Cheetos in the Temple


{Today’s post is a bit different than normal. I wrote an article for Faith Radio that I thought you might be interested in. We’ll get back to our “regularly scheduled programming” later this week, with Grilled Pizza Crusts!} 

 You are given the choice of a bowl of Cheetos or a bowl of carrot sticks.  Which would you choose?

The answer most people give to that question isn’t anecdotal… it’s proven. Most would pick Cheetos. What about a handful of M&Ms vs. a serving of broccoli? DING DING DING! M&Ms! And that’s no accident – it’s by design.

Wait, what? God designed us to love Cheetos?

No. Food companies have trained us to. The result? Billions of dollars in profits for them, and untold billions in healthcare costs for us.

(By the way, I’m not writing this from atop my soap-box… I just polished off a bowl of Chex Mix. But at least it was homemade…)

It would be easy to place all the blame on the food companies and wallow in my helplessness by opening another package of Oreos. But that would be shirking my responsibility – as a consumer, and as a Christian.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “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.”

I don’t believe this passage is just an exhortation about moral behavior. I think it also applies to how we eat.

Isn’t taking care of our “temple” a form of worship? And if you believe that, what is standing in your way?

As it turns out, quite a lot.

We are a nation of choice – and excess. Walk into any large grocery store, and you’re likely to find over 60,000 different products on the shelf. Why so many? Well, Jimmy likes his sugary Pop Tart without frosting, but Sally likes hers with it – and sprinkles too! I can hear the food executives exclaiming: Let them eat cake, er, Pop Tarts!!!

So what have we traded for choice and convenience?

Well it ain’t Grandma’s recipe they’re using in those treats. An army of scientists labored over the perfect formula to tickle your taste buds. It’s actually got a name – the “bliss point:” that’s just the right amount of sugar, fat and salt to make food more pleasing and train our brains and bodies to want more like it. Food companies have perfected what cigarette companies have been doing for decades.  In fact, Philip Morris owned Kraft for several years, and the food division ‘benefited” from their expertise in understanding how to create cravings.

Further, while it sure is nice to pick up a mango in January (out of season here, but that’s ok, we got it from Brazil), the fertilizers and pesticides used to help it survive it’s long journey are now in your body and mine. The burgers we’ve been grilling for years have come from beef so pumped of antibiotics that our bodies are now building resistance to the very things that are supposed to protect us. And sure, those crackers I just bought will stay fresh for a long time, but hidden in that ingredient list I can’t pronounce are preservatives including enough salt, sugar and fat to push those levels well beyond the recommended daily allowance.

But many argue that these “advancements” have resulted in more affordable food.  Yes, it’s great that a mom can pick up 2 Happy Meals and a couple of Big Mac’s to feed her family of four for under $14, but if you looked “under the hood” to see how the fast food giant can deliver such a deal – well, you might not eat for a week.  In almost every case, cheaper food is less healthy. Which of course, feeds a vicious cycle for those in poverty. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see links between poverty, obesity and rising health care costs.

And let’s get intolerant for a minute.

If you’re over 40, do you remember ever hearing about peanut allergies, lactose intolerance or celiac disease when you were younger? Did your elementary school have gluten-free options in the lunch line? While I’m not suggesting a clear or single line of causality between “Big Food” and the nations’ health, there surely is a need for better understanding of how we got here and what needs to be done to fix it.

The food industry is one where our efforts to improve it are likely causing more harm than good. I don’t pretend to be an expert or have “the big solution” – but the data is mounting, and it’s pretty convicting. (If you’re interested in reading more from ACTUAL experts, several great resources are listed at the end of this article).

If you start to explore this issue, it quickly gets complicated and confusing, but one thing is clear: we can’t rely on corporate America or government regulation to take care of our “temple.”  But we can each make more good choices from the buffet of options we have.

Know that I’m not suggesting we take all indulgence away… not at all!  The Bible had tasty treats {and wine} at the center of many a celebration. We’ve just made “indulgence” a daily thing!

Michael Pollan presents a solution in his great book “In Defense of Food”, and it’s simple:  Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I don’t know if faith plays a role in his life or not, but I’ll take his mantra one step further: The closer the food is to the way God created it, the better it is for you. In other words, the shortest distance between the ground (or the pasture) and your belly, and the shorter the ingredient list, the healthier it is (for you and the planet – but that’s another can of worms).

If God wanted us to eat Cheetos, I think he would have created them. Don’t get me wrong – God made us to be creative and I think he celebrates our ingenuity a lot of the time… until we mess with his design!

Interested in learning more?

Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Cooked, Food Rules –  all by Michael Pollan
Salt Sugar Fat – Michael Moss
Drop Dead Healthy – AJ Jacobs


Huffington Post Taste Section
Huffington Post Food for Thought
Food Inc.
Super Size Me
Thanks for Smoking {about Big Tobacco, vs the food industry, but the tactics they use are similar}
A Place at the Table

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