For several years now I have been thinking a lot (i.e. obsessing) about food. What foods I should or shouldn’t eat, how they should be eaten (raw, steamed, soaked, sprouted, etc. etc. etc.). In this age of information, it is easy to find advice about nutrition. I have spent over a decade learning about nutrition via books, scientific studies, and the Internet. This past year I had reached a point of total saturation. I had consumed so much information about nutrition and clean eating from so many different sources that I was afraid to eat everything. Even these grass-fed steak tacos from the trendy clean-eating hub True Food Kitchen…
Clean-eating obsessions are actually becoming a growing problem. There is even an eating disorder label for this phenomenon: orthorexia. Here’s a description from Sondra Kronberg, nutritional director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative:
Orthorexic eating becomes almost like a religion. . . . It becomes a position instead of a preference. You can’t eat out with a friend. You can’t go to the party. You have to bring your own food wherever you go (Orthorexia: When healthy eating becomes an obsession).
I lived this reality for a long time last year, though I had no idea I had an “eating disorder.” I brought food everywhere I went, literally (ask my friends). I lost thirty pounds. My husband and I stayed at a hotel on our anniversary, and I finally, painstakingly, allowed myself to eat a meal prepared at a restaurant in the hotel lobby (but only after specifying that they put nothing on the halibut but butter, lemon, and salt). Then I spent the rest of the evening worrying about the meal I had eaten. Had they forgotten my request? That fish seemed too flavorful. Had they marinated the fish in something containing monosodium glutamate? Happy Anniversary to me, right?
After too many months of this, a scripture began popping into my head:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:25).
And finally I listened. It took (and still takes) a great deal of effort, but I try not to obsess about what I’m eating. Of course God wants us to take care of our body temples. But I wasn’t taking care of my body temple. It was like the Word of Wisdom on steroids. And it was detrimental to me. I wasn’t preparing anything with “with singleness of heart” (D&C 59:13). I prepared every meal with double-mindedness… doubt, fear, knowing I needed to eat, but afraid that what I was preparing to eat was going to hurt me. For someone else, double-mindedness might look like:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning macaroni and cheese (praise the Lord for those blessed boxes), butter, or brownies. I eat a lot of butter, and I love brownies. But I think what God wants us to take to heart is this: Don’t think so much about what you’re eating. Think about what you’re thinking. How would it change our meals if we spent that prep-time thinking good things instead of guilty/fearful things? How can we prepare our meals with singleness of heart?
I found Truman G. Madsen’s The Highest in Us on my parents’ bookshelf when I was seventeen years old. As I read it, I felt like I had found a dear long-lost friend. My ravenous spirit devoured it and then every other book I could get my hands on written by this brilliant and in-tune man. In his essay, “The Sacramental Life,” Brother Madsen blends spiritual and linguistic insights in a way my English-major heart adores:
It is interesting to me that the word ordinance has the same root as ordained and order. Those connotations are appropriate. But it also has the same root as ordinary. That, too, is relevant. An ordinance takes the most ordinary of elements (for what is more commonplace than water, bread, olive oil?—kneeling, clasping hands, lifting of arms are ordinary things) and gives them or receives them or consecrates them as holy. . . . Ordinances make possible the transformation of the ordinary. Our ordinary work, ordinary breathing and speaking, ordinary pleasures, become extraordinary when they are consciously sacramental (p. 38, The Highest in Us).
What if we thought about preparing our meals in the way a Priest might think about preparing the sacrament? How does blessing a meal before eating it change the food? How does the blessed food change us? What happens to the foods I prepare for my family if I’m afraid? If I eat a meal prepared with love will it be more nourishing?
What do the sacrament prayers say? Here is the prayer for the bread:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
What if every piece of bread we ate was eaten in remembrance of Jesus Christ? What if all of our food was sanctified to our souls? I have begun asking for many of these things when blessing my food. I do not mean for any of this to reduce the sanctity of the sacrament. The sacrament is a sacred ordinance, and that hasn’t changed in my heart and mind. Instead, I intend to increase the sanctity of my every day life, to invite Christ into every meal I consume.
In our book, The Gift of Giving Life, Felice wrote a great essay called “Constant Nourishment.” In it, she quoted from a book by Wendy Mogel, PhD, about Jewish teachings for raising self-reliant children. Felice shared:
Mogel said, ‘At its core, Judaism is a table-centered religion. With the destruction of the ancient Holy Temple, each family’s table serves to replace the original holy altar.’ When we think of the table as an altar, it changes the way we think about what we put on it, how we come to it, and how we behave while there (p. 241).
Wow, right? Is my table a holy altar? That definitely changes the way I think about family dinner. And if my table is a holy altar, then I am (as the preparer of meals) in a sense a “priestess” who presides over my family’s nourishment. Maybe I’m being melodramatic? Or maybe I’m not? For someone like me, it would be easy to take this to an unhealthy extreme (not feeling able to cook a meal unless I’m in a good mood, etc.). All things in moderation.
So what am I trying to say with all of this?
All root music, all painting, all artful motion—even the art of conversation or baking a loaf of bread—can have eternal significance. It is the individualizing of ordinances. ‘Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times” (D&C 59:11). We may infuse them with our own individual creative talents. If we are to acknowledge the hand of God in all things, an indispensable first step is to summon him into all our things (p. 46, The Highest in Us).