Doug Wilson’s Confessions of a Food Catholic is a helpful counterpoint to the current food hysteria. You can find it in the church library and I strongly encourage you to read it carefully. Whether or not you will agree with the conclusion, this book is worthy of your consideration. Wilson offers a wide-ranging critique of the multi-billion dollar fad of avoiding certain types of food. These fads, Wilson argues, amount to new food laws. Food laws are appealing, as they have been throughout history, because food consumption offers people the illusion of control. Food laws are nothing new.
Enter Wilson, who argues for a universal approach to food. By calling himself a food catholic, he means all food is acceptable and clean for the Christian (catholic means universal). He warns Christians must avoid the legalism and self-righteousness which commonly accompanies the new food laws. Wilson doesn't care if someone eats mostly organic food or mostly processed food. He does care why you have made those decisions.
This book is a great read, full of biblical wisdom and clever wit. For example, Wilson’s dedication of the book reads, “This book is dedicated to all those at church dinners who I noticed didn’t have enough protein on their plates and who tried to cover it up by noticing I didn’t have enough greens on mine.” This is a sample of the piercing wit you will find in this book.
This book reminds us the Bible says a lot about food. The problem is Christians go to online blogs, shoddy documentaries, and TV personalities instead of the Bible when they are shaping their view of food. One of the chief problems of the new phood pharisees (as Wilson calls them), is their unwillingness to bring their food laws before Scripture to be examined. This is a topic Christians desperately need to think through biblically. I attempted to so in a previous blog post found here.
Wilson’s critique of the phood pharisee lifestyle can be broken down into five main points: 1. It’s a heart issue 2. It’s a love issue (no divisions) 3. It’s a discernment issue 4. It’s a holiness issue 5. It’s a God issue.
- It’s a heart issue. Wilson reminds us what we eat cannot defile us, but our heart attitudes can and often do defile us (Matt. 15.11). He reminds us there are lots of ways we can sin with food: gluttony, ungratefulness, food fights, etc. What is not sin is receiving food with thankfulness to the God who has provided it to us. There is nothing inherently wrong with things like gluten. There is also nothing inherently better about organic or natural. In fact, certain natural things can are deadly and there are certain practical advantages to modern farming methods (and drawbacks). God cares about the heart, not what we eat. People following the new food laws often spend so much time, energy and money following these arbitrary rules all-the-while the rest of their lives are in shambles. Wilson writes, “Thus we have a man who screams at his wife, but who drives a Prius with a smug look, a man who uses porn, but who fastidious about avoiding gluten…” Wilson rightly reminds us that food is not our fundamental problem, our hearts are. We should straighten out our hearts first. Instead, people use the control of their diets as a substitute for true righteousness.
- It’s a holiness issue. Our hearts are the problem. We are stained by our sin so look for a sense of personal holiness. God has made us in such a way as we know we need holiness and yet we cannot get it on our own. To solve this problem mankind constantly invent ways to convince ourselves we are good, or at least better than someone else. This can come by good works, being physically fit, going church, political views, and today by what we eat (or more precisely what we don’t eat). Wilson aims his criticisms at what he calls phood pharisees. These are people who think they are better than others because how or what they eat. He warns us of this troubling reality, “I see and hear expressions of moral superiority based on personal food choices on a regular basis, and such expressions are a true enemy of our souls. They are deadly.” If we are silly enough to place our moral standing in what we eat, it is a sign of how sick we are. This is the definition of a false gospel. Christians must be aware of the danger of finding our righteousness anywhere but in the person of Christ.
- It’s a God issue. Wilson makes two observations on how the phood pharisees replace God with themselves. First, they claim to be all-knowing, or at least attempt to know it all about their food. To be able to eat rightly one know everything that has happened to every bit of food which crosses their lips. Where did it come from? How did it get here? Was it ever exposed to something unnatural? The problem is there is no way we know all of that for certain. If you think you do, then you are being delusional. Second, they are trying to be all-powerful. They are trying to control something outside of their control—how long they will live. God has fixed our days from the foundation of the world. Now, of course, we must take care of ourselves, but there is no diet which will give you eternal life. This replacement of God is seen best in Christians being unwilling to submit themselves to what God actually says about food.
- It’s a discernment issue. Many people on the phood pharisee bandwagon are simply not exercising basic discernment and critical thinking skills. They are being steered. One common critique of normal food is that is run by evil corporations who are profiting off of unethical food production methods. Wilson retorts, “Who do you think is running the organic farms?” The same corporations. The only difference is now they get to charge 3 dollars for an apple. I wonder whose idea that was? The lack of basic discernment is shown as many converts to this way of life watch a sin documentary or read a book on it and never seek any counter-arguments. The Bible has a term for that, a fool. Of course, the steering of large populations concerning what they eat is nothing new. In generations past, parents were steered toward food which was fortified (unnaturally added) with vitamins and nutrients. Every mom worth anything made sure her kids ate fortified foods. Today, the opposite is supposedly true. Wilson wants us to acknowledge that we are being steered just like they were. And it is likely the next generation may look at our current food notions as just as silly. If we are not willing to entertain the possibility that we are being steered, then we probably are. Christians should exercise more discernment in life than this.
- It’s a love issue. One of the beautiful things about the New Covenant is that it destroys the food barriers between people, yet Christians today want to rebuild them. The Bible is clear, Christians should love others more than their preferences. The new food laws are disrupting our ability to have table fellowship. The Christian is to love their neighbor more than their diet. This means if you have food preferences, but you are at a friends house, eat what they provide. Do not insult them by bringing your own approved food. Love them more than your diet. Food should a cause to gather together and love one another, not a cause of division and strife. Food should unite us and cause us to give thanks to God for his provision. Food should not be a wedge dividing us from one another. Unfortunately, it has become just that as more and more people embrace the new food laws in an unhealthy way.
I highly recommend Wilson’s book to all Christians. Even if you end up disagreeing with him, this book will help you to think more biblically about the food fads of our day. Wilson affirms that as Christians we have the freedom to eat whatever we want. This means if you want to eat organic, then do it! If you want to be a vegan (but why would you?), then do it! But do not find any moral standing in your food choices. It is a preference, and that is all. Do not look down on others who eat differently. Do not cause separation with others over something as unimportant as food. Love God and love others more than your food choices.