Mission work recently took my family to a Third World country where food is scarce. In spite of the scarcity of food, our in-country hosts graciously provided meals of fresh, locally grown and harvested produce, seafood, and meats. For ten days, we heard not one crinkling sound generated from the ripping apart of packaged bags of snacks. No fast food in chain in sight. Imagine, being in a country where you drive for miles and miles and never spot the golden arches. If our stomachs rumbled while, en route to a destination, we picked mangoes or other local delicacies and peeled rather than unwrapped.
The paradox with food in North America: we have an abundance of it; yet, we maintain a love-hate relationship with it (especially women) rather than learning to view food as a gift from God, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (Genesis 2:9 ESV). Food somehow has become our enemy and something that we approach with fear and trepidation. We’ve turned food into a complicated labyrinth that we spend a life time trying to negotiate a way out. Food shouldn’t be that complicated. It’s not meant to be a legalistic trap, but a grace-filled tool created by God for our sustenance and enjoyment.
Rather than a love-hate relationship with food, embark on a grace-fueled food journey that will transform a love-hate relationship with food into a love affair with unprocessed, real food. It’s a radical concept in a society that relies and expects food to be ready to eat in a nanosecond.
The center aisles of our food stores bulge with soldier straight shelves of ready to eat foods that are marketed in hip boxes and trendy bags. The perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh foods are housed, is often the smallest, unassuming part of the store. Consumers should spend most of their shopping time in the perimeter. Regrettably though, it’s where we spend the least amount of our shopping time. Interestingly, the perimeter is where, for the most part, food exists in its natural form and color. It’s the art gallery of the grocery store where the collection of edible masterpieces are exhibited for us to experience textures, colors, and tastes.
A real food journey starts in our kitchen. A grace-fueled food journey means that we leave behind any condemnation regarding food. Consuming unprocessed real food is an issue of personal choice. Granted, the foods we choose to eat will either be a benefit or detriment to our personal health and the health of our family.
Are we eating and drinking to the glory of God? Real food and agriculture play a major role in the Bible. This is not to say that the need to change our eating habits trumps the need for God to transform our heart. At some point in our Christian journey, we need to consider, prayerfully, “how our eating and drinking either reveals or suppresses the glory of God.” . The gospel of John illustrates that food plays a role in both the physical and spiritual ministry of Jesus. Jesus feeds the multitudes on the hillside with a humble menu of bread and fish that not only satiates the crowds earthly need for nourishment but also represents their eternal need for truth and salvation. Consider Paul’s exhortation, So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Our microwave mentality towards food, perhaps, is reflective of our zip through the spiritual morning devotions drive-through. I fight the urge, after all these years of practicing a real food journey, to fill my belly with daily doses of boxed cereals and a crumb of morning devotions just to put a check mark by the columns: “yes” I’ve eaten and “yes” I’ve done devotions. Rather than jump on the American raceway of life, we ought to view food and eating as Jesus did. He dined. Jesus used food as a tool to build relationships and change hearts.
Preparing a Grace-Fueled Meal, Fit For the King
We need to alter our view of the kitchen. The kitchen is not our prison where we are forced to labor over the stove in shackles. Our kitchen serves as a platform for us to exercise the freedom of choosing which foods to prepare for our family and friends. The freedom to choose which foods to cook…this is where the pull and tug begin.
Step One: Purge the Pantry and the Free the Frig
Begin your journey by purging your pantry and ridding your refrigerator of all refined, processed foods. And now, I need to bring up the dreaded “O” word. A friend recently lamented about how she wanted to change her family’s diet, but knew that she couldn’t afford to buy organic foods. I explained that converting to a diet rich with foods that you peel and dice rather then unwrap or defrost doesn’t necessarily mean going total organic. The first step in the journey requires a commitment to consume foods in their natural, unaltered state. A diet of unrefined, unprocessed foods doesn’t mean going ORGANIC. As your journey progresses, though, and you become more aware of how your food is grown, you might want to buy or grow organic produce whenever possible (yes it’s possible, even on a shoestring budget).
Processed foods are imitation in color and texture, full of artificial ingredients, (which usually requires a Ph.D. in chemistry or linguistics to decipher) refined /bleached grains, or refined/bleached/artificial sweeteners. Real, unprocessed food is defined as pure, unadulterated, as close to nature as possible.
If you want brownies for dessert, then bake them from scratch. Break the brownies from a box habit, even if they are ten for $10.00 at the local grocery. Roll up your sleeves turn, on some nice music’ and cook real brownies. It’s relaxing, truly. If your family is accustomed to foods that are processed, be aware that it may take weeks, maybe even months for their palette to convert to foods made with whole grains and natural sweeteners.
Brownies are a prudent starting point for your grace fueled whole food journey. Perfect a brownie recipe made with whole grains and natural sweetener, and the journey is up-hill from here.
Christian, author, farmer, and environmentalist Joel Salatin recommends “Get in your kitchens, buy unprocessed foods, turn off the TV, and prepare your own foods. This is liberating. Know you food, know your farmers, and know your kitchen.”
Step 2: Read Labels
Let label reading become a new habit (or hobby). A safe, standard benchmark to use as we begin the real food journey is to ask ourselves, if the majority of the contents of the food in your hand is created in a lab rather than in nature (your inner real food-o-meter should start sounding by now) replace this food item with ingredients we recognize.
As we read labels, implement technology, if an ingredient is unfamiliar, pull out the phone and Google the mystery ingredient. Did someone in a lab coat conjure up the impossible to decode ingredient? Or did someone driving a tractor harvest it?
As an exercise in reprogramming your view on food as a consumer, grab a weekly flyer from your local grocery store, make a hot cup of herbal tea, and study the foods featured in the weekly grocery store flyer. The majority of the food items are processed, pre-packaged, refined, and fake.
Step 3: Educate Yourself About Real, Whole, Foods
Learn about the benefits of a diet that is comprised of unprocessed foods. Begin to follow blogs that features real food recipes and offers free real food meal plans. Read books that explain the benefits of eating foods that are in season, eating foods grown as close to your home as possible, and eating foods in their natural state. Investigate the possibility of joining a natural, organic food co-op in your area. Check out the farmers markets in your area, a way to score locally grown produce and support local farmers at the same time. Farmers markets frequently offer both conventional and organic produce and dairy products.
Step 4: Plan Your Meals
Meal planning saves both time and money. Plan your meals each week and walk into a grocery store or peruse a farmer’s market with your meal plan in hand. That way, you won’t be tempted by the processed food dollar deals of the week. Click here to download your free meal plan printable.
Salatin reminds us that, “eating unprocessed foods is the best way to bring down your grocery bill, regardless of where the food originated. A 10-pound bag of potatoes costs the same as a 1-pound bag of potato chips. Cultivating domestic culinary arts and actually reinhabiting our kitchens—which we’ve remodeled and gadgetized at great cost—can wean all of us away from expensively processed food. A whole pound of our farm’s grass-finished ground beef, which can feed four adults, costs about the same as a Happy Meal. (And guess which one is more healthful?)” Visit Salatin’s website: Polyfacefarm.com
Try going a week without processed foods. Your body and budget will thank you. The next opportunity you have to bring something to a potluck or dinner party, make it real and humble in every way possible.
Christians can’t escape the garden. After all, it’s where life begins, both times: the garden of Eden and the garden of Gethsemane.
Stay tuned for the next real food post on maintaining a budget while eating whole foods.