In a recent conversation with a Christian friend I spoke about my use of prayer to overcome my overeating. When I said that food was an idol she was clearly shocked and continued to disagree with me politely, but with evident emotion.
I compared our use of food with our desire for possessions and how this is, rightly, seen as idolatry. She readily admitted the desire for possessions as an idol, but food no. Absolutely not. Never.
I spoke about how I used food for comfort, to ease boredom, to make me feel….something. She agreed with all of this and admitted doing the same. Yet, she would not accept that our treating food in this way was idolatry.
Are you in agreement with her? Did you see the title of the post and think that it was nonsense?
Yet hear me out; the use of food as a replacement for God has been examined throughout the Bible. Yet we have a very overt signs within our society that we can worship food. Not just enjoy it. Worship it.
Years ago we had a very famous series of adverts in the UK that epitomised food as an idol. They were for the supermarket branch of Marks and Spencer’s and the tagline was “This is not just food. It’s M and S food.” There, straight away was food as status.
I won’t embed any of the adverts here – believe me, they will tempt you. But the format was always the same. A black background with a voice over of a famous person reading out the script as if it is was an erotic scene in a radio production. The rhythm of their voice was slow, sensual. As they spoke they described the food in front of them, making each part of whatever food they were describing sound exotic and decadent.
“Lincolnshire red cabbage…with apples and cranberries…slooow braised…in red wine….and tawny. port. sauce.”
Each part of the meal was communicated to the audience as if mouthfuls of the food were being savoured and the speaker couldn’t contain their delight. Against this dark, close camera backdrop the last stages of food preparation would be the focus of the camera and as you watched, in slow motion no less, as beautifully cooked meat would be sliced to show the moist stuffing within. You could almost hear the voiceover artist’s smelling the aroma of the food in there delivery.
In the background a bluesy, sexy guitar riff would play – because pigging out on food doesn’t make you fat apparently, but sexy. Who knew?
The speaker would name where the food was sourced, giving you an impression of not only the decadent taste that could be yours, but of vicarious excitement of glamorous and exciting locations.
Eventually the camera would pan out and in the early days of the series the famous voiceover artist would be revealed. The most widely known contributor was a woman called Dervla Kirwan, who had a soft, Irish burre and was heart achingly beautiful. Clear, pale skin, dark hair – a classically Irish colouring. I seem to remember one year she wore an off the shoulder, sophisticated but sexy black dress against the same black backdrop of the food. She giggled or laughed, as if self conscious of her lascivious tone of mere food.
So why have I gone into the adverts in this depth? Well, what was it telling us this food would give us?
Decadent, mouth watering food. Well, that’s a given. But the other messages. At the time the presentation with its sophisticated background was revolutionary and the adverts quickly became iconic; being parodied precisely because they were admired. So taste, elegance and, as I’ve frequently alluded to, sexiness. Her last laugh allowed you to indulge in all of these fantasies in a carefree, harmless way. You were in on the joke, so you were clever too.
You were cool. After all, you enjoyed that guitar riff, no? Adventurous, with all of those destinations that you could go to just through your tastebuds alone. Also, the descriptions of the food alluded to those wanting to taste them too as having a refined pallet. Who else but such a cultivated person would be so impressed by the location of their food source? And beautiful, of course. After all, at this stage you’re identifying so much with Dervla and not with your muffin top spilling over your jeans.
All this, from food? Take a look at this…
Whether these gods are treated well or badly by anyone, they cannot repay it. They can neither set up nor remove a king. They cannot give anyone riches or pennies; if one fails to fulfill a vow to them, they will not exact it. They neither save anyone from death, nor deliver the weak from the strong, nor do they restore sight to the blind, or rescue anyone in distress. The widow they do not pity, the orphan they do not help. These gilded and silvered wooden statues are no better than stones from the mountains; their worshipers will be put to shame. How then can it be thought or claimed that they are gods?Baruch 6: 33-40
Even the Chaldeans themselves have no respect for them; for when they see a deaf mute, unable to speak, they bring forward Bel and expect him to make a sound, as though he could hear.
Ok, these worshippers are expecting other results from their idols, but are we that dissimilar. How often have you turned to ice cream for comfort? or wine after a stressful day? Cake for a little excitement in your life?
There is nothing wrong with these foods in and of themselves, it’s how we use them that they become detrimental. Particularly as they separate us from the one true god that really can make a difference in our lives. After all, if we go to the fridge for the answer we’re not praying.
I’d encourage you to read all of Baruch Chapter 6, and apply it to how you treat food. Can you see similarities between yourselves and these ancient worshippers?
I’m continuing a journey I started at the beginning of the liturgical year; that is I’m hoping to confront how I treat food to be liberated from its power over my life.
I’m overweight, not clinically obese, but not comfortable and in the realms of ill health. Since becoming a mother I’ve battled with the bulge in a losing war. I’m putting this in the hands of Christ and I’m sharing it here in the hopes that others may join me.
I’m publishing this post during Christmastide and so we are, in contrast to the secular world, still feasting. So I would advise you to start to keep a journal over the next few days; paper or electronic. It’s irrelevant as to what you rite on, the focus is what you write. Just note why you’re eating, what you’re eating and the circumstances surrounding it over the next few days.
So for example – were you hungry? If so, how much? Were you eating that tasty bit of cake as part of a shared meal? Or did you go back for seconds on your own later? Or, and believe me I’ve been here too many times to mention, were you so embarrassed by your repeated indulgences that you took to eating them standing up, on your own in the kitchen so no-one else can see.
I just want to leave you with these particular lines from Baruch for anyone who, like me, is weary of this battle;
“Be on your guard. Do not imitate the foreigners, do not have any fear of their gods as you watch their worshippers flocking before or behind them. Instead, say in your hearts, ‘Master, it is you that we have to worship’. For my angel is with you; your lives will be in his care.”Baruch 6; 4-6
Pope John Paul II whilst he was overcoming communism drew on the many times God instructs His people to not be afraid. It can be frightening to confront our issues with food, perhaps not as frightening as communistic regimes, but when you’ve tasted defeat so many times it can still feel impossible.
DO NOT BE AFRAID!
With God’s help we will win this battle. Please click the subscribe button or follow on social media to be alerted of these posts and join me – I promise to follow right back twitter. In the meantime…