Food is on my mind a lot. Besides simply deciding what we might like to eat for dinner, my wife and I give careful thought to where our food comes from. We try to buy organic and local and seasonal produce whenever we can. We do this for a number of reasons, but mostly because we feel we ought to be more thoughtful about our food related decisions. On one side we feel the steady pressure applied by secular leaders and commentators urging Americans to rethink food. Often termed the "food movement," this increasing food-related advocacy has a host of loosely related goals, as food writer Michael Pollan explained in The New York Review of Books. A few things he mentions are:
-school lunch reform
-the campaign for animal rights and welfare and against genetically modified crops
-the rise of organic and locally produced food
-efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes
-farm bill reform
-food safety regulation
-promotion of urban agriculture
-farm worker rights
-various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids.
Christian leaders are weighing in on these issues, too. Not only are good food decisions a matter of good citizenship, some argue; they are central to good discipleship too. In Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation (IVP 2012), for example, coauthor Fred Bahnson daydreams:
What if we planted church-supported community gardens, permaculture parishes … and apostolic farms that fed entire neighborhoods? … What if we created infrastructures of holiness, where God's kingdom of shalom could flourish on earth as in heaven?
It's a dazzling vision for some. And it raises the stakes in the food debate, as it casts it in eternal terms. It's all a bit overwhelming. (And we've only scratched the surface.) The critical question at this point is how are Christians supposed to think about these issues? Is buying and eating a certain kind of food a Christian imperative?
The Biblical Evidence
The biblical teaching on food can be a bit confusing. On the one hand, the Old Testament is full of food rules prescribing both what to eat and how to prepare it. There are commandments against eating meat with the blood still in it (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 12:23) and various kinds of seafood (Lev. 11:12), and against certain cooking techniques (Ex. 23:19). On the other hand, many—perhaps most—Christians believe that these dietary restrictions, which some Jews still observe, were abolished by the New Covenant. Jesus taught, "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them" (Matt. 15:11). After the Resurrection, God commanded Peter in a vision to "kill and eat" a variety of unclean animals (Acts 10:9-22). When Peter objected, God replied, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (v. 15). Christians have traditionally interpreted this to mean that we can eat whatever we like.
In other words, the data is inconclusive. At the very least, we can probably say with confidence that the Bible doesn't address eating local, organic, or fair-trade food explicitly. That said, the current food issues do relate to several important biblical themes that most Christians consider central to the Christian life, and about which the Bible has quite a lot to say: stewardship, care of creation, and justice.
At its simplest, stewardship has to do with being responsible with our resources. Of course this means our finances. But it can also be applied to things like our bodies. When it comes to our physical healthiness, our food choices become particularly important. If we want to protect our health, we need to eat healthily. Many advocates argue that organic foods are healthier for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are grown without the use of inorganic pesticides. Local honey is said to help combat seasonal allergies. So eating local and organic might do a body good.