Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Vegetarians are weird. Vegans are even worse. All those earthy tones they wear with their socially active bumper stickers. Hippies. People weren’t meant to eat like that. My daughter would prefer to not eat meat...she could subsist on noodles alone. But because we’re teaching her that it’s sinful to not eat meat, we withhold things like cookies and love if she doesn’t eat her steak. We’re gonna learn her good. My son is different. He’s a good carnivore through and through. A steak and potatoes boy with shovels for hands. should watch this kid put it away. It’s amazing. I have lived my entire life subscribing to the belief that meat is a necessary, desirable and sizable part of my diet. After all...why did God create cows if He didn’t want us to cram them shoulder-to-shoulder in a feedlot while they wait to be shot in the head, skinned and have their muscles shredded and chopped into small pieces. Right?

I heard this week that in the 1960’s, the average American family ate meat (of any kind...beef, fish, poultry...whatever) twice a week. Two times. Out of every 21 meals. Most Americans today eat it about twice a day. Meat used to be expensive. When cattle and chickens were raised in pastures on grass, eating the way that they were biologically designed to eat, it was expensive to produce meat. It took a lot more space to raise the animals, and they were a lot leaner (smaller) when it came time to slaughter them. This resulted in significantly higher prices for meat, so it was reserved for Sunday dinners and other special occasions. When the food revolution began, some smart person somewhere realized that we could force these animals to eat a corn diet if we pumped them full of antibiotics to offset their digestive system’s natural rebellion. Corn was a lot cheaper than grass and clover. Then we learned that if we actually cram thousands of these animals into one small place, the feeding and growing became a lot more efficient and required much less space. All this continued making it cheap to produce meat. Finally, we figured out that by genetically engineering different species and using growth hormones, we could get a lot more meat off of each animal, driving costs down even more. And that, more or less, is how we came to eat meat twice a day.

I’m not even going to discuss the ethical implications for how we’re treating these animals raised for meat (though I think there are a lot of them). Nevermind...yes I am. That’s messed up. Watch any one of the dozen or so documentaries out there on our food system, and you’ll get to see how these animals are raised and it will make you want to slap a greenpeace sticker on your car and become a vegetarian. In addition to the stress and torment that these animals are subjected to, there are health implications too.  For example, a feedlot raised steak has about 9g of saturated fat while a pasture raised, grass fed and finished steak has less than 2. The protein content is higher in the grass steak too, as are several other vitamins and nutrients. And it tastes better (subjective, I know).

I have a friend who is from Kenya and we talk about food a lot. Incidentally, I have never seen any human being go after any type of food with the ferocity that he goes after my wife’s lasagna. Like a dog on a bone. He was telling me the other day that when they have feasts and celebrations (birthdays, holidays, etc.) they will sometimes slaughter a chicken or a goat. It’s a special occasion when meat is on the menu. For something really special, like a wedding, sometimes families that can afford it will slaughter a cow for the feast, but it is a rarity. I couldn’t relate.

Here’s the upshot...if animals were raised the way that they were designed to be raised, the meat produced would be healthier and significantly more expensive. The increased cost would drive our culture back to eating meat a few times a week instead of virtually every day. We would all be better for it, as would the animals.

We’re having company over for dinner tonight. My wife wanted to make chicken. We decided to get locally raised, free-range chicken breasts. It cost us $16. That same amount of chicken at Meijer would have cost about $5. This last fall, we got our hands on a chest freezer and bought 1/4 cow (about 90 lbs of meat) from a local farmer who raises his small herd of cows on grass. We now have all the beef we’ll need for the next 6 months (FYI...if you’re able to do it this way and buy in bulk, getting the good stuff doesn’t cost any more than buying it at the store). I recognize that these are small steps, but I like the direction that we’re headed. It feels right that meat is costly. After all, some living thing had to give up it’s life for my dinner. That shouldn’t come cheap.

Off to apologize to all my vegetarian friends...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Soapbox...

As I’m reading this post before it goes up...I realize that it sounds a lot more depressing than I actually, read at your own risk.

It's Christmas time. This past week I have been experiencing much of comes with Christmas in our culture, and it's highlighted a few things in my innards. Indulgence is sort of the name of the game at Christmas time. And I'm certain that I am one of the worst offenders. From our spending to our time to, yes, even our eating...Christmas seems to bring out (or at least point out) a fair amount of selfishness in me. Let me start here...

Last Friday night, we had a staff Christmas party for all of the members of the staff at the church that I work at. It was great fun. We have chemistry that is uncommon in any workplace setting that I've ever encountered (church or otherwise). We have a great time with each other. Part of any good Christmas party is the food. This was no exception. We got food from one of my favorite restaurants in the area. It was AMAZING! It was the most delicious holiday party I've ever been a part of. I went into it knowing that eating more food than necessary was inevitable. It was sort of an unspoken agreement between me and my was a special occasion, so we all (my body, mind, etc.) just looked the other way, knowing that it was an exception and not the rule (hopefully). Here's what I can tell you about all that.

First, I loved every minute of it. my taste buds were doing a happy dance, and my body rejoiced at the overabundance of caloric consumption. It added to the festive mood of the occasion, and I believe that we all had more fun than we would have if we would have eaten more responsibly. That points to the fact that food was created to bring joy in addition to sustaining life. Feasts are a common occurrence throughout history... celebrations always have a component of food. The problem comes when we have celebrations every day, which is basically how Americans eat now. I don’t think I have ever, in my entire life, not had access to a feast. The danger in that is two-fold. First, we all eat too much food and get unhealthy and begin using food for things it was never intended for (filling emotional needs, reducing boredom, etc.). Secondly, and every bit as insidious, it reduces that spectacular and celebratory nature of the real feasts when we have them. The impact of food on our celebrations is negated because it’s nothing out of the ordinary for us

The second thing I learned is that indulgence doesn’t feel good. I knew this, but it’s good to be reminded. I physically felt worse than I have in a month, I slept horribly, and I had very little energy for about 24 hours post-feast. Indulgence doesn’t feel good. Which leads me to Christmas. Is there a more indulgent holiday in our culture. We’re talking about a day whose official ramp-up begins with a day dedicated to excessive spending and impulse buys (black Friday)...I was there. I saw the carnage first hand. Never am I more aware of all of the things that I need but don’t have then I am at Christmas time. Never is my sense of personal discontent higher. That’s wrong. Somewhere along the line, Christmas has become about indulgence, and it goes far beyond food.

There is a restlessness in my soul today about my own indulgences. I don’t know what will come of it or what I’m supposed to do, but to this point, I am missing the mark when it comes to peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Food is only the beginning of what is broken in me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baby Steps

I’ve said before that I think one of the dangers in a major lifestyle change (particularly one involving something as basic as food) is that it’s easy to bite off more than you can Sustainable change comes in small increments. If you try to do too much at once, you’re almost certainly dooming yourself to failure. It was during a conversation like this with some friends that they asked me to recommend some steps to take. Steps that have been helpful to me over the last two years as I’ve gradually made whatever progression I’ve made. Let me again offer my disclaimer that I would not presume to tell anyone what to do or how to live when it comes to food. I am only sharing what I’ve found to be helpful for me, and I am still learning a lot every day. If you feel like taking some next steps in your own life, maybe these will be helpful.

Step One: Watch the movie “Food Inc.” It’s a fairly entertaining, clever documentary on the food system in America. It’s as unbiased as I think it’s possible to be, but it provides a pretty good luck at where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It’s a good starting point.

Step Two: Stop eating fast food. Honestly, if you do step one, this probably won’t be that tough. I know that it’s not always possible or practical...but as much as possible, pass on the fast food. We’ll all be better for it.

Step Three: Plant a garden. It doesn’t need to be big. It could be in containers on your porch or patio...but plant a garden. Something that you can harvest at some point to eat. This was really helpful in my understanding where food really comes from and how it’s really produced. I also found it to be a great learning tool for my kids, who now know that tomatoes don’t come from Meijer. Plus...the difference in taste will knock your socks off.

Step Four: Change you eggs. The system required to produce eggs for $.79 a dozen is pretty scary. There is a decent article about it here: 

For most families who go through somewhere around a dozen eggs a week, the financial cost in switching to organic cage-free eggs is somewhere around $4 a week. Even less if you find a local farmer to buy your eggs from

Step Five: Bake bread. There seems to be a mis-perception that bread-baking is too difficult and/or time consuming. Both untrue. This is a great way to begin to produce your own food at home, having full control of everything that is going into it. It’s much better for you (particularly if you choose to use whole grains) and it tastes WAY better. Here’s a great book to get started:

Step Six: Spend more time (and money) at your farmer’s market. I used to go the farmers market because it was fun in the same way that going to a fair or a carnival was fun. It’s a large gathering and it’s a trendy place to hang out. Once in a while we would buy some of our stuff there, but I didn’t really buy in. The truth is that buying your seasonal produce from a local producer does more than give you better broccoli and tastier tomatoes. It supports the local growers who have made it a point to opt-out of the mass produced food system. It also saves tons of fuel that is needed to ship produce from California, Mexico and wherever else it’s coming from. Every dollar that you can give to a local grower instead of the grocery store is an investment in the future of the sustainable food movement. Even better look into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with one of the local farms. This is a system where you pay a fee for a share of the farm and every week you get a box of all the different things that are currently being grown at that farm. It’s a great deal.

Step Seven: Analyze. By this point, you’ll be getting a pretty good idea of works for you and what doesn’t and what you’re led and compelled to do. Analyze your food choices. Are there things you’re buying on a regular basis that you can get in a better way by buying local or organic. How much processed food is going through your household? Are there places where that can be trimmed? This is where the lifestyle really takes shape, because you begin deciding what’s important and what’s not in a way that tends to last.

What other steps would you ad?
Good luck...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


A friend of mine sent me this picture of my blog that he created with a tag cloud generator. I felt pretty happy about it because, for the most part, it seems to indicate that I’ve been talking about the things that I think are important (the bigger the word, the more often it’s been mentioned in the blog).

I had a spirited discussion this morning with some friends (some would have seen it as an argument, but only those who haven’t been around us enough to know that heightened intensity levels are kind of normal for us). The topic on the table was, essentially, is this new philosophy on food a matter of fact and beyond my simple it true. Is it factually accurate that living this way and eating this way (healthy and sustainable) is better than the alternative. Is it incontrovertible that unimpeded participation in the American food system is bad. And beyond all of this, is it really what God desires of us, or is it a disputable matter.

While the answers aren’t easy, I continue to believe that the answers to all of those questions is yes. It is better to live this way, the food system is bad and I believe that this is what God desires of us...particularly those of us who have been given the knowledge to make informed choices. That is to say that there are loads of people who have no paradigm for anything different than what they’ve been living for their entire lives. It can’t be held against them, then, that they are unaware of the implications of their involvement. They are also unaware of alternatives. But for those who have access to the knowledge, I believe the answers are clear. That doesn’t make it easy.

As people have been asking me about this shift in lifestyle (and again let me remind you that I am far from a poster-boy for the sustainable food movement...I’m still working it all out and fail regularly) I find the one’s that seem to have the greatest problem with it are the ones that feel deep conflict about it inside of them. In other words, they know that there is some truth to the idea, but it’s a tough pill to swallow. Again, I’ve been there. All 260 lbs of me. The reality is the system isn’t working for people. The health of the country is degrading rapidly. This, I believe, is what happens anytime the Lord begins to ask for difficult, sacrificial change in people’s lives. The first reaction is often defensiveness because we know what’s coming (that at least has been my reaction). The second is often helpless confusion because we don’t know where to start. Welcome to my world.

At the beginning of this project, in my very first blog, I promised not to judge. It is not for me to tell people how to live or what habits they need to change. The only responsibility I have is to live as I feel led to live and let that speak for itself. When this causes people to ask questions (which has happened a lot lately), I have an opportunity to share some of the knowledge that I am gaining in this most recent season of my life. If that knowledge or the weight of the decisions I make stirs something up inside of people then I feel like there is something far greater going on...and that doesn’t suck.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Two Weeks

Well here we are nearing the end of week two, and I can tell you two things with certainty. The first is that my excitement is waning. While I haven’t had any fast-food burgers or pizza in the last couple of weeks, I am missing some of the ease and variety that was readily available in my previous culinary life. The second thing I’m sure of is that this is making me better. I’m feeling better (a 24 hour flu bug notwithstanding), sleeping better and am in a generally sunnier disposition. Plus, my wife is brining an organic chicken for dinner tonight, so I pretty excited about that.

While it is beginning to feel a bit monotonous, I am choosing to believe that if I keep pushing through, the fruit will come. It could be that I’ve been conditioned to think that food must be exciting and filled with variety, when in fact it was only intended to be a means for survival on the most basic level. I’ve been living to eat instead of eating to live. It requires much more energy in every conceivable way to eat this way, from planning to shopping to cooking. I’m still committed, but I can tell that to sustain this for the long haul, I’m going to need some help...not sure what form that will take yet.

Indulgent living is living in opposition to God. Therefore it would seem that sacrificial living would be living in alignment with God. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on recently is the idea of sacrificial living. If I’m honest, I’m not really sacrificing anything with my food choices. I’m still eating very well. In fact, financially, I’m spending more on food not then I did before because it costs so much more in America to eat sustainably. So even the fact that I am able to engage in this lifestyle is an indication of my affluence.
So what am I sacrificing? Where in my life is that showing up and where should it be showing up more. I find there is an inherent sense of Godly responsibility that is cultivated and encouraged by the food choices I’m making. Everything is connected to everything, and so by eating (more) sustainably, I am forced to look at the sustainability in other areas of life, from driving to shopping to the amount of waste our household produces. It’s a never ending balancing act. I wonder what other sorts of changes this is going to require...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


How far can we go before we’re weird? That’s my wife’s biggest concern with our new lifestyle. That we are becoming those weird people that everyone talks about. That doesn’t concern me quite as much. Partly because I’m a lot weirder than she is to begin with, so she has farther to fall. Also, I’ve owned a scooter now for about 8 months and learned to deal well with being the butt of many a joke (none of you jokesters are scoring 95 mpg, though...are you? ...Laughing all the way to the bank.).

If I care what people think, it seems like I’ve already lost the battle. Being counter-cultural is OK, isn’t it? If the goal is to live like Jesus (and it is, though my propensity to sabotage that endeavor is great) then shouldn't we be way more counter-cultural than we are? No number of chickens or goats living in my backyard are going to put me on that level of weirdness and public ridicule. Jesus was flying in the face of cultural norms for His whole life...and yet American christians tend to ride the current of culture from a comfortable chair right smack in the middle of it. When do people mock us or bristle at how different we are? When do friends and family take note of the choices that we make. Do people see sacrifice in the way we live our lives? These are things that we (I) should strive for, not back away from.

Be many social activists do you know who are way weirder than you? Most of the one’s that I know don’t even profess to have a relationship with Jesus, in part because then see the apathy and indulgence in the lifestyle of some of His followers and want no part of it. They see the need to choose responsibly and the damage that selfish living can cause. I contend that if these folks knew Jesus’ heart, they would love him deeply. I also contend spending more time hanging out with them will teach me a great deal about Jesus.

It’s sort of like putting a frog into a pot of boiling water. If you just plop him into already hot water, he’ll jump out. But, if you place him in cool water and turn up the heat, he’ll never realize what’s happening until it’s too late (this is all here-say, mind you. I’ve never boiled a frog). We’re plopped down in this culture and we never even realize that the heat is being turned up. Things are changing and we’re changing with them. If you follow Jesus and you aren’t counter-cultural, there is a problem. Until enough people choose to opt-out and live differently the cultural wave will continue to overpower.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Black and White

I am a man of black and white. Balance is not something I excel in. I think that’s part of the reason that fasting came relatively easily to me. It’s much easier for me to, say, not eat at all or only drink liquids for a few weeks than to eat in a healthy, balanced fashion for a year or a lifetime. Maybe it’s the challenge of it. Whatever it is, it’s not balance. Black and white. All or nothing. Tupac or Biggie (Actually, I’ve always been more of a Warren G guy).

This idea of balance often comes up when my wife and I talk about my crazy new ideas. (Hey honey, let’s throw the television away...let’s run a marathon in  a month and half...let’s listen to nothing but adult contemporary music for a year). Thankfully, none of these ideas came to fruition because my wife knows me and she knows that I have more mood swings than an adolescent girl (so I’ve heard). Being the gracious woman that she is, she only rolls her eyes at my plans occasionally.

I bring up all this balance stuff because it became the topic of conversation at dinner last night as I was eating my unprocessed black beans (soaked...not from the can, thank you) with quinoa (like rice only different). I was watching the rest of my family eat baked spaghetti. It must have been the way I was looking at all the melty cheese, because my wife said to me “so is there anything good that you can eat?” I confessed that I didn’t know the answer. I’ve been so entrenched in this food system for so long that I really don’t even know what the rules are outside of this game. It’s like Peyton Manning suddenly retiring from the NFL and getting a gig with the Irish rugby team. My guess is, it wouldn’t go well.

As I began to spout off my list of do’s and don’ts (making it up as I went, mind you), Adrienne stopped me gently and reminded me of my propensity to take things to unnecessary extremes. After a couple of defensive eyerolls we got to unpacking this thing together. What we arrived at was certainly more philosophical than practical, but it seems like it might be a good starting point anyway.

First, this isn’t about dogmatic rule-following. There is grace and freedom in this process as we figure out what it means to participate in “Kingdom eating.” Second, it’s not as much learning which foods to stay away from, rather learning how and where to find those foods produced in a responsible manner without harmful chemical treatments and petroleum-heavy processing. Does this mean that I shouldn’t be eating avocados in December that are transported from half a continent away? Probably...but I had one tonight and it was delicious. Let’s face it...winter squash and potatoes only go so far.

One fortunate by-product of this way of eating is that it is inherently healthier. There are several draw-backs, however, that we became immediately aware of. First, convenience. Gone are the days of grabbing a string cheese or a handful of crackers to waylay the mid-afternoon munchies. Replacing these treats (that I really look forward to) with carrots or roasted chick peas (surprisingly good...but still no Wheat Thin) is decidedly less appealing and decidedly more work, requiring additional advance preparations (peeling, roasting, etc.). Which leads me to the second draw-back.

This is going to be a lot of work. I don’t mean mental or emotional work..I mean labor. We’re going to have to bake a lot more bread if we want to eat it. We’re going to have to spend time simmering a chicken carcass if we want to have stock for sauces, soups, etc. Steel cut oats (unprocessed oatmeal) is delicious but it takes about 25 minutes to prepare, as opposed to the 3 minutes it takes to whip up a bowl of instant oatmeal. Those of you who have kids can imagine the road we see set before us, trying to relocate not only ourselves but our kids onto this path. Depending on how hard and how fast we go after this, we could be heading for a nervous breakdown...or a family breakdown...or both.

Which brings me back to balance. I hear sustainable change comes slowly. So, mission number one is to approach this in a well-rounded manner with an eye towards sustainability (and remaining happily married) and to not bite off more than I can

Saturday, December 3, 2011


The infamous large pizza I talked about in a previous post was merely a symptom of a larger problem. I have an eating disorder. I don’t say that at all flippantly. I don’t know if there is a clinical definition for it, or if it is even regarded as a disorder...but I am convinced that I have an eating disorder.

Eating was a recreational hobby. One that I miss dearly, if I’m honest. I ate because I was bored, I ate because I was happy, I ate because I was depressed, I ate because I was angry. One reason I didn’t eat was to live. It was never about life for me, though I would try hard to pretend. “I have to eat to live” is what I would tell myself. And thus was born the deception in my mind perverting an act that was created to joyfully sustain life into one that brought despair as it sucked life away. On more than one occasion I would gorge myself on the culinary delights of the moment, excuse myself to vomit, then proceed to repeat the process. Food was my comfort; the thing that filled the empty places in my soul. My therapist (yes...I have a therapist. I should probably have 4 therapists) would have a field day dissecting (again) all of the brokenness that resulted in these empty spaces inside of me. But the fact of the matter is that food was a substitute for any number of real needs and desires in my life. God. Friends. Connection. Purpose. Joy.

I understand why Americans would be hesitant to label this addictive substitution of food as a disorder (at least a ‘real’ one) because we would then be forced to acknowledge the pervasiveness of the sickness. Obesity costs the health care system in this country 90 billion-with-a-b dollars every year. And I promise that every one of the people who struggle with obesity are trying to fill some sort of void with food, and most are probably operating under the same deception I was about food being necessary for life. The only reason I wasn’t clinically obese was because I’m also prone to physical activity, which allowed me to maintain an outward appearence of relative health and balance.

The CDC reports that more than a third (33.8%) of American adults are obese. Type II diabetes (TTD-most often caused by being overweight and a lack of physical activity) had to be renamed from adult-onset diabetes because so many children are now contracting it. 30% of kids born after Y2K will contract TTD. In minorities that number jumps to 50%. Many people see the obesity epidemic in America and call it laziness or a crises of personal responsibility. I find this ironic as we continue to subsidize and support the very foods and the very system that got us to this place. We’ve made it much easier, cheaper and faster to get or stay fat then to maintain a nutritious input of food and sustain healthy bodies. And how about the ‘health care crises’? If we were able to put a sizable dent in the $90,000,000,000 we spend annually on our subsidized obesity I have to imagine that would change the picture a bit.

For me, finding relative freedom from this cycle of addictive-substitution eating is about two things. First and foremost, it’s about finding some healing and wholeness in the broken places where it’s easy for me to cram in a bunch of food to try to mitigate the pain. I know that if I don’t deal with the sadness, lonliness, and feelings of being unwanted that any treatment of the symptom of eating would be temporary. Second, it’s about taking some sort of stand against the systems that encouraged and enabled me to stuff my face with a cheeseburger everytime I was feeling low.

If any of this resonates with and/or describes you, take heart. You are not alone.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kingdom Come

Try to bear with me and keep an open mind for a few minutes. I’m going to lay out what I happen to believe to be true today, but I am not stating this as absolute fact. The truth is, my paradigm of God and life and the world and pretty much everything else seems to be constantly moving. I think that’s how it should be. I always cringe when I hear people (and I’ve been one of those people) state ideas or philosophies as absolute truth. There are things that I would state as fact, but this idea is not one of them. I think my goal is to start a dialogue, internal or otherwise, for some people and to continue that dialogue with myself.

When I grew up, I spent a lot of time learning about the Bible. It was taught extensively in both my church and the school system that I was a part of through high school. We learned a lot about Jesus and read all of the stories about him. One of the memorable ones for me was when Jesus encounters this rich guy who asks him what to do in order receive the Life that Jesus was promising. Jesus, after affirming that the young man was trying to live a good life, tells him to go sell all of his stuff and give it away. The Bible says that the man went away grieving because he had a lot of stuff. Jesus turns to his friends and tells them how difficult it is for those who are rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:16-26).

There were a lot of other stories where Jesus talked about ‘the Kingdom’ and he always seemed to talk about crazy things happening in the Kingdom. People were healed, dead people came back to life, the humble and downtrodden were exalted. Now in these church and school circles that I grew up in, since we had never actually seen a blind person get healed and be able to see, we were taught that the Kingdom was a sort of abstract allusion to Heaven. That is, we will see the Kingdom when we die.

Now, maybe this is true. In fact, I think it’s probably part of the story, but there is more to it (maybe). The Bible seems to separate salvation (which is a matter of faith in the heart, with no behavioral criteria) with the Kingdom. Even Jesus says that one of the reasons that he came was to give us abundant life, or life with great fullness. I don’t think He meant in heaven. I think He meant that there is an abundance and fullness available for us here on earth. I think we are able to walk in the Kingdom, albeit sporadically and inconsistently, right here in the middle of this broken planet. How else would I explain those moments when Jesus in me takes over and I am somehow living beyond myself and my own rascal-hood. There is a fullness, a peace and contentment in those times that exists. I think that is a piece of the Kingdom. It would stand to reason (at least in my fickle mind) that by living in direct opposition to the Kingdom (walking around angry, a heart or mind filled with deceit or malice, greed, drinking light beer...not positive that’s a sin, but pretty sure), we would get in our own way and probably not experience the fullness and abundance of life.

Back to the rich guy. He had too much and Jesus knew that he was too attached to his stuff and the comfort that his wealth afforded him. Jesus knew that in order for this guy to walk in the Kingdom on earth, he needed to be willing to give it all up and move back toward the life of humble simplicity that God intended (uh-oh).

Do you know why they don’t have the food systems and production capacity that we have in Africa or India? It’s because they can’t afford it. Our richness in this country has allowed us to make astonishing industrial and technological advances with our food. It began with good intentions (to make sure that food remained affordable) but as it often does, a well-intentioned idea became perverted (by power, greed and any number of other things) and suddenly, we’re left with what we see today; A system that outputs mass quantities of convenient, chemically produced food at the expense of nutrition, quality, and ecological responsibility. And then the system decides to ensure that this artificial factory food remains a cultural mainstay by paying for it (through government subsidies), thereby guaranteeing that it is always much cheaper to eat the pretend stuff then the real stuff (and again, let me be clear. I LOVE the fake stuff...can’t get enough of it). We are broken.

I believe that the American food system is in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God. I also believe that by continuing to participate in that system, we are stumbling blocks to ourselves experiencing the Kingdom on earth. I don’t how to escape such a pervasive cultural norm. I don’t even know how to shop for groceries anymore. However this experiment continues to shake out, I know what I’m chasing, and that can’t be bad.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Small Things

a particularly good day in the garden this summer

It started with a large pizza. Double Cheese, no meat. There were three of us. Two of my best friends and me sitting down to a lunch, each of us with our own large pizza. Even as we devoured them we chuckled at the ridiculousness of it. It was a good natured chuckle, like when my daughter puts her dress on backwards. It should have been full blown panic at how lazy and complacent at I had become.

We finished our pizzas and I felt terrible for the rest of the afternoon (and probably through the evening too, though I can’t remember). That was my watershed moment when I knew that something had gone terribly wrong. I really hope that’s the only one I need. I cringe at the thought of having to go through the years leading up to that moment again.

The change began slowly, with a decision to eat more fruits and vegetables and stop eating deserts for a while. After a month or so of that, I was amazed at not only how much better I felt, but how much nicer I was to my friends, my wife, my kids...there was kindness and gentleness in me that I was unfamiliar with. We continued to make small changes gradually for a while. We did more of our produce shopping at farmers markets. We bought locally raised roasting chickens. I began to study bread-baking after I looked at how many ingredients were on regular store-bought bread. Thankfully, I’ve always enjoyed cooking, so it wasn’t a stretch to begin to prepare more foods fresh and at home.

As these changes began to add up over the months in our family, we noticed some lasting effects. First, we generally felt better. We noticed the food preparation had become valuable family hang-out time. We would often put on music and have (as my daughter likes to call them) crazy dance parties as dinner was being prepared. Maybe most of all, we noticed that when we prepared fresh food, the taste was remarkably better then anything we bought from the store. From meat to produce to bread to ice cream...when we made it at home, it was just better.

This inspired us to plant a garden this past spring. We were virgin gardeners, struggling to this point to keep our houseplants from dying. We had recently moved to a house with an acre or so of land, so we had space available, and we decided to give it a shot. Since it was our first time, I didn’t really have any paradigm for success, but I thought it went great. For a good three to four months we had an abundance of fresh produce at virtually every meal. The kids began to look forward to daily harvesting trips to the garden and we had so many tomatoes and potatoes that we are still able to enjoy some of the fruits of that garden right now (thanks to youtube tutorials on skinning and freezing tomatoes), We liked the garden experiment so much that we are planning to triple the size of it for this coming season.

Because my whims, discipline and moods are about as predictable as Michigan weather, we have certainly had our ups and downs with these changes. I have still enjoyed my fair share of McDonalds burgers in the last year (don’t judge) and the Fraaza family loves it’s ice cream (homade or can’t be good for you)...but slowly, over a couple of years we have made a number of small, sustainable changes that have led us to this next chapter. The changes don’t have to be big and they don’t have to be many. By starting small (and lacking any noble nutritional or philosophical reasons at the time) we were able to begin to see what we were missing.

This is how we got here...

Pandora's Box

I talked with a friend today who recently went gluten-free (essentially no bread or wheat products) for health reasons. She said it took about thirty days for her body to adjust. During that thirty days she felt tired and not at her best. After those thirty days, she said, the difference was amazing. She felt better then she ever had

That gave me hope, because today I feel hungry, tired and cranky. It’s not even like I’m not eating enough food. I’ve been eating well (quantity-wise). I would love to say that the difference has been immediate and positive, but the truth is, I think I’m still waiting for my body to adjust and stop screaming at me to order a pizza.

I’m a little overwhelmed at the Pandora’s box that this project is opening. And it’s only the first week. Here are some of the things that occurred to me today as I enjoyed my lunch of salad and minestrone soup (really delicious and not at all the way).

Is it possible to sell out to this thing fully, from a time perspective?
In most cultures that practice sustainable eating (which I will call synonymous with Kingdom eating...for now) at least one member of the household remains at home, in part because of all of the additional work that is required to prepare meals for the family. I assume that’s why the rise of dual income households in America is a fairly recent development...not coincidentally it seems to mirror the curve of the industrialization of our food system.

What lines do I draw?
If i decide to hold to strictly local and sustainable production systems, I will be eating potatoes, squash and root vegetables for another 4 months. That’s not going to happen. So, already I am making compromises based on my addiction to variety (particularly in produce). What compromises am I comfortable making?

This is expensive...
One of the beauties of the mechanization of food is that it drives down cost significantly. That means to oppose it is going to cost more money. Am I willing to spend it? How much?

This is not a’s a lifestyle
I have to continue to remind myself that this is not a temporary engagement in discipline. It’s a deliberate and calculated move away from something that I believe represents physical, spiritual and emotional compromises and a move toward what I hope (and some days I believe) is a fuller existence in God’s Kingdom on earth (still unpacking what that statement even means).


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Beginning...

I'm beginning an experiment. I want to know what will happen if I begin to distance myself from the American food system and try to eat more like the way people were designed to eat.

I'm not a tree hugger. That is to say, I rarely (if ever) hug trees. I don't eat granola, though I think it's good. I have exactly zero articles of clothing made of hemp and I haven't owned a pair of Birkenstocks since they were legitimately cool back in the mid 90's (what do you mean 'they were never legitimately cool'?). My point is that I'm not a weird environmentalist (not that there's anything wrong with that) or some new breed of hippie. My wife and I will not be homeschooling our kids (easy...just a joke) and we don't own any livestock...yet.

I'm normal. I understand that is a relative term, but by-and-large I believe it to be an accurate descriptor of myself. We watch regular TV shows (The Office was a favorite until recently, as it's clearly beginning a long, slow death) and listen to regular music. I've been educating my three-year-old on the finer musical points of Eminem and Kid Rock recently. We haven't really begun to dissect lyrics yet. We also eat regular food, but that's been changing a bit. More on that later.

Jesus is an important part of our household, though how important tends to vary from day-to-day if I'm honest. I am an ever-agitating blob of emotional instability and so my moods, attitudes and behavior tend to reflect more of the prevailing circumstance of the moment than the King of Kings, but I'm a work in progress. In the last few years, since my kids were born really, I've been increasingly aware of my responsibility to lead my family, reflecting Christ and teaching my children well. To that end, I began to look a bit more intensively and seriously on my own commitment to walking in relationship with Jesus.

Growing up in a pretty culturally-christian circle, I was always sort of under the impression that Jesus represented a long list of rules to follow and that behavior was the point of it all. I also thought being a christian sucked in a holy, boring sort of way. It wasn't fun. It was just a bunch of people acting happy, but they really wished they could be out doing what all the sinners were doing (or, doing it publicly instead of doing it privately). As I moved away from that circle and lived life for a bit I found through my failures and a few well-placed relationships that I had really misunderstood the whole point of Jesus. Jesus is about relationship and behavior has very little to do with it. I will get to more of this stuff in time, but that little bit of background is important to set the stage for what's going on now.

So, as I began to embrace my responsibility to lead my family, I began to pour a fair amount of energy into getting to know Jesus better. As I read the Bible, I kept coming across the principle of fasting...abstaining from something (often food), usually for the sake of some sort of spiritual purpose. It sounding interesting, plus I was getting fat, so I thought I would try it. Sort of a Holy Weightwatchers thing. It seemed much nobler to say I was fasting then to say I was dieting.

I began fasting semi-regularly. The fasts would always look a little different. Sometimes I would only eat fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I would only drink liquids (juices, broths, etc.) and sometimes I wouldn't eat at all. Through a few years of doing this regularly, I began to notice something. Every time I fasted, life slowed down a bit and there was way more peace, joy, contentment, gentleness, and all of the other things that I am usually conspicuously short on. I also noticed that after getting through the first couple of days, I wasn't really hungry and my nourishment didn't seem to suffer (OK...except when I wasn't ingesting anything at all...that sucked). For a while, I chalked all this up to some kind of Heavenly reward for my discipline and sacrifice. After all, isn't this what was supposed to happen as I drew nearer to Christ? I was certainly a better husband and father and I was leading my family better.

I continued fasting regularly, and the results were predictably similar every time. After a couple of years of this and on the heels of some studying of the American food system, I began to have another idea of why this was happening. Jesus repeatedly talks in the Bible about the Kingdom of Heaven being at hand (that is, here...on earth) and about living and walking in the Kingdom. The Kingdom in the Bible brings peace and healing and mercy. It ends oppression and injustice. It sounds like a Utopia that is unattainable which has led many people to dismiss the literal idea of God's Kingdom existing here on earth. But the more I reflected on that idea and on the effects of my fasting, the more I began to wonder if I was somehow experiencing a part of what Jesus was talking about.

Here is the point. This is the single question that I am starting out to answer. What if by eating the way that God originally designed me to eat, I am simply walking into the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

I know there are a ton of other questions and implications that this brings up, and I hope to address as many of these as I can in the days and weeks ahead. I don't know how this is going to go, but this is going to be my journal of a crazy experiment as I chase after more of God and His Kingdom here. I promise to be honest about all the Chicken Nuggets and french fries I eat. I will share successes and failures and I will try to be diligent in my writing. If you choose to follow this process with me, I will do my best to respect your time and energy. I will work hard to be objective and there will be no judgement. Maybe it will be enlightening, maybe not. I do feel fairly confident in this...I should probably go get another double cheeseburger before I get in too deep.