Our culture is rife with various food philosophies, which are the beliefs, attitudes, and values a person holds regarding food selection, cooking, and eating. The philosophies seem innumerable—real food, traditional food, organic, fair trade, free range, unpasteurized, locavore, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, etc. While the health and environmental benefits of each philosophy can be debated, my concern today is with the tendency to judge, sneer at, or belittle individuals whose food choices are what we perceive to be uninformed, an affront to our belief systems, irresponsible, or just plain lazy.
Even within the Christian community I have seen these sorts of critical attitudes displayed by one group of individuals towards others who do not share the same food philosophy. I have felt this judgment before and, though I wish it weren’t true, I have also thought judgmental thoughts about others. Let’s look at Biblical principles that relate to food philosophies and how we should respond to differences of opinion.
Before we begin, let me note that nutritional concerns are the foundations of most food philosophies. Some philosophies are also driven by concerns about the production or harvesting of products, such as unfair labor practices or concentrated animal feeding operations. These issues are very serious and it is important that they inform our food philosophies but, because nutrition is the predominate motivator in food philosophies, this post was written with nutrition at the forefront of my mind. Nevertheless, I think you will find that portions of it are applicable to a wide variety of motivators.
What does the Bible say?
I see no indication in Scripture that one’s food philosophy is essential to salvation. This, in and of itself, helps situate food philosophies in an appropriate context: While they may be important, they are not the factor that determines our standing before the Lord.
The one argument I hear most often regarding the appropriateness (or holiness) of one philosophy over another is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” In other words, healthy eating is imperative to honoring the bodies (temples) God gave us and in which the Holy Spirit dwells.
I’m not a theologian, so I will not delve too deeply into the appropriate application of these verses. I will say, though, that they are written in the context of a teaching about sexual immorality. Thus, I would be careful in applying them narrowly to nutrition. I’m not saying there is no appropriate application outside of sexual immorality—there are probably principles we can apply in other contexts, but we must do so with care. Many Christians see these verses as a clarion call to healthy living, but this may be too constricted of a view. In applying these verses to nutrition, are we saying it honors God to consume unpasteurized milk, but dishonors Him to drink pasteurized milk (or vice versa)?
There are additional Scripture verses we can carefully meditate on as we search for principles on how we should eat.
- Matthew 15:11
- 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
- Hebrews 13:9
- Romans 14
- Luke 12:23
- Proverbs 23:20-21
- Colossians 2:16-23
Selecting and living by a food philosophy
I believe there should be 3 considerations when selecting and abiding by a food philosophy:
- The teachings of Scripture – We have already looked at several Scripture verses. The Bible is always our “true north,” so prayerfully apply these to your food purchases, preparation, and consumption.
- Our consciences (i.e., convictions) – If you feel convicted regarding a certain food philosophy, then follow your convictions (see Romans 14:5, 14). Maintain a clean conscience before the Lord in disputable matters such as this.
- Love for others – Read Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 again. The themes of love, resisting judgment, and honoring those whose opinions differ from ours are pervasive. If you’re visiting with a friend and she offers you an item that you do not eat, are you able to politely decline the food or do you launch into a diatribe about why you don’t eat it and how she shouldn’t be eating it either? The former is loving, but the latter is not. Let’s not forget that the Bible says it will be known that we are His disciples by our love (John 13:35).
Everything we do on earth matters; nothing can be compartmentalized apart from our faith. However, in light of eternity, does choosing to feed my family brown or white rice carry the same significance as feeding the poor or caring for the orphan? I don’t know. One thing I know without question is this: Christ said that the most important commandments are loving Him and loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Subsequently, the way one comes to and lives out his or her food philosophy is as important as the philosophy itself.
What factors influence your food choices? Have you ever experienced judgment (either rendering it or receiving it) in regards to your food philosophy?