People do not live by bread alone, Jesus tells Satan when he is tempted in the wilderness. Though Jesus “was famished” — or perhaps because of that — he knows in his body that food is not all that we need for sustenance.
Jesus’ words have kept returning to me in the past weeks.
At a local winter farmer’s market, along with crops that can be stored in the cold months, vendors sell prepared food. One market stand was selling what it called Daniel 1:8 veggie burgers. Their slogan is, “Just say no to food on drugs.”
The verse in Daniel speaks of the young man’s resolve, as a captive in the Babylonian court, to reject the fare the king served, because such food would “defile him.” Those are strong words.
While our context differs from that of the prophet Daniel, the veggie burger maker has a point about all of the substances that we put in our bodies through what we eat. Chemical additives, preservatives and artificial sweeteners reshape our palettes. There’s cause for concern when children learn that heavily processed foods are what tastes good.
With my mind on Dan. 1:8 and the words of Jesus, I walked out of the market and encountered a woman gathering signatures for a petition.
The organization she works for, Corporate Accountability International, is taking McDonald’s to task for marketing its fast food in schools, including holding promotional events with teachers and their pupils. Such lessons about which food is most desirable last for a long time.
Sometimes a recalibration is necessary. Friends wrote to me recently to say that they are spending a month restricting what their family eats. They are following a plan that strives to allow bodies to heal from some of the harm caused by certain foods. This effort includes rejecting processed food of any kind as well as sugars, grains and dairy. But the goal is not weight loss but good health.
My friends suggested I try cutting these items out for a month as well, knowing that I have several chronic conditions this plan aims at reducing the effects of, such as psoriasis.
I was skeptical, especially as a vegetarian, since a lot of the proposed diet is meat. But then I started reading testimonials on the website.
One woman wrote that the 30 days of eating simply (mainly vegetables) had helped her restore a healthy relationship with food: “I started to view food differently for the first time in my life. I was breaking away from old habits of wanting to eat to celebrate or chase away every emotion.”
People do not live by bread alone. Our relationship with food can become distorted. We mix food and fellowship, which isn’t necessarily bad until the occasion becomes more about eating than connecting with each other.
I have been living with dietary restrictions for years because of a medical condition. At times I expend a lot of energy thinking about what I should and shouldn’t eat. I sometimes overeat the foods that aren’t restricted, causing harm to my body in other ways.
The season of Lent begins by remembering Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. I decided to take my friends’ suggestion of following the monthlong plan for eating simply and to do it as a Lenten discipline. I hope it will teach me in my body that while I need to eat for protein, vitamins and other nutrition, that is not all that sustains me. I do not live by food alone.
Celeste Kennel-Shank is a hospital chaplain, editor and community gardener in Chicago.