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You are what you eat???

Rev. Harry Currie

May 26, 2024

Proverbs 15:17, Mark 8:14-21

You are what you eat.

       You ever hear that one?

You are what you eat.


       While the phrase appeared almost a couple of centuries ago first in a French medical treatise on the gastronomic system….

       …the actual phrase didn't emerge in English until some time later. In the 1920s and 30s, the nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, who was a strong believer in the idea that food controls health, developed the Catabolic Diet. That view gained some adherents at the time and the earliest known printed example is from an advertisement for beef in a 1923 edition of the Bridgeport Telegraph, for 'United Meet [sic] Markets'. I quote:

"Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat."


In 1942, Lindlahr published You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet. That seems to be the vehicle that took the phrase into the public consciousness.


That idea that the things you eat determine somehow who you are has very much continued.

       There is a television show, " You are what you eat"

There is a "You are what you eat, website." And you can buy books entitled "you are what you eat" and there is a "You are what you eat" cookbook on how you can transform your life.


       Initially the whole idea of "you are what you eat" was totally physiological. Your body responds to the food you eat. And in order to be physically healthy you have to eat good food.


       But these days, "you are what you eat." Seems to take on a whole bigger thing. There are those who argue that eating the right food will improve your relationships and raise your self-esteem.  You will be more attractive, get better jobs.

       It will transform your life.


There is this idea that what you eat, not only defines your body, but defines who you are….


       This I think can be somewhat dangerous in a world where the value of a person is often connected to body image and physical beauty.

       May I remind you of what seems to be a modern phenomenon, that of eating disorders, fueled in part by unrealistic expectations of body image and the unrealistic, but commonplace value we place on physical beauty.

       Yet I must say, on the other hand that bad eating habits as well as other bad habits are endemic in our society, and there does seem to be a relationship with poor emotional health and bad habits, including bad eating habits.


       But you know the connection between food and relationships was made a long, long time ago.


       May I quote from the book of proverbs


Better to eat vegetables with people you love than to eat the finest meat where there is hate. (Good News Version)


Let me give some translations or paraphrases of that verse…


Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is

than a fatted ox and hatred with it. (NRSV)


It is better to eat soup with someone you love than steak with someone you hate. (Living Bible)


A simple meal with love is better than a feast where there is hatred. (Contemporary Bible)


Better a bread crust shared in love, than a slab of prime rib served in hate. ( The message)


Better some Kraft dinner with the one you love, than chateaubriand for two with your ex. (harry)



       The wisdom teacher who wrote the proverbs threw in this little gem… that maybe most of us have not heard before….


       But a little proverb with a lot of punch and a lot of significance for our day and age.


       He paints the picture really quite starkly, in black and white terms.


One the one hand you have the wealthy, who sit down to the fancy dinner. They have the hor d'oevres, and sit down to various rolls, clam chowder, ceasar salad, and the main course of beef… Prime Alberta Beef.  In biblical times it was the fatted ox. With two choices of vegetables and three choices of potatoes, roasted, mashed or baked.


On the other hand, you have the poor family that can't afford much meat. In Old Testament days the poor mostly ate grains and vegetables, probably because they were cheap and easy to find in an agricultural society.

       Today's poorer people probably cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables. They stock up on your pastas. Good old Kraft dinner which was the staple of many an impoverished student at university.

       And if you were really poor, you got the no-name macaroni, although most people thought it was worth the extra few cents to upgrade to KD.

       Or maybe some other poor student choices, baked beans… Chef Boyardee ravioli in a can…


But the psalmist envisions the first family, the Prime Rib family as not a happy family. Two parents working long hours and pursuing their own fabulous careers. The kids in soccer, band, ballet, highland dance, gymnastics. Anxiety, stress, due to love of money and the need to be famous. Weekly trips to therapists.

The children spoiled, unappreciative and demanding. The parents driven to succeed and self-fulfill. Busy Schedules and ignored relationships...

       And the Psalmist imagines this all leads to conflict and fighting.


The Prime Rib is a symbol for excessive luxurious materialistic living that leads to conflict and not happiness.  A fatted ox and conflict.


But the psalmist pictures another table. A simple wooden table, maybe even a crude but homemade table with a little salad and the ingredients mostly from the garden outside. Water, some bread, some peanut butter.

       It is a family that is not well off and they know it, but they know that there are things a whole lot more important, than money, wealth and power.

       There is joy and peace and love and the table is overflowing with the Spirit of God. The children eagerly share their day, and the parents are attentive, listening, and thrilled to have the privilege of just listening to their children.

       This family is not able to take much from this world, for they have no buying power, no money…

       But one thing this family takes is time. There is always time for another, to be there, to listen, to care, to share and to love.


       The salad is a symbol for those who lead a simple life and find God and love in each other.


       Well, you are probably saying that salads engender love no more that prime rib breeds hate.

       It is not the food we eat.


The Psalmist is wrong to paint such a lopsided picture of the way life is.

       Rich people and people who eat steak can be happy and fulfilled and peaceful and love God.


       Poor people can be full of violence and conflict and decidedly unhappy and unfulfilled.


       And of course, you are very true.


The two polarities…

               the first polarity of poverty vs wealth,

                      and the second polarity of hate vs love

They are not related…


But if the polarities are changed a bit.

Materialism vs Spirituality

                             Greed vs Sharing

Or Ego vs Collective Good


Then maybe there are connections….


Maybe the Psalmist has seen there are things better than fine dining. Maybe the Psalmist’s experience was that in his day, the ones who killed the fatted ox, were mostly the ones who took from the poor, the ones who exploited the poor, the one who didn’t practice justice, the ones who didn’t look after widows, orphans, strangers, the sick and other needy people.


Maybe the fatted ox, is a huge metaphor for something else than just a big meal...

It is symbolic of whom and what we consume.


       Because you know, we are always in the process of deciding what or who is for dinner, what or whom we are going to consume…

              What or whom we are going to eat…

What is on our diet is pretty big sometimes…

       We have a lot of stuff on our plates and it didn't all come from Sobeys and the Superstore.


How much material stuff do we have, and does it really make us happy?

       Is there some expensive thing you are just dying to get, that you just gotta have?


       Who did we step on to climb to the top?

Who bears the brunt of our anger, our emotional outbursts, our blaming and shaming behaviors?

       Who did we use to get the job?

What family connections got us an in?

       How do we manipulate people to get them to do what we want them to do?

       Crying, yelling, whining, lying, blaming, shaming, teasing, tormenting, name-calling, bullying, scripture verses, begging, ordering, silent treatment, withdrawing affection…


       Humans are consumers. Not only the food we eat, but the things we possess, and the people we use…



And the reality is that there are consequences to what we consume…

       The diet we have affects ourselves and others

What we take, what we eat, what we consume….often means that someone else might go without…

       Often means that our own psyche is affected, our own identity is being formed, and not always in a good way.


       Often means that we are consuming and using and hurting others.


In the food chain of this world, the sharks eat up the big fish who eat up the little fish.

       And since most of us started as little fish, you probably know exactly what I mean.


       The reality is in this life, that you can not only have food. We like to think that is the way life is.

       You just go to the grocery store and buy food.


But when we consume something no matter what it is it means that a whole host of things go with it.


If you buy coffee, it means that land that could grow food had to be used for coffee which has little nutritional value. It means a system of farming and growing in a third world country where poor people do the work for a pittance and wealthy landowners reap profits. It means that your coffee will have to be shipped thousands of miles and a lot of greenhouse gases will be emitted. Just think of the carbon footprint just from the coffee Canadians drink.


       When you buy coffee, you buy into a whole system.  


       The choices of what we eat, what we take and what we consume are not small choices, but big overarching choices that deal with land reform, national and foreign policy, with the environment, with world hunger, with relationships, with war, with technology, with the greater good, or the greater evil.


       We can consume what we see and what we like, but we can make consumption choices by how we value life and what are our priorities…

       …and even by what we think Jesus would do…


the two polarities wealth and power

              love and hatred are more related than what we think….


At least in this way.

       Those with big appetites, who consume much more than their fair share…

       Who take from the poor and give to the rich, themselves….

Are not loving others…

       And in so doing they create strife and conflict and violence.


       But there is another way to live in this world.


One time the disciples were off in a boat with Jesus and they got arguing and they were wont to do.

       This time they were arguing about bread. Some knucklehead had forgotten to make lunch and bring lots to eat.

       They only had one loaf of bread.


And Jesus starts engaging them in conversation, but it is one of those conversations where similar words are being used, but they are talking about different things.


       The disciples focus on the small and the concrete. They think Jesus is talking about bread. You know loaves of bread baked in an oven.


       They cannot see the big picture at all,


Jesus says, you saw me feed the multitudes with the bread…. Do you not understand?


       No, they didn't understand.

       They think they can just go buy bread and that is all there is to it.


Jesus has already been quoted as saying. Humans cannot live on bread alone.

They do not understand. There is a much bigger picture.


       You see there is more that one loaf in the boat. There is the one loaf that the disciples have, but there is another loaf as well.


       And that is Jesus.

“I am the true bread.” He said.


       What we are lacking from our diet is simply this: Christ.


We are all concerned about our physical diets. We think that we are what we eat.

       So, we think about calories and trans fats and omega 3 and omega six and sprouted grains and soluble and non-soluble fibre.


       We think of proteins and carb and fats and we learn to read the labels on the food packages…


       But fail to see that what we eat not only affects our digestion but our world.


And that is why we need Christ on our diet.


So that we do not make choices based on our hungers and appetites alone…


       But in light of the one who is not into consuming us but into feeding us.


There is a book out called Ordeal by Hunger


       It is the story of the Donner party which constitutes one of the most amazing tragedies of the American West. In 1846 eighty-seven people -- men, women, and children -- set out for California, persuaded to attempt a new overland route. After struggling across the desert, losing many oxen, and nearly dying of thirst, they reached the very summit of the Sierras, only to be trapped by blinding snow and bitter storms. Many perished.


       And some survived by resorting to cannibalism.


They ate each other.


       And the truth is, at least symbolically, humans have eaten each other for centuries and will continue to do so. Refugees, poverty, war, genocide, residential schools, terrorist attacks, rapes, thefts, injustice, nepotism, racial prejudice and discrimination, homelessness, medical and educational systems that favour the rich…

And on and on it goes.

       Because when there is a limited supply of resources, everybody cannot have the fatted ox every night and eat chateaubriand and caviar and champagne.


       There is a relationship between consuming and love….

       Between appetites and relationships…


       So, Christ shows us another way of being in this world… where we take what we have and share it.

       "How many baskets were left over?" Jesus asked them.

       "Seven" the disciples replied.

And Jesus said to them, "Do you still not understand?"


Better to eat vegetables with people you love, than to eat the finest meat where there is hate.


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