Monday, February 21, 2011

eating is not a bad thing

Eating is good for you.

No, really.

Sometimes I forget that there seems to be an unending war on food in society.  However, the past few weeks it has come up repeatedly in conversation.  What really jolted me was that it’s come up in multiple conversations about the Eucharist.

In the midst of talking about the source and summit of our faith, of Christ’s body and blood given to us for our consumption, the comment I’ve heard frequently in the last few weeks is, “why would Jesus do that when bread is so bad?”

Whoa, boy.

My first reaction is, “wasn’t the Atkins diet like, so early 90’s?”  But the kids stating this aren’t old enough to remember the days when everyone ordered meat with a side of meat smothered in cheese.  Then my inner catechist wants to explain that it’s only the appearance of bread, and explain transubstantiation.  But then I  realize the problem isn’t belief..  The problem is that it’s food.  (Well, and of course we're in a crisis of faith here, people don't believe, we all know that.  But could part of the reason that people don't believe be because of their fear of carbs?  is that crazy?)

Lately I’ve been observing an unprecedented loathing of food, especially among teens.  That attitude of, “this [insert item of choice:  pizza, sandwich, popcorn, chocolate, etc] is bad for me, I shouldn’t be eating it” is the consistent approach to food of any kind.  We all eat things we shouldn’t but lately the kiddos are forgetting that the body does require a certain amount of calories to function each day.  Unless you’ve got a gluten or wheat allergy, bread is not a bad thing.

If we’re teaching kids that Jesus is the “Bread of Life”, it’s not going to have the desired effect if they hear bread and think, “food is evil” instead of “that which has nourished humanity since before manna appeared in the desert”. 

Culturally, there’s obvious contributing factors like skinny supermodels and diet trends.  However, I think there’s more to it.  Dinner time as a family rarely happens—taking away the community aspect that food once had.  The way food is portioned now—100 calorie packs, light yogurt that tastes like black forest cake, smoothie supplements— means that even when we eat, the goal is to be as close to not eating as possible.  When I hear youth talk about food, it’s always in apologetic tones, as if eating were equivalent to smoking or skipping school.  No joke, I hear conversations like, “today, I forgot to do my homework” and then, “yeah, well I ate lunch…  Ugh…  Fail”.

Today's Second Reading reminds us that our bodies are the temple of God.  Eating is building up the temple of the Lord (not a basilica rotunda—but we’ve definitely taken the other extreme).  I’m not lamenting that everyone’s got an eating disorder or about the shallow images of beauty that we fixate on as a culture.  I’m stepping back and realizing that our warped understanding of food has finally trickled down to how we perceive the source and summit of our Christian life. 

I’m not quite sure where to begin to address this. Anyone find anything that works?


  1. I can't say I've ever encountered anything like this in youth ministry. Perhaps it has to do with the crowd. What sort of demographic do you minister to?

    Regardless, this is very similar to the problem of God being referred to as "Father" in this truly fatherless generation. Many young people either do not comprehend the Bible's "Father" verbiage due to lack of a father figure or have a very negative view of their own fathers and translate that to God.

    The solution here, at least in part, is to counteract the misunderstandings by fathering the youth in real, Godly ways. Show them what a good father looks like, and, as they begin to experience healing in those parts of their lives, they will come to appreciate and cherish the picture of God as a loving Father.

    As for food, teach them about healthy eating habits. Take an evening to debunk fad diets and talk about good nutrition. Why should such a fundamental-to-life thing be excluded from solid Christian discipleship? Change their perception of a thing by providing a positive and healthy counter-example and the rest will follow.

    >>Pastor Zack

  2. Great post, Alison. Much "food" for thought. You must be constantly amazed to discover how the teenage mind processes things. This is a great opportunity to talk about the scandalous nature of Christ while connecting some scriptural dots. When Jesus first speaks of the Eucharist in John 6 it was received as scandalous, revolting and "hard to endure". Upon hearing it, many of his disciple would no longer remain in his company. I was talking with a non-Catholic with the same objection recently. Her question was simply "How could he possibly have meant that literally when there is a prohibition against cannibalism?" All I could do was smile and say, "and yet said it very graphically." Jump to Romans 12:2, "Do no conform yourself to this age, but be transformed..." It's very interesting that the concept of the Eucharist is scandalous to your youth for a new reason. This is a gut check time where we recognize how wildly counter-cultural it is to come to Jesus. I think lukewarm Christianity springs from not ever coming to terms with that.

    I had to laugh at Pastor Zack's question about your demographic. Might be particularly sensitive to things like carbs. I had to pick up a McDonald's order for two young, poor women the other day. The orders were HUGE.

    1. Three sandwiches, fries and a softdrink

    2. Two 10 piece McNuggets, a sandwich, fries and a softdrink.

    No fear of carbs there. Obviously it isn't healthy, but it makes me think that when you're routinely hungry (figuratively and literally), carbs don't scare you.

  3. I think a real part of this issue is the amount of skinny "role models" out there. Also, I've noticed that, after years of neglect regarding diet, we've now "overcorrected" and are stressing healthy eating to the point that we can't even have a bag of chips or a cookie anymore.

    My advice to your teens is to talk about how to properly respect their bodies and orient their hunger. The body, as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, must be taken care of and this includes nourishing it. Eating, then, must be oriented towards this proper end. Only when eating is ordered (or rather dis-ordered) for the sake of eating itself do not only hurt our bodies but our souls as well through the sin of gluttony.

    I think a great activity that this can lead to is to have your teens measure out what they think is a good portion for a specific type of food (e.g. meat) and then compare it to what the USDA defines as the recommended portion. Then stress that "bad" foods such as snacks/desserts can be included in a balanced diet as long as they are in moderation.

    This can lead to a good spiritual exercise where the teens can measure what the "appropriate" amount of a charitable act (e.g. a corporal act of mercy) is and then you compare that to a Scriptural passage, recommendation from a saint, or teaching of the Church that better defines what a charitable act is.

    Just an idea!