Calling All Foodies: On Delicacy, Gluttony and How Grace Strengthens Me

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.” -G.K. Chesterton

The (custom-mixed) almond-coconut flour, (limited) coconut sugar, (Wheat Belly) fudge brownies were baked to perfection. Triumphant, I pulled them from the oven. Then I ascended my low refined carb & sugar box.

When I stepped down five minutes later we were a lather. All except Jamie. Because Jamie was Paleo- she ate no dairy, grains or legumes. Not that she presented it that way, but it just seemed like Jamie’s diet was was more pure and holy. So Jamie was unscathed.

But the others were confused. I- in full out health food frenzy- had confused them.

Linda was apologetic as she doled out Teddy Grahams to her toddler. Cathy was crestfallen, entirely overwhelmed by our diet discourse. Integrating almond flour, stevia, and coconut oil into her family’s diet was way too much for her to manage. And I, well, I felt rightly guilty.

I’m sorry, you guys. I am totally not judging you for your food choices.

And we all sat down a friendly spread of almond-butter, and turkey and cheese sandwiches on gluten-free Udi’s and Sarah Lee white.

[For a few of you, food choices are a matter of life or death. For some of you, your choice to go gluten-free or forgo dairy dramatically impacts your health. But for most of us, our diet choices are a mostly a matter of preference. This post is directed toward those of us in that last group.]

A Gluttony Of Delicacy (And isn’t life more than food?)

Food becomes idol when it preoccupies. When I worry about how much, or when, or what I’m going to eat. So gluttony isn’t only excess in eating or drinking. It’s greedy or excessive indulgence, too.  In his winsome way, C.S. Lewis described the subtle gluttony.

In The Screwtape Letters, senior devil Screwtape advises junior devil Wormwood on tactics to divert humans from heaven. Keep gluttony in your arsenal, he urges. Bolding is mine. The quote comes from chapter 17.

My Dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of the Western World. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess.

Your patient’s mother… is a good example. She would be astonished – one day, I hope, will be – to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?

Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses… always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile “Oh, please, please … all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.” You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance …;

The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the “All I want” state of mind.  All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled… But her “properly” conceals an insatiable demand for the exactMeanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled

Your affectionate uncle,

Heavenly arrows, these words. Friendships are cooled…as palates produce impatience, self-concern. Beware when diets divide; when tender tastebuds trump tender hearts. When one’s uprightness or defilement are based on what goes into one’s mouth, beware.

You just might find a foodie idol hiding under the table.

Strengthened By Grace, Not Food

Uncle Screwtape would revel in our Paleo, South Beach, Mediterranean smorgasbord. And in our delicate palates, in our insatiable demands for the exact: Sartori SarVecchio not Kraft Parmesan. Strong, but not too strong, my own personal K cup.

There are today many religious and secular food routines …of food supplements and vitamins and antioxidants and organic diets, and fat-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, chemical-free foods. And sometimes, not all the time, these things become obsessive. They take on a life-consuming importance. Slowly and subtly the promises they make for our well-being become the promises we hope in and the promises we live by.

But over against this misuse of foods, God says (in verse 9), “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods.” So beware of “alien teachings” that elevate diet and nutrition and food to a place where they are the real strength-givers and health-givers and hope-givers in your life. Instead learn to have your heart strengthened by grace – day after day, morning noon and night. …

John Piper, “Be Strengthened By Grace” sermon transcript

Cathy, formerly crestfallen Cathy, was last to leave our little luncheon. When we got out to Cathy’s car, her eyes were twinkling.  Then she asked,

Want some bread?  But, I got a whole box of day-old Brownberry this morning. 

I nodded and scooped up two full-carb loaves.

And my heart got stronger.

“Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.”

Hebrews 13:9