Confessions of a Food Catholic

food catholic

Confessions of a Food Catholic, by Doug Wilson. Published in 2016. 212 pages.

A friend loaned me this book to read and I was very interested to see what, exactly, it is all about. I wasn’t sure what Doug Wilson could possibly mean by the term “food catholic”, but eventually the idea became crystal clear.  If I had to summarize the general thesis of Confessions of a Food Catholic, I’d say it’s this:

The fact that the church has joined the world’s food fads, crusades, and trends has created a situation where the simple and joyful yet profound Christian experience of breaking bread with other believers is being tainted and hindered. He argues that we all need to learn to accept what is set before us with thankfulness, and stop pretending that we are going to be irreparably damaged if we accept one dish of sweet Sister Jones’ homemade macaroni and cheese because “carbs” or “gluten” or “Monsanto” or whatever other excuse we can conjure up to resist being gracious towards our sisters and brothers in Christ. That is what I would describe as the thesis statement of Wilson’s book.

I agree with his overall thesis, but as is often the case when I read Doug Wilson’s writing, I ran into something that short-circuited his execution. I found his extensive insertion of caveats in the first three chapters problematic. In a world where almost nothing goes without saying anymore, I can appreciate the compulsion to say things like, “If you are deathly allergic to milk, I don’t expect you to risk your life eating sweet Sister Jones’ mac ‘n’ cheese in some misguided attempt at Christian unity”. What I don’t appreciate is feeling the need to say it over and over…and over again.

Thankfully, as the arguments unfolded and Wilson began to tackle the myriad individual food causes and crusades which have infiltrated the church world, the book gradually became much more pleasant to read. The secondary thesis, if you will, is almost as compelling as the first. I don’t necessarily agree with every assertion Wilson makes, but I do agree with this overall idea:

I am an active participant in my food chain, and I occupy a particular place in it. My moral duties are strongest right next to me, and they are weakest (to the extent they exist at all) at the far side of the food chain.

This is not to say that moral responsibility cannot be transmitted along the food chain. Surely it can, as when my buddy shoplifts something from Safeway so we can share it for dinner. Eating stolen goods that I watched get stolen is morally problematic, and I cheerfully grant it. But I am here talking about my supposed complicity in the strange oaths that the foreman in the Texas pecan orchard swore at his underpaid migrant workers, in the season before those pecans from said ranch made their way through thirteen other morally problematic checkpoints on their way to my pie. p.109

The numerous documentaries produced for the sole purpose of “informing: and inducing guilt into the American populace about the foods we eat has reached such a level of absurdity that even I, a girl who has to be careful about jumping on bandwagons, have learned to tune them out. I’m still a sucker for a good health fad, but I can no longer be bothered to bear guilt for Jose and Juanita’s suffering experienced on the tomato farms of South Florida.

I certainly believe that when we know better, that to the extent that we can, we should do better. I might be proving Wilson’s point here to a degree, but I don’t think it’s wise to ignore medical knowledge and advancements which offer information we can act on and to build on, especially in the areas of health and wellness. However, as Wilson aptly points out, every generation believes it has the lock on the truth about any number of things, and ours is no different. We should keep that im mind.

Touching on everything from our misguided expectation that a government which ushered corruption into the food industry should somehow fix it, to the ironic reality that the people who browbeat us the most about our food choices abhor our faith and values, Wilson offers a lot of food for thought here. He certainly opened up my thinking in ways that will help me to be a little more conscious of the areas in which I have raised food choices to the level of moral authority on par with The 10 Commandments.

Overall, it’s not a perfect book, but it is a worthwhile admonition.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Food Catholic

  1. smkoseki says:

    Really glad you had this review. I’ve been wondering if this sort of thing was going to come out. I’m fascinated. We don’t attend eating functions anymore for food reasons.

    As I’m sure you might guess I disagree with what sounds like the book’s thesis. Processed food is a real health issue and is very addictive like smoking. I’m not desiring to pass laws against things like porn or food but am offended by folk who want me to join them. Reminds me of the earnest secretary at work trying to get me to donate to PP.

    “the ironic reality that the people who browbeat us the most about our food choices abhor our faith and values,”

    This is tarring everyone with a stereotype. Most people who eat clean/ditch addictive foods (aka processed food) rarely try to push it on other people. They just don’t want any because not only does even a little bit make healthy folk feel like hell (like alcohol does to a teetotaler athlete) it’s, well, addictive and they know the danger. https://www.amazon.com/Processed-Food-Addiction-Foundations-Assessment-ebook-dp-B078RMYPBY/dp/B078RMYPBY/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=

    I just listened to a podcast where a very sharp doc said he seriously believes processed foods are an extinction-level event, like alcohol to Native Americans. People don’t know or forget cancer and autoimmune diseases and obesity used to extremely rare. Now they are the norm.

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  2. Elspeth says:

    We don’t attend eating functions anymore for food reasons.

    Interesting. We socialize with fellow believers fairly regularly. I haven’t went to a function in literally a decade at someone’s home where salad or a vegetable tray wasn’t available.

    We eat pretty clean (80/20 rule) and in the years since we cut out most processed foods it hasn’t been a major issue. Eat salad, protein, veggies. Skip junk.

    As I said in the post, I don’t agree with Wilson on every point but I do believe that Christians breaking bread and feasting together serves a significant spiritual purpose.

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  3. Maea says:

    Most people who eat clean/ditch addictive foods (aka processed food) rarely try to push it on other people.
    That’s not necessarily true. I’ve had people push certain diets on me in real life, from keto to veganism, all under the guise of “this will help you eat clean!” A lot of people today have a poor understanding of what it means to “eat clean.” They aren’t clean eaters; they’re perpetual dieters.
    There is the 80/20 rule. The majority of what we eat should be whole, unprocessed foods that we prepare ourselves from scratch. It leaves room to enjoy foods that aren’t prepared entirely to our liking, and allows us enjoy meals with others. The problems today are that people have a poor relationship with food in the first place, they overindulge as a regular habit, and they won’t cook.
    He argues that we all need to learn to accept what is set before us with thankfulness, and stop pretending that we are going to be irreparably damaged if we accept one dish of sweet Sister Jones’ homemade macaroni and cheese because “carbs” or “gluten” or “Monsanto” or whatever other excuse we can conjure up to resist being gracious towards our sisters and brothers in Christ.
    LOL, this.

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  4. smkoseki says:

    We don’t attend eating functions anymore for food reasons. Interesting. We socialize with fellow believers fairly regularly.
    Why do you assume one must eat to socialize? We find it better to not mix them anyway because then we actually “do” things (sing music or hike perform charities or play games). Eating just makes everyone torpor. People used to socialize often without needing to eat all the time…America just went porking around 1970 and hasn’t stopped. And it shows.

    I haven’t went to a function in literally a decade at someone’s home where salad or a vegetable tray wasn’t available.
    Do you really think kids will pass up donuts for a salad (yes I know, nobody has kids anymore so who cares). For us, life is really too short to worry about it. Why go there at all? Why not just hang with polite people who don’t serve the crap?

    I’m actually sad the author is going to have to watch his thesis die over time. Fact he don’t get: food is now divisive just like smoking or booze by in the ’40’s was…and for the exact good reason: it is addictive & harmful to a quality life. This isn’t going away, it’s going to get worse. And those who are actually “gracious towards their brothers and sisters in Christ” will be careful with serving processed food…or they will be left wondering why less and less come to their frankfurter parties…

    Sidenote: One of the best indicators of health is the waist/height ratio <0.45. I know basically nobody who follows the 80/20 rule who can maintain this. Why is simple: grains & seed oils are processed foods and are in everything.

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  5. Maea says:

    Why not just hang with polite people who don’t serve the crap?

    I’m no sure what you’re trying to imply with that question, but at face value it doesn’t sound good.

    Of course people don’t need to eat to socialize. People do it all the time where food isn’t the primary event on the itinerary. However, in today’s day and age if you want to get any time to know someone new– or get to know someone better– spending a meal or two in their presence is the best way to do it. If you want to get a large group of people together for a few hours, a meal is going to be a good way to do it. That’s whether it’s a dinner party, a church social event, a birthday party, etc. For events where food isn’t served, often people want to hang out after at a restaurant– and that is where and how they get to know each other.

    People can also choose not to eat, or eat before the event and accept a drink but politely turn down a full meal. That’s the real issue. People in America don’t want to exercise any restraint on their appetites, regardless of how crappy you think the food is.

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  6. Elspeth says:

    As I read this comment, Maea, and thought about SMK’s question, and this verse sprang to mind:

    And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42

    Clearly, since this is one of several references, sitting for a meal with other people is about far more than the food. Food is fuel, but the communion of sitting down with others to eat (or refusing to, which Paul offers admonitions about the kinds of people NOT to eat with) is more than a simple physical thing.

    Which is the thrust of Wilson’s argument, and even though there are plenty of foods I refrain from (and my husband even more than me), we try very hard in the fellowship of believers to find something that we can eat or drink, even if it’s just veggies, fruit and a cup of tea. And as I said, that’s usually not hard to find no matter what else is being served.

    The idea that well-meaning, devout Christian people are “impolite” because they serve the food they know how to prepare well is a bit extreme, I think.

    At the end of the day, I see this as a metaphysical conversation, one where we err greatly by not understanding that breaking bread with other believers is not about the bread or celery or whatever it is we eat or don’t eat.

    Here’s a fine solution: we revive the custom of never going to another person’s home empty-handed, tell the hostess you’ll be providing the salad, make a delicious one, and be on time with it.

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