Monday, October 1, 2012

The Ethics of Organic Food in America: Responding to God’s Word

ET 501: Introduction to Christian Ethics
Professor Ron Sanders
Winter 2012
Joint Final Paper and Project
Mike Basile & Brian McGee
“The Ethics of Organic Food in America:
Responding to God’s Word in”
March 16th, 2016

We consume food, but food consumes us. Does our desire for food and its procurement through mass production and consumption take us away from natural health and the glory of God?  Does the current food system have an inherent problem that denies health, discriminates, and distracts us from the spiritual?  The more we studied, spoke with experts, and researched the subject the more we came to understand that, by and large, a diet with rich, organic, natural (best if they are green) vegetables, berry-type fruit, nuts, seeds, and lean meat (no pork or shell fish) truly is the best for our overall health. Over the last 60 days, we did our best to put this diet to the test. Mike followed a diet inspired by the food laws laid out in the book of Leviticus. Brian chose to conduct a 30-day raw vegetable and fruit juice fast.

During our periods of dieting and fasting, we gained not only physical improvement, but also spiritual depth. Food had become a master over us, an idol. We were slaves to food, having appetites that were not fulfilled by God’s provision, but by our own. When we removed the idol, we experienced a much deeper connection with God through relying on his provision and strength. We came to conclusions that we had succumbed to a pattern of excuses. Excuses such not having enough time or money to obtain, prepare, and enjoy quality, highly nutritious food. Instead, we had been living in a pattern of choosing convenient, affordable, low quality, non nutritious food. The idol of food that was present in our lives was built on a foundation of two other false idols: time and money. These obstacles are difficult to get around in a fast paced society that demands the most out of your supply of time and money. We found ourselves is this predicament - we had been worshiping false idols, and our bodies and souls were taking the bulk of the punishment. 

We cannot spiritually afford to feed our guts while gripping our watches and wallets. We must observe God’s scriptural design and act out on them ethically, despite the cultural boundaries. Our aim in this paper is to provide a convincing stance that helps everyone develop a healthy process of choosing to honor God with how they obtain and enjoy food on an everyday basis. The following are personal reflections, Biblical analysis, and our ethical solutions to the injustice we found within the American food industry, specifically with regards to organic food.

Mike Basile’s Personal Reflection
Food justice has been something I’ve been interested in for practically all my life. I’ve battled weight gain for as long as I can remember. My family is Italian. We think about food all the time. We talk about “what’s for dinner” while we’re eating lunch. Proper diet and healthy eating was not modeled for me particularly well. 

When I was about 16 years old I started to take initiative for my personal health. I was a high school junior. I came home from school and went to the gym. I ran regularly and lifted weights. I did my best to educate myself about proper nutrition. My journey toward good health began and remained through college. I tried my best to stay in shape and for the most part I succeeded. I was a collegiate athlete so staying fit was part of my role. I ran the Boston Marathon (4:09:25) in 2002 and finished a few smaller triathlons in those college days. 

When the college days ended, my overall health began to take a turn for the worse. Without knowing it, I had developed an intolerance to certain foods -- mainly yeast, gluten, and lactose based products. My normal diet just was not working for me anymore. This put me on the second leg of my journey toward better health. I needed to find a healthy solution to my nutrition, and so I made radical changes to my diet to incorporate the food laws from the Book of Leviticus.

The good news is that after 60 days, I feel great and I have lost 16 lbs. The other news is that it is difficult to maintain this lifestyle. The fast-paced  nature of how I live and the additional monetary costs my family endured, were above and beyond our monthly budgeted allowance for food expenses.

I realized that I live a fast paced and highly social lifestyle. This makes eating “right” more difficult. I spent on average 3.5 hours a day buying, prepping, preparing, eating and cleaning the meals I chose to eat. Before this diet, my meals were mostly "on the go" requiring only a maximum of 1.5 hours a day. The other major obstacle is that the majority of my day I meet with students, parents, teams of leaders and/or staff people. That time is usually spent over a meal. Typically the food choices are pizza, chips, candy, or other junk food. It's often not easy to eat more healthfully while dining out. If I wanted to succeed with incorporating the food laws from Leviticus into my lifestyle, I needed be proactive and choose with intention where and what we ate.

Living in Greenwich, CT, I have close access to clean, organic food. Whole Foods and Robeks are within walking distance to my home and work office. It is not access that limits me; it is affordability. Simply put, it is more expensive to eat healthfully and buy better, high quality food. Over the past 60 days, I ate a small portion of lean protein for breakfast – usually two eggs or a protein shake. Around 10:30 a.m. I would have a vegetable snack. For lunch, around 12:30, I juiced raw vegetables and fruit. I typically included kale, cucumber, celery, carrots, spinach, peppers, cherry tomatoes, oranges, and a variety of berry type fruits. For dinner, I would eat vegetables and a piece of lean meat (chicken or fish.) These foods were not inexpensive. On average, my wife and I paid $600 for groceries compared to our allotted $375 monthly grocery budget.

Brian McGee’s Personal Reflection
When I sit down for a meal at home, I rarely think about how much money I am eating. How much would this food cost at a restaurant, or how much would this food cost for me to produce myself? How much money did I pay to have my food grown, prepared, shipped, stored, inspected, marketed, preserved, and delivered to my local store for my convenience? I was making choices about food that were purely influenced by time and money, and were devoid of any attempt to honor God with my body. Something had to change, and it needed to be drastic.

In one month, I was able to lose over 40 pounds, simply by limiting my nutritional diet to organic fruit and vegetable juices. This was radical and, at times, an irrational decision. However, I was determined to understand the effect that healthy nutrition would have on my overall health. When determining a quality of health, I measured quantitative physical results as well as qualitative emotional, mental, and spiritual reflections.

During my experience, I juiced raw organic fruits and vegetables three times a day as my only source of nutrition. This allowed my body to enter a detoxing period where my white blood cells, finding themselves inactive due to a lack of ingested toxins, went to work cleaning my body and brain of stored toxins. During this process, the first four days of my fast, I felt miserable, as my blood was filling up with stored toxins. My joints hurt, my back hurt, anywhere near a digestive organ felt inflamed. I wondered what I was doing to myself. On day six, everything made sense. My focus on my appetite, didn’t just dissipate, it vanished. Gone were the physical and mental cravings for food, as my body had adapted to using previous stores of energy from my body fat. I felt much energized, especially in the time following a juice. My body enjoyed the simple, highly nutritious food source it received.

In addition to the benefit to my body,  my mind became much clearer. When researching the effects of fasting, I learned about a system of tubes that runs through the brain delivering dopamine, an essential pleasure stimulant, to the nervous system. Toxins can build up and block these tubes, restricting a person’s ability to feel an accurate level of pleasure. This dilemma is no different than the ones that nicotine and alcohol addicts face; when they do not receive the level of pleasure that they are accustomed to, they simply increase the dosage until they receive pleasure. In my case, it was food portions. I love food, and at a young age, I remember being rewarded for clearing my plate, not leaving any leftovers, which was delightful because it always guaranteed fresh new food the next day. I got to a point in my adult life where a single meal no longer satisfied my demand for pleasure. I had to order appetizers and additions to my meals in order to feel satiated. This came at a great financial cost that I will discuss later. During the fast, my body eliminated the toxins in my brain tubes rather quickly. By the fifth day, my brain had improved focus and decision making ability. When I chose healthful food, my brain rewarded my body with new sensations of pleasure, a much simpler satisfaction, and a sense of self control.

There were many obstacles to my juice fast goals. My family almost doubled our grocery bill in order for me to have access to fresh organic produce. In a typical month we budget $300 on groceries. In the month of February 2012, we spent $586. While we were able to make these changes to our budget for a single month, it would be impractical to continue indefinitely.

After completing the juice fast, I committed to making more conscientious decisions about where I purchased my food. I found a new passion in helping others make positive choices about what they eat. Alongside the physical benefits of losing 40 pounds of excess body weight, I enriched my understanding of what it is to be satisfied spiritually in Christ. Prior to my diet change, satisfaction was like the painful feeling you get after Thanksgiving where you can’t possibly ingest any more food. This was not satisfaction; it was pain, masked by a false expectation that claimed that the only pathway to satisfaction was indulgence. During the fasting period and going forward, my body has adapted and continues to learn that sampling a variety of small portions satisfies more than engulfing large portions of any one food.

Spiritually, I often find difficulty realizing a connection with God. I don’t feel truly present before God in prayer, worship, or times of devotion in God’s word. Before my fast, I had a very unsatisfying spiritual walk. When my lifelong idol of food was stripped away from my paradigm of seeing the world through indulgence, I believed I could find satisfaction in Christ alone, with the same level of obedience that helped me through my fast. 

Scriptural Analysis
The only reliable source for how we can honor God with our bodies is found in God’s Scriptures. When looking at the Scriptures, it is important for us to open our minds to the scope of what is being described and to whom it is being said. We also need to review how the scripture has formed our culture. We can analyze it as a rule, principle, paradigm, or a view of the symbolic world. We can see how it has been adapted into a tradition and how it has been influenced by human reasoning. When looking at the context of scripture, we will find a balance of how we can practically live our lives in obedience to God’s provision.

In Genesis 25:29-34, Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of stew because he is famished after a hunt. It is laughable in modern day to think that someone would do this. A birthright is of significant importance. This was Esau’s inheritance from his father Isaac, a very wealthy man. It would be like paying $100,000 for a bowl of soup. Does our stomach really have that much control over us? Do the idols of time (convenience) and money (affordability) dominate our desires so easily? The answer is yes. We sell our spiritual birthrights every day when we choose to neglect to glorify God and instead indulge in our own desires. 

It is alarming at how many scriptures can be found that use food and satisfaction as imagery to describe our relationship to God. Philippians 3:19 says, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Likewise Micah 6:14 says, “You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword.” Finally, Ecclesiastes 6:7 concludes, “Every man's toil is for their mouth, yet this appetite is never satisfied.”  Matthew 6:24 is crystal clear in that we cannot serve two masters; we cannot satisfy both God and Money. Our stomachs are arguably the biggest money pit we own. We need to guard our practices in how we eat, or we will be constantly oppressed by our indulgences.

How are we to glorify God in what we eat? God lays out a plan in Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:1-21, setting aside animals that are clean, and those which we are not to eat. Throughout the remainder of Scripture, this law is reinforced. Even after the Resurrection of Jesus, where he tells Peter in a vision that he has made all things clean, Jesus uses the imagery of food to illustrate that he has made all people clean and that Peter should not judge non Jews as lesser creations. Paul contributes to the discussion in several ways, even rebuking Peter for his attempts to enforce Leviticus food laws on gentiles, but this was not an argument about the food laws, it was an argument about how one Christian treated a group of Christians. In Romans 14, Paul himself instructs the church at Rome to not let food become a dividing force between those of lesser faith from those of experienced faith. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 that our bodies are a temple for God and that we should treat it as such. We are to be united and we are to hold one another accountable. He later writes in chapter 10:31 that, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

The opening chapter of the Book of Daniel places a conflict before Daniel of whether or not to eat the king’s richly produced food that had been sacrificed to idols. Daniel objects, knowing that eating such food that had been offered up to false gods would be offensive to his God. He instead requested that he and his friends only be allowed to eat vegetables. After ten days, they were inspected and were found to be healthier than those who had remained on a diet of the food that had been offered up to the idols. Daniel modeled a life of putting God before self. Jesus spoke about our attitude when we conduct ourselves in public while fasting during the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6: 16-18, Jesus says:
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, o that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

We can use this model that Daniel provides to develop a pragmatic approach to conducting ourselves within our culture. We can influence others and improve the culture of the food industry by leading by example. If Christians don’t, who will, and with what authority?

Source Analysis
What was the motivation behind our experiment with diet change as it affected health and lifestyle, along with the examination of scripture? Food ethics was our motivation, with a focus on organic and “natural” produce. We sought to uncover, an unethical system that is causing a great social and economic injustice. This is a system that has millions of Americans trapped in a conditioned lifestyle of consumerism and dependence on low quality, low cost products. There are countless families across our country who need to feed themselves on about five dollars a day. When two pounds of organic broccoli costs five dollars, in contrast to a fast food dollar menu where someone could purchase five sandwiches for the same price, it is logical that families in tight economical situations are going to choose easier, cheaper, less nutritious food.

The film Food Inc.
 draws attention to the devastating conditions of our national food production industry, not only to humans, but also the environment and to the sustainability of animal populations. It also stresses the necessity for nutrient rich organic foods in every person's regular diet. Food has aggressively changed in the last 60 years. Prior to World War II, there were about a dozen major food processing companies that controlled about 30% of the market. Today, there are only four major food companies who control 80% of the market. Companies like McDonald’s are the number one purchaser of potatoes, chicken, and beef. When they want to make changes to food policy, their spending power is a significant factor. This injustice leads our nation into despair. Local farmers cannot independently choose what to produce for their community. They are contracted by both the corporations and the government to produce cheap bulk products that will be later altered and added as food substances.

Joe Cross, the maker of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead
, was severely overweight, suffering from chronic illness due to a depleted immune system, and had been told by doctors that if his life style didn’t change, that he would be dead within only a few years. Cross conducted his juice fast for 60 days after researching the benefits of organic produce and the necessity for digestive organs to heal during times of rest. After his fast, Cross was in the best physical shape of his life, had mental clarity, and had discovered a new passion to share his discovery with others.

We found inspiration from a book written by Jordan S. Rubin entitled, “The Maker’s Diet.”
 In this book, the author draws heavily from Leviticus chapter 11, a section of the Old Testament that focuses on God’s laws concerning which food the nation of Israel is to eat, and which food it is to avoid. God created us to eat naturally. Rubin argues that a typical diet consisted of mostly fruits, vegetables, wild grain and seeds, fish, raw, unpasteurized dairy products and meat from wild animals. He goes on to say that, “our physical bodies were engineered as marvelous, highly tuned machines, genetically set for nutritional requirements established from the beginning of time.” Our human physiology and biochemistry are geared for the foods the Creator intended for us to eat, not the high-speed output of modern food processing plants or fast-food windows. “Our ancestors,” he argues, “consumed 30 to 65 percent of their daily calories (and up to 100 grams of fiber a day) from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. That is why, long before the discovery of vitamins, people lived long lives without vitamin deficiencies or major illnesses.” 

In regard to meeting their protein needs, consuming pasture-fed animals, wild game, and fish that were rich in highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) accomplished the goal. These fats protected our ancestors against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (131). In our modern culture, animal products purchased from grocery stores are susceptible to contamination from pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers as well as the common overuse of antibiotics and growth hormones in large-scale commercial farms, making these food sources dangerous to one’s health (132). This is why eating the recommended animal proteins from beef, lamb, goat, buffalo, venison, elk, and other clean red meats; fish with fins and scales from the oceans and rivers; chicken, turkey, and other poultry raised in a free-range setting or organically grass-fed is the better alternative (132). 

In regards to fish, Rubin argues, that it “is a wonderfully rich source of protein, potassium, vitamins, and minerals” (146). Fish with the most healing power and highest concentrated omega-3 fatty acids are cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, bluefish, herring, lake trout, mackerel, sablefish, whitefish, Blue fin tuna, and anchovies” (146). In the category of fruits, figs are mentioned more than fifty times in the Bible and are the first fruit specifically named in Scripture (Gen 3:7). Whether fresh or dried, figs have been prized since ancient times for their sweetness and nutritional value. Moreover, grapes were the first crop Noah planted after the flood (Gen 9:20).  Rubin states, “we now know that grapes fight tooth decay, stop viruses in their tracks, and are rich in other ingredients that many researchers believe may lower the risk of cancer” (149).

As for vegetables, green leafy vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, including many nutrients not found in any other foods. Greens contain large amounts of beta carotene and virtually every mineral and trace element. Many experts believe that ideally we should be consuming between three and five servings of green leafy vegetables per day (154). The problem here is that these products (meat, fish, fruit, vegetables) cost more money and are less available than their low quality counterparts in the grocery stores.

Lisa Lynn, a Dr. Oz health expert, agrees. “To stay healthy,” she says in an interview for this project, “you need to decrease the fat and build muscle. Probably one of the most important food groups of all of them is protein.”  She goes on to say that “vegetables are your best friends [too] in the fat loss world. These foods take your body more to digest (burns more calories in digestion), than the foods themselves so the goal here is to eat 8-10 servings a day.” Clearly these foods are important to achieve a healthy lifestyle, yet how accessible are these types of foods to people living at or below the poverty line?  Lynn argues,
It’s a double edge factor. The marketing toward sugar based, high fructose products and processed foods is a multi-billion dollar industry. That dynamic coupled with the ‘convenience factor’ of ‘fast-food is quick and easy’ is typically too high of a hurdle for a low-income family to hop over. It’s possible, but people are just not very well educated on this subject. Can you blame them? Marketers are pumping out ads left and right that are feeding our unhealthy sugar addictions. We’re hooked on this stuff

According to 22 year old Reginal Gachelin
, a young adult of Connecticut who grew up in poverty, getting quality food was difficult for him.  
We lived on government support so it made things more challenging. Also growing up I often fended for myself as my aunt who I lived with worked 2 jobs and sometimes double shifts. It was a lot easier for me to go to Wendy’s or put something together quick and easy versus making a nice healthy meal for one. 

Patrick Duff
, an 18 year old young adult who grew up in poverty says, “I can afford the junk food. The Fritos, chips and sodas are always on specials. They’re addictive and less healthy – I know.”  He goes on to say, “we grew up in the lower class and we always kind of lived on edge when it came to food. The types of food we would buy would be some fruits, a lot of rice, a lot of sausage, chips. I would eat a lot of bread, pastries, cake – somehow these foods always found their way into our home.”  It was not until a Christian family friend and doctor invited Patrick into his home, that Patrick experienced the significant health benefits of eating organically:
I actually had a nervous breakdown about a year ago and right after that time as I was going through recovery a good family friend, Dr. Gruber and his family, took me in to stay with them for several months. He had me on a pretty strict diet. I think the biggest benefit was the good food he provided for me was prepared for me too. As I look back that alone made it much easier to choose to eat better and more healthy. I cut gluten out of my diet...was eating vegetables, fruit, and lots of lean meat. When I stopped eating the foods I grew up on – I actually lost 50lbs. It was tremendous. I really saw firsthand the benefits. I would have better moods. I was much more stable. Even the choices I made were better as I acted less impulsively. When I don’t take care of my digestive system it affects everything – my mental status, muscle growth, my moods, physicality, energy levels, my brain.  There is no doubt: eating processed foods negatively impacted me.

Jane Sencer
, a local organic food consumer and specialist shared with me obstacles obtaining organic food, which she believes vital for health and her husband's food allergies:
The hurdles I go through are availability, variety, variety in more than one location, and price. Organic food in most grocery stores is relegated to a small section as though it were specialty food. In order for us to get variety and cheaper prices we currently go to three different grocery stores, two of which are not in our town. We plan a day of shopping; bring thermal bags with ice blocks and reusable grocery totes. We do this with the realization that we may not always get what we want, and that not everything is perfectly organic. I add up all grocery receipts for the year, and each year it's a shock to me. Last year we spent $7,008.23 on groceries. Even though I say I don't budget this, we do look at prices and if something is outrageous we do without that food until there is a sale. For examples blueberries for $6.99. I wanted to keep groceries to $400 a month, and we just couldn't do it, last year we spent about $583 per month or $183 over budget per month.

In my interview with a local organic seller, Howard Jandi
, I discovered that much of what we believe is “natural” or organic produce is not true. Many stores carry “natural” products, but do not give a clear definition as to what is “natural” about their product. Much of the food that is purchased from these stores comes from the exact same fields that growers of mass produced fruits and vegetables deliver to your local super market. One pays more money to a company for merely the perception of a healthy decision.

Ultimately, our research aimed to identify a major injustice in the food industry -  individuals restrained by a tight budget and economy are conditioned to purchase cheaper, less nutritious food. This food produces health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, and fatigue. Individuals, who struggle with these health problems, are significantly less likely to compete for job opportunities that provide the necessary finances to change over to a diet of organic products, thus continuing the cycle of low quality food leading to low quality health and restricted income.

The Christian community is charged with being first responders to our communities in the light of popular culture. Every time we spend a dollar on food, we cast a vote for how we want corporations and farmers to operate. Unfortunately, our culture focuses heavily on consumerism, driven by a large supply of convenience products that require little to no extra time to fill needs. Scripture tells us to "shine like stars in this perverse generation (Philippians 2:15)." The body of Christ is called to fight injustice in our world. Food has been the focal point for humanity since the beginning. If Christians are going to unite in our pursuit to end one injustice in the world, we need to develop an ethical food culture. One in which people worldwide have access to fresh, organic produce, a system where animals are cared for and given natural diets, not herded into tight spaces and fed a high calorie, low nutrition, corn based food, just so that they can grow larger in less time. Christians can develop networks between farmers markets, and educate other people about their options. We can help lower suspicions that we have only one choice in where to shop in our community.

The obstacles of time and money are always going to be daunting challenges, but we must persevere. God demands that we conduct ourselves in a manner that glorifies Him. We need to distance ourselves from systems that do not overcome the obstacles, and work outside of those systems. This refers to the major food producers that create easy, but destructive ways of managing time and money in our food production. The short term benefits of saving time and saving money will never outweigh the long term detriments to our land, animals, and ourselves.

As we go about modeling our personal definition of a healthy food ethic, we must take Romans 14 into account. If we use our passion for food justice as a weapon against society, we will do more damage and lose more support for change than what we will win. Daniel achieved prominence because he was willing to allow God to be glorified in himself, as a witness to the nation around him. He never forced it upon anyone else, but he helped change a culture and destroyed idols because he saw an injustice against God and his people, and acted against it in his own life first. We aspire to do the same with the information that we have gained and want to invite anyone that is curious about our accomplishments to look beyond the surface, and find that God has every desire to prosper us, heal us, and dwell within us. It is up to us to glorify him and to keep our bodies as his temple. The food that we eat, how it is procured, and how we share it with the world around us is essential to how we will glorify God in our lives.


"11 Facts About Organic Living | Do Something." Do Something. (accessed March 10, 2012).
Duff, Patrick. Interview by Mike Basile. Personal interview. Greenwich, CT, March 9, 2012.
Dunning, Brian. "Organic Food Myths." Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast. (accessed March 10, 2012).
"Fasting." FalconBlanco - An intention to relate and respond to Life - Art of Living. (accessed March 10, 2012).
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. DVD. Directed by Joe Cross. El Segundo, CA: Gravitas Ventures, 2010.
Food Inc. DVD. Directed by Robert Kenner. New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2009.
Gachelin, Rejinal. Interview by Mike Basile. Personal interview. Greenwich, CT, March 9, 2012.
Jandi, Howard. Interview by Brian McGee. Personal interview. Oceanside, NY, March 7, 2012.
Lynn, Lisa. Interview by Mike Basile. Personal interview. Greenwich, CT, March 9, 2012.
Rubin, Jordan S. The Maker's Diet. Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, 2003.
Sencer, Jane. Interview by Brian McGee. Email interview. Huntington, NY, March 6, 2012.

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