Vertical Thought discusses God's involvement in our eating habits with Hope Egan, author of Holy Cow! Does God Care About What We Eat? In her book, Ms. Egan invites readers to look at their eating habits by examining the meat-related biblical food laws and God's overall design for healthy eating.
Vertical Thought : Would you give our readers a brief overview of your book?
Hope Egan: Most people are vaguely aware that the Bible contains food-related guidelines, but they wonder if those laws are still relevant today. Many folks associate these practices with Judaism, but when I started to seek the Christian perspective on eating, I was shocked to discover an entire Christian subculture that actually follows the biblical food laws.
The book pulls in the science perspective related to the biblical food laws. Holy Cow! looks at the science behind these instructions and then steps through the whole Bible to show how they still apply today.
VT : Would you please review the biblical food laws?
HE: In Leviticus 11, God spells out which animals He designed to be eaten. The Bible calls these animals "clean."
For example, clean mammals have a "split hoof" and "chew the cud." These include cows, sheep and goats. Pigs have a split hoof but do not chew the cud; therefore pork was not designed to be food by God's standards.
Fish that have fins and scales were designed to be food. Examples of clean fish include salmon, snapper and tuna. Catfish, on the other hand, have fins but no scales, so they are considered unclean and not designed for food. Neither are shellfish such as lobster, oysters and shrimp, since they don't have fins or scales.
Most poultry, like chicken, turkey, duck and goose, are considered clean, since they are not listed with the unclean scavenger birds like vultures.
VT : What main point do you want to get across to your readers?
HE: God, the one who created us and intricately designed human anatomy and physiology, also designed the foods that will make us the healthiest and look and feel the best. Scripture points to them in Genesis:1:29 (plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds) and Leviticus 11 (certain meat, poultry and fish).
VT : What do you think are the most destructive eating habits among people in general?
HE: From a physical perspective, I think they are the habits the media ignores because they are so universal and socially acceptable, such as overconsumption of sugar and dependency on caffeine.
From a spiritual perspective, most people struggle with food idolatry: putting food and food choices in front of our relationship with God. That's what my eating struggles were (and still are) about. For example, someone who can't imagine living without ______ (Starbucks, chocolate, Krispy Kremes), and it's painful to even think about giving it up, might want to do a little self-analysis.
VT : In doing research for your book, what was the most surprising discovery?
HE: I've never considered myself an environmentalist or animal rights activist, but learning about the dark side of the meat industry shocked me. Most of our meat comes from "factory farms" where animals are crammed together, pumped up with steroids and antibiotics, dipped in insecticide and given feed that can legally contain chicken feathers, plastic pellets and ground up cats and dogs.
I don't mean to be gross, but these animals live in conditions that are light years from God's original design for them, and this can have significant health consequences for us. Some think becoming vegetarian is the answer, but I can't get to that conclusion, since God seemed to design animals for us to eat.
VT : Food labels can be confusing. Can you clarify the terms "kosher" and "organic"?
HE: The term "kosher" doesn't appear in the Bible with relation to food. It actually comes from a Hebrew word that means "fit" or "proper" and has evolved into a food-related word.
The Orthodox Jewish requirements for kosher food include several things. First, only foods that conform to Leviticus 11 would be considered kosher. Second, the animals must be killed and prepared in specific ways (such as draining the blood and removing certain fats). Third, meat and dairy foods are kept separate. (This last point has very little connection with the Bible, so it's not too relevant for believers.)
Organic meat comes from animals that were raised on organic foods and never given growth hormones, antibiotics or other chemicals. Think of it like this. With regard to meat, "organic" describes the way an animal is raised and fed during its lifetime. "Kosher" describes how it is slaughtered and processed before it reaches your dinner table. Both terms require special certification.
VT : Do you think it is important for young people to be concerned about their diet early in life, when most are not affected by health problems? If so, why?
HE: Teenagers and young adults may not be affected by disease or illness now, but most of them are concerned about their appearance. Eating the foods God designed for us to eat, in moderation, impacts our weight, our metabolism, our skin and our hair, so it impacts the way we look.
From a health perspective, it's like making an investment early. Just as saving for college, a house or a car is easier if you start early, it's easier to prevent sickness if you start treating your body well when you are young.
VT : What eating habits would be the most beneficial for young people to learn now?
HE: There are three simple principles to follow. First, try to eat the foods that God designed to be eaten (especially more fruits and vegetables). Second, eat them as close to the form that God gave them to us as possible. Finally, don't let any food or drink become your idol. These are three principles from Dr. Rex Russell's book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living (1996).
VT : Do you have any additional advice for young people about their eating habits?
HE: Don't fall for peer pressure. Look to God for guidance on what to eat, not your friends. For help understanding God's perspective on this subject, read books like my book, Holy Cow! Does God Care About What We Eat? , Dr. Russell 's book, What the Bible Says About Healthy Living and Jordan Rubin's The Maker's Diet
• Pray . It's good to transform our minds (Romans:12:2) to learn what God's plan for eating is. Implementing it, however, is not always easy. But God is waiting with open arms for us to turn to Him with our food choices. Seek Him out and He will make the journey easier for you.
• Educate your parents . Many well-meaning parents are interested in eating right, but the pressures of work and raising a family cause some of them to abandon good habits. Initiate dialogue with them about this topic (and offer to help with healthy meal preparation) and they will likely respond favorably.
• Go slowly . You have been forming your existing food habits for years. Recognize that they will probably not change overnight. Therefore, try to make little changes (like switching from soda to tea, or ordering a side salad instead of french fries) rather than changing everything at once.