Toward An Adventist Theology Of Health (1) – On Food

Expo 2015– the Universal Exposition hosted in Milan, Italy – closed few days ago on October 31, after six months and twenty million visitors from all over the world. Exhibits from 145 countries brought the best of their knowledge and technology on food production and distribution. The Japan Pavilion received the gold prize for the best exhibition. Milan Expo 2015 was held under the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, and the exhibitors divided their proposals and displays under seven subthemes:

- Science for Food Safety, Security and Quality

- Innovation in the Agro Food Supply Chain

- Technology for Agriculture and Biodiversity

- Dietary Education

- Solidarity and Cooperation on Food

- Food for Better Lifestyles

- Food in the World’s Cultures and Ethnic Groups

Expo Milan 2015 now passes the baton to the next Universal Exhibition to be held in Dubai in 2020, with the motto "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future ". The discussion on the future of food will include sustainability, opportunity and mobility.

While visiting with my family what struck me about the various innovative architectural pavilions (particularly the Co-op food store of the future – a large Italian supermarket corporation) was a dual constant and implicit message. First, without technology, food production and distribution would be a total failure and insufficient to respond to the increasing demand of today’s world population. Second, in order to limit the collateral effects of industrialized food production we need to urgently re-orient our lifestyles to more organic and qualitative ways of production and consumption.

But can both aspirations coexist together? Maybe, but more certain is that behind the topic of food and these genuine aspirations hide two deeper problems: a cosmological and an anthropological one. First, food is not exclusively dietary. It is, above all, an ecological problem. In changing the traditional way of producing and consuming food we have also changed our “vision of” and our “relation to” nature. This is the cosmological question we need to ask whenever we speak today of food, from whatever perspective we are standing on. Second, to speak about food is a disguised way of speaking about us humans. In other words, in transforming food and the way of producing and distributing it, we have changed ourselves. We have deeply modified the way we understand and affirm our human identity and action. This is the anthropological question we need to ask today whenever we speak of food. To address this issue I will be speaking of a new cultural syndrome, born in Europe, adopted in the Western world as standard and from there exported and now applied planet-wide. This is what I call the Western “Control Syndrome”. This cultural syndrome has two structural components: an anthropological and an ecological one.

1. A voracious anthropology of absolute “control on food”

The Western contemporary world, through the massively adopted industrial food production, has created an unprecedented level of food availability. This indisputable sign of success and technological progress has resolved three classical food problems that heavily conditioned the so called “subsistence economies”: scarcity, contamination and the problem of food distribution. Thanks to this incredible technological progress now millions of people and whole societies (particularly but not exclusively Western societies) have, as never before, eliminated the problem of sufficient food. And this new cultural situation of incredible food availability, on the macro-level of single countries and as a planet, has also had a tremendous and lasting impact on a micro-level. This includes us all through use of a widespread technological product known as – the refrigerator. Consequently food availability is for many of us a daily, concrete experience. We have food at hand whenever we want. But the food problem has not really disappeared, simply emigrated to another level. In fact, while in some parts of the world people are still dying of hunger and malnutrition, elsewhere others are dying for having too much food – via the continuous increase of chronic and degenerative diseases. And the problem of food goes also beyond the increase of these “progress related” diseases such as Hypertension, Diabetes, Cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Fundamentally it overlaps with a paradoxical anthropological question: is food a “gift from nature” or rather a “product of our hands”? Surprisingly, the traditional food-is-a-gift paradigm has been drastically substituted into the technological food-is-a-product paradigm. And this diffused technological perspective is a model of control and, as such, gives birth to a new anthropology – one that rejects the subordination of humans to nature (food) and instead defends the subordination of food (nature) to humans. Industrial food production, chemical food flavors and complements, artificial fertilizers, genetic reinforcement, hybridization strategies, the supremacy of mono-cultures, transcontinental food transportation, all seasons food availability etc. – all these legal and well-accepted mechanisms and strategies – are “control mechanisms” that express and reinforce the power of humans over food. The manipulatory trend of modern Western anthropology is certainly not new. It was already present at the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 18th century. But paradoxically this obsession with control has not diminished at all since then, but rather increased. So, to a large extent, even the holistic and nature-friendly food strategies proposed today as a solution (and visible and promoted also at the Expo 2015 Universal Milan Exposition) end up paradoxically reinforcing the same control paradigm of food typical of Western anthropology.

2. An impoverished cosmology of a “disenchanted food”

But this “control syndrome” has a second component that is the natural consequence of this strong controlling anthropology: a subordinated and impoverished cosmology. The relation between humans and nature has never been easy. Structurally they should coexist together in a tension that is a very central aspect of life itself. Humans and nature are not completely identifiable but neither are they completely detachable. But what has happened in the Western world is unique in history. While all pre-modern and non-Western cultures, at various levels and degrees, were or are based in cosmo-centric world views, Western modern culture has overthrown this paradigm to adopt an unusual and unique anthropo-centric paradigm. This is not bad per se. The condition of tension between humans and nature is always there. But his anthropo-centric Western option that conditions us all in our identity and action has unfortunately dismantled that tension. And has done so in a paradoxical way. Because this period is also the historical period in which, as never before, nature has been observed, researched, understood and described the most. So, while we presently give the greatest interest and attention to nature itself, nature paradoxically has been more exploited and depleted in its intrinsic value than ever before. The ecological crisis is the summary of this situation. And the permanence of a strong “anthropology of control” is just the human contribution. But what does all this have to do with food? The “anthropology of control” is a consequence of the reduction of food to a thing. Depletion of the intrinsic value of food was a necessary condition to the emergence of this manipulatory anthropology. And ironically this objectivation and reification of food has been done by modern science and technology themselves, which have the merit of providing insight into nature as never before. What formerly had been nourishment, symbol and transcendence merged together has became merely – quantity. Food reduced to only one of its traditional dimensions: the measure. This is the birth of our modern food conception. A “dis-enchanted food” which is measured only by its constituents: vitamins, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates etc., completely depleted of its other dimensions such as vitality, aesthetics, symbolism, social or religious components. And the officially stigmatized, but at the same time loved, “Junk Food” is just the radicalization of this reductive and objectifying structural trend of the whole Western culture. The more “dead” (disenchanted) the food is, the more triumphant and controlling humanity becomes. And in order to become more triumphant and controlling humanity needs to manipulate and disenchant the food even more.

But a symbolically and culturally impoverished food is incomplete. So a complementary strategy is an aesthetic intervention. We add in new and sophisticated components of food cosmetics: flavors, colors, additives, preservatives etc. to make food appear alive and beautiful from what in fact is lifeless.

How has Adventism reacted to this long cultural process that ends by excessively reinforcing human control on food on one side, and unduly impoverishing the understanding of food itself on the other?

The answer is not easy. If ever there is a religious group that has paid courageous attention to food and lifestyle it is surely Adventism. But on a deeper level, Adventism has paradoxically not corrected at all the “strong anthropology” and the “weak cosmology” of our contemporary culture but rather has reinforced them by adding a theological justification. Our voluntaristic anthropology on lifestyle issues on one hand and our pragmatic approach to food issues on the other are clear expressions of our paradoxical complicity with core presuppositions of our contemporary culture. The obsession of an absolute coherent believer always in control of all what he/she eats and the plastic and disenchanted soya-made chicken, are the Adventist metaphors of this shared Western “hypertrophic anthropology” and “impoverished cosmology”. Through an ideological and unilateral attachment to the principle of “Sola Scriptura” and the parallel inattention or unexplainable disinterest in a serious socio-cultural analysis of its own identity, Adventism, up until now, has not pushed back against this “Control Syndrome” at the root of today's food ecological problem but has unwittingly reinforced it.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7183
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A great mind, keen observation, timely challenge as one would expect for his pen. The bottom lines seems to be let us get away from this phony balonna. tom Z

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Thank you for a very insightful and helpful analysis of the food culture of Western societies and a timely application to the Adventist situation in that culture. Rather than to be concerned with the interpretation of food as a divine gift for which one is thankful (1 Cor. 10: 25-26), the ecclesiastical authorities have been blinded by narrow minded and biased readings of the Scriptures that give them “control.” What a lamentable situation, indeed. It is hard to be thankful when the food one eats is not seen as a gift of the Creator. To be thankful because one has the money to buy it gives the eating of it a whole different light.

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A lesson in clear plain prose would be helpful here…

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I am advised to read food labels while shopping at food supermarket. What words being printed on the food label I don’t understand is poison. Wordy chemically tongue twisted food label inscription similar to physician Rx hand writing ( chicken claws) prescription I don’t understand, can it kill? The author treatise is flowery confoundedly wordy profoundly impressive. That is fine. It is the author prerogatives to inform anthropology “gluttony” and cosmology “organic”. To cut the chase what I get out from the treatise is the author last two theological ending paragraphs? Applied the treatise ending to Adventism metaphorical made believed morsel palates. Adventists food fakes and bible health gurus’ remising protests against Monsanto GMO (Genetic Modified Organism foods.) Conversely, we applied our gluttony in faith and trust to “faked food” from Adventist giant food producers. That fine too. Adventist food giants “bringing back nature” but, as faked soy-made chicken, beef, bacon strips, smoked sausages, fish that incredibly, nearest taste of poultry, cows, pigs or piranhas. Unless, we grow our own organically grown food we don’t know exactly where the origin source of crops field grown foods we eat approved identify as healthy? We cheat feeding our body from soy beans arrived from source unknown from “Control Syndrome” as the author put it whether the source is clean or not. I question? Is it GMO free? Has Adventism unwittingly reinforced alliance with Monsanto?

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The article seems to me to fail to distinguish between the writer’s internal models of the world - with it’s concepts of morality and mystery - and the fundamental reality which is the human invention of technology has indeed moved us to a point where we can make massive real changes to the planet and are capable of pushing it into dramatic ecological changes.

The solution is not to introduce the irrationality of religion into the process - there are already too many religious-based climate-change deniers out there.

The solution is to recognize that we are waving a loaded gun around and that we need to be much more careful where we shoot. That requires more science and more caution, not more mystery,

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'Through an ideological and unilateral attachment to the principle of “Sola Scriptura” and the parallel inattention or unexplainable disinterest in a serious socio-cultural analysis of its own identity, Adventism, up until now, has not pushed back against this “Control Syndrome” at the root of today’s food ecological problem but has unwittingly reinforced it."

Yes, through a misplaced cosmology in which God, the Creator, has been stripped out and replaced with “sin/no sin”. Adventism could have been a religion who connected back the “consumer” to the “Creator” but it has failed to do. Once again, on another plane, it has been far more influenced by the western culture than it has shaped it. However, I do not believe that Adventism is sophisticated enough (developed) to pursue this paradigm but I appreciate the author’s astute and learned approach to it.

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Would you like to take a sentence or two and edit them to your satisfaction? Better to light a candle …

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In Honolulu, we have recently opened a Center for the Study of Diet and Spirituality a research collaborative of people interested in the intersection of food and religion. We hope to have our first conference in about two years, attract some sponsors, and publish a book responding to questions such the ones raised by Dr Gutierrez.

Please LIKE our Facebook page and our site on academia.com
We are especially interested in questions such as

  1. What is the correlation between diet and mental health?
  2. How can we test claims that non-flesh diet promotes higher spirituality? ( Hindus, Buddhists and others including Ellen White also made such claims.) Is this true, and in what sense?

We are looking for collaborators from medicine, theology, history of religions, psychology, ethics, anthropology, dietary and nutritional sciences, etc who might contribute to our project.

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to be presenter oin our showcaseDera Graeme,

I tray to aim at politeness and maintaining it. But just today, after working on a sermon on Romans 8 , and the material to be presented in ouch xhurxhs showcase for December -my task this time - and a talk with other customers in one of our little shps and at last a telephone talk with a dear friedn about divorces, victims of abuse, broderliners in the Church - - I chaged the issue of my sermon and the material for our showcase :- justhypocrisy I had planned and now cannot :stand for.

I beg your pardon : And you study nutrition and its effects on this or that !

And I rememeber the accusation towards our senior home / nursinhg home not being according to our beliefs because they buy deep freeze ready to warm up masched potatoes. And the inhabitants, all of (high) age hear guest speakers on longevitzy when changing to vegan.diet.

I apologize for being emotionally upset today.

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It seems you had a difficult day, as we all do now and then. I would welcome any ideas you might have on my research topic. Blessings!