of desire for indulgence, the urges grow. It seems that much of the population is aware of the dangers of pleasure-seeking when it comes to things like taking drugs or the adrenaline rush of base jumping. But when it comes to fulfilling our desire for pleasure through food, entertainment, social notoriety, etc., we seem to have very little thought about the way we worship pleasure and the things that give us pleasure.

  • Lacey

    Richard: Your post here reminds me of a practice I put into place a few months ago in response to a sermon you gave in October on Acts 2. You taught me (albeit much more eloqently) that in submitting to Christ we are indeed saved from sin, death, and hell; but we are also saved from THIS world and its fear, anxiety, consumerism, injustice, etc. (I have personally added Jack-in-the-Box and Kim Kardashian to this list.) So here is my practice: As part of my daily abiding I read a passage each from the OT, NT, and Psalms, and when I come across a scripture about ‘enemies’ (Pslams are the BEST), I remind myself that in THIS world, my enemies are not not armies, but advertisers; not false prophets, but fast food; not kings from distant lands, but the Kardashians. It’s amazing how relevant and empowering those Psalms have become :).

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post, and, as always, for sharing your insights into the heart of God with humility, wonder, and passion.

  • Steve B

    If you think in this world that fast food is your true enemy and not false prophets, you’ve already been led astray by false prophets.

    • reneeg

      Commercialism and advertisement are perhaps the loudest and most deceptive false prophets of our day. “Everything in moderation….!!” as we inhale food — somehow glamorized by skinny models and cheerful music — that only exists because the land was abused, the animals were cruelly treated, and corrupt government money bought the swing votes. In the meantime, the “food” we’ve machined together in America…. and the obesity it brings with it…. is slowly spreading around the globe — terrorizing God’s MOST remarkable creation, our bodies and souls.

      I can think critically when a news commentator spouts politics or a professor says something I disagree with, or a mormon stops by my door. The real fight for my soul is waged with giant billboards, magazine aisles, commercials, news feeds, movies…… Money’s masterminded (yet ever-so-subtle) messages luring me into developing addictive behaviors that I euphemistically call “habits” or “budget items” or “a just-this-once-treat”.

  • reneeg

    Pstr Richard — speaking of advertisement and money…. I think you may want to consider a different blog host. Right now I’m getting an ad for slot machines at a certain casino, another add for a “CCG” mobile game (featuring a fantasy figure with lots of cleavage showing), and an ad for a miracle weightless remedy. (I don’t mean for this post to be made public necessarily; I just didn’t know how else to alert you.)