I drive to work very early on Sunday morning. Since I have neither satellite radio nor an AUX port for my iPhone, my music-listening options at that time of day are limited: early Sunday morning is a no-man’s-land of “public affairs programming.” One of the more intriguing choices is a syndicated health program whose host is a chiropractor and nutritionist.
His main theme is that we often make ourselves sick by what we eat. Modern medicine, he believes, overemphasizes the treatment of symptoms versus underlying causes. It leans too heavily on prescription drugs, which themselves have undesirable side effects. Consequently, health-care costs are skyrocketing out of control. It’s time for us, he says, to take control of our own health. And one of the primary ways we do that is through our diets.
I don’t disagree with him on any of these points.
His specific prescriptions, however, would require radical changes to most of our diets. He believes that we all suffer, at least mildly, from gluten allergies, so he’s against eating grains (he makes an exception for oats). He’s against meat and dairy, but if we must consume these things, we should choose only organic. He’s against caffeine, alcohol, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners in any amounts (not that he’s a fan of cane sugar, either). He’s for drinking lots of water, but the fluoride in tap water, he says, causes neurological problems.
Moreover, really bad things like harmful pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms lurk below the surface of nearly everything that we would normally purchase to eat from a supermarket. He attributes a litany of health problems, including cancer, infertility, and the rising rate of autism, to the food we eat—not to mention obesity.
Basically, we are poisoning ourselves to death.
If he’s right, it sounds like we’re in trouble. While I’m sure I’ve never eaten healthier in my life than I am right now, nearly everything I eat and drink, according to him, is wrong.
Now… let’s take a step back. A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. While he constantly cites medical studies of various kinds, I have no idea if they’re from reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals. Also, when he talks about increased risks for various diseases, let’s put that in perspective.
For example, let’s say the odds of winning the lottery jackpot are one in a million (they’re actually much, much worse). If you told me that buying a ticket from a certain vendor would increase my odds of winning by 75 percent, that sounds promising. I should want to buy a ticket, right? Wrong. Because my new odds are still less than two out of a million. Similarly, increasing my risk of getting a deadly disease doesn’t necessarily significantly increase the likelihood of getting the disease.
Besides, I wonder how many other activities that we routinely engage in increase our risk of dying far more than the food we eat? I’m sure that driving a car significantly increases our risk of dying—not to mention activities like bicycling, hiking, swimming, skiing, surfing, skate-boarding, rock-climbing, even crossing a busy intersection on foot—you name it. We gladly assume these risks, often in the name of improving our health, even though these activities pose risks of their own.
At this moment in our culture, we are becoming hysterical about food. Why? Surely one root of this hysteria is the fear of dying. C.S. Lewis once said that it’s myth that war increases death; death, he says, is sum total. His point applies to other aspects of our lives, including the food we eat.
We’re all going to die, and if I implemented every possible healthful change to every aspect of my diet, I would still die. How much later I have no idea. On average, would it be years… or months? And would these changes make me a better, more joyful person? Would they help me love my neighbor more? Would they help me grow closer to God?
Besides, have you noticed that there’s always a new crisis, a new hysteria, a new thing to be afraid of looming on the horizon? If it weren’t food, it would be something else.
Regardless, we Christians have an answer to this fear. Even as we work for constructive change in the world, we can afford to be a non-anxious presence, bearing witness to our faith in the One who defeated death.