Wednesday, July 11, 2012

We Need Not Eat Alike . . .

One of the most famous utterances in the Unitarian tradition comes from the 16th century.  It was said by Francis Dávid—or, as he is known in his own language, Dávid Ferenc.  In his lifetime he was a Catholic, who converted to Lutheranism, who converted to Calvanism, who converted to Unitarianism. And I don’t mean that he did a lot of church shopping—he was a rector or priest in each of these denominations, and rose to the rank of Superintendent (which is like a Bishop) in three of them.  And he became the founder of the first institutional Unitarian church in history. 

He once said -- and this isn't the "famous utterance" I'm talking about -- In this world there have always been many opinions about faith.”

But the quote I'm thinking about, and the one that I've modified for the title of this post, is this:

"We need not think alike, to love alike."

In today's increasingly polarized world this notion is such a powerful corrective.  We need not think alive, to love alike.  We need not share worldviews to recognize our common humanity and treat each other like family.  I could even go so far as to say that we need not agree about everything to work together on those things we do all care about.

This idea is applicable in so many places today.

I started thinking about all of this (again) during some recent conversations I've been involved in (on FaceBook and in the "real" world) about dietary plans.  It seems that "in this world there have always been many opinions about nutrition," and folks quite often are ready to defend their own particular opinion against all challenges.

And one of the things I've noticed (and yes, again) is that it seems that a default method of defending your own opinion is to denounce and deride any others.  Paleo people declare that Vegans don't get it.  And juicers act as though non-juicers are imbeciles.  And it seems that few people are willing to recognize that we need not eat alike to love alike.  And we need not agree about everything to acknowledge that there's a fair bit we do agree about.

We are meant to eat food.  It provides the building blocks which makes everything possible -- every movement we make, every thought we think.  As I watched my babies grow into toddlers I thought of how amazing it is that they were turning baby food into longer arms and legs and ever more connected synapses.  The maxim "you are what you eat" is quite literally true. 

Yet much of what is included in the typical western (and, perhaps particularly, American) diet is no longer really food -- it is overly processed food-like product.  And it's worth noting that providing nutrition to people is not the primary purpose of what, for want of a better term, I'll lump together under the name "The Food Industry."  Its primary purpose is providing profits to its shareholders.  And one of the best ways to do this is to create nutrient-lean, calorie-dense food-like products with lots of additives that are cheap to produce and which keep you coming back for more.  (Some of the common additives in many processed foods are known to be as addictive as cocaine!)

We've seen this in the behavior of the tobacco industry -- an intentional manipulation of the chemical components of cigarettes so as to make them more addictive.  It is also clear that many food manufacturer's have been doing the same thing -- increasing the fat, sugar, and/or salt content (and inserting additives like MSG) so as to make us crave more of their products.  And by (again, intentionally) reducing the nutrient content relative to the calorie count they've created products that feel filling when consumed, stimulate all sorts of pleasure receptors, but do not actually provide the necessary nutrients for the body and so virtually guarantee that we'll keep eating.

So while we're designed to eat food, the typical American diet consists primarily of non-food substances.  This is something like providing to the construction company that's building your house not wood, stone, and metal, but wax paper, styrofoam and aluminum foil.  These things are kind of like those appropriate building materials, but not really a substitute.

And not only are the heavily-processed food-like substances not good for us, they are demonstrably bad.  Not only are they not particularly beneficial, they are actually harmful.  These things have been shown over and over again to be primary contributors to our epidemic of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, various cancers, and a host of other serious health problems that are plaguing our lives.  And these are just some of the so-called "physical" repercussions.  These same contributors have been shown to play a role in a host of so-called "mental" health issues as well -- such as depression, ADD, autism, etc.

And now, as always, there are many opinions about nutrition.  And people willing to defend their particular opinion.  But when we at all costs defend the details of our particular plan, are we adding to the confusion that leaves the majority of people confused about what to do when it comes to eating?

Michael Pollan -- the author of such books as The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food -- has written a book called Food Rules in which he tries to cut through the various specific details of the multitude of plans that compete for our attention and to offer some simple, common sense "rules" to guide a rational response to our national need for change.  Here are some of my favorites:
  • Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  • If it came from a plant, eat it.  If it was made in a plant, don't.
  • It’s not food if it’s served through the window of your car.
  • It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language.  (e.g., Pringles, Big Mac)
  • Don't eat cereal that changes the color of your milk.
  • Don't eat foods with ingredients you can't pronounce.
And then of course there's this classic, perhaps my favorite:
  • Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.
We need not eat alike to love alike.  We need not eat alike to live alive.  But it sure seems increasingly clear that most of us can't keep eating the way we do and continue to love, or live, at all.

In Gassho,

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Jeff said...

I know this is a bit off-topic for your post, but thought I'd mention that UU historians have determined that the famous "love alike" quote attributed to David is apocryphal--probably created in the mid-20th century and anachronistically attributed to him. Just FYI.

arthurrashap said...

Really good and really relevant, Erik. This is a microcosim in one way and all about the "big picture" in another. Deep down, we DO KNOW what is right, what is and are the best things to do, to think, for our health, our joy, our lives. Looking at how what we eat affects each aspect of our lives, and how the current disease and dis-ease rampant in society relates, NEEDS to be a topic that is discussed and faced. My personal trip in the last five months speaks SO CLEARLY to this. I've become the "poster child" for my physician because of diet and exercise changes.
AND, just thinking about the push-back, the lobbying effort that the meat industry, dairy industry, manufactured food industry, sugar added industry, etc. would engage in is pretty exhausting and pretty discouraging. And, if we can't start with a civilized dialogue amongst ourselves, about caring for ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and the rest of the planet, then why show up Sunday or any other day?????
Arthur Rashap