Even if I wasn't interested in the diaconate, I still want to get the weight under control. I've tried Atkins, with a little success, before piling all the weight back on; same thing with South Beach, at least twice. I've been moderately heavy when married, and morbidly obese now that I'm not. One thing that is perfectly clear is that all the radical diets out there - Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Sugar Busters, etc. - can work for you, but I don't believe they are long-term solutions unless you are extremely disciplined, which I am not. I've written before that the "secret" to weight loss, in my opinion, is to eat "real" food; basically, the less processed, the better. I'm not a lunatic like some of the extremists out there that want us to go back to eating only raw vegetables or something radical like that - I'm only saying that the best way to lose weight and eat healthy is to find foods that when you buy them, it's as close to being right from the farm as you can get.
This hasn't always worked for me, though, because my food addiction is strong; it reminds me of when I was trying to quit cigarettes over and over and over again - it's going to take many tries to get it right, and LOTS of grace! It's obvious I'm not strong enough to do this, but I know a guy who is! My Lord, Jesus Christ!
ALWAYS STRUGGLING WITH MY WEIGHT
The last time I lost weight prior to becoming diabetic, it was after I read a wonderful book called Cravings; it was written by a Catholic woman who had struggled with her weight (for her, the struggle was with bulimia) and her advice using the Saints and Scripture was very helpful. She also mentioned the Rule of St. Benedict several times, which reignited my desire to become an Oblate, and her suggestions also prompted me to buy several cookbooks put together by a Benedictine monk. Feeling much more spiritual about food, in the sense of seeing it as God's blessings and being truly thankful for everyone and everything involved in getting it to me - the Lord, land, the plants and animals, the rain, the farmers, the truckers, the supermarket, etc. - I thought a lot more about where my food came from and how much work went into getting it to me. My food waste went down dramatically, feeling the pain of the farmers and of the poor if I was forced to throw away food because it spoiled while I was busy eating junk food for dinner. My meals also got a little simpler, thanks in part to those Benedictine cookbooks, which naturally reduced the amount of meat required for recipes. Prompted by all of this, I started to buy more natural ingredients, including more organic products, and I started to make more items at home (I even attempted to make my own vegetable bouillon - it wasn't great). I lost about 25 pounds and felt great! And then I fell off the wagon, pigging out at some BBQs, and then all the junk food came back into my life and a couple years (and about 70 pounds later) I found myself in physical agony, diabetic, and wondering if I'd ever lose weight again.
What has always drawn me back and filled me with hope was my experience with the Benedictine cookbooks and the Cravings book. They lead to books on the spirituality of fasting in the Judeo-Christian faith traditions, and as I continue my journey as an Oblate candidate (and as a member of the Ordinariate), opportunities to fast arrive each and every week (my monastery fasts every Wednesday and Friday, which is an ancient Christian tradition, and the Ordinariate has additional opportunities to fast with the Ember and Rogation days). In my (usually failed) attempts to fast on those occasions, it still reminds me of the time when I felt so close to Creation and all the people and animals connected to my diet; I miss that.
I don't let it stop me from trying, though; every trip to the supermarket is another opportunity to transform my diet and change my life for the better. I have ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks. My weight at its height was around 345lbs. and now I've been hovering at 300 pounds (+/- 5 pounds) for a few months; most of that weight loss was from the beginning of my life as a diabetic, spending all day and all night peeing my brains out as my blood sugar raged out of control. Since being put on medication, all of that has stopped (including my weight loss); now it's up to me and what I choose to put into my body. I have a Fitbit and keep trying to talk myself into getting my 10,000 steps a day, but in four months I've only done that thrice. I've quit the gym to save $23/mo, based on my experience that at my healthiest weight and lifestyle, I wasn't a member of a gym, but had instead exercised around the house and at local parks (thinking I can always do it again, with God's help).
WHAT WAS THE POINT?
But what about the purpose of this blog entry? What does any of this have to do with eating organic or Catholic Social Teaching? Please let me develop the story a bit further before tying this all together. I have many critics who think my postings are too long, but if I were to post only the gist of everything, then people might wonder how I could have arrived at certain beliefs or decisions "from out of the blue", when in reality it wasn't out of the blue, but over a long period of discernment and prayer.
Years ago, my wife and I lived in an apartment that was on the edge of a 20-acre farm, which was nestled in an area of NJ with lots of open space, farms, horse stables, forest, and wildlife; it was an amazing area to live in. While I was there, I was unemployed for 13 months and over that time, I was given an itch by God that caused me a lot of stress and discernment; for years I was a big advocate for political solutions to problems, being very passionate about politics and even getting involved with a third party that I was convinced would save the country. However, I was always left with this gnawing hole in my stomach, where something just didn't feel right. I discovered the obvious fact that America's problem is spiritual, not political (our spiritual problem is twofold: half the country isn't religious and the other half is motivated by bad theology). But after coming upon the realization that the problem is spiritual, I dropped politics as my purpose in life, especially since I barely find myself having anything in common with the Republicans anymore; I find myself having more in common with the American Solidarity Party and the Democrats For Life of America than I do with the GOP, especially with Trump at the top.
These days, politics disgust me because I see it for what it truly is: dishonest and biased groupthink. Politics is our excuse to stay divided. As GK Chesterton said, "It is the mark of our whole modern history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this time that the Party System has been popular only in the sense that a football match is popular." That is why I now allow my religious beliefs to influence my voting and not the other way around; it is also why I am no longer a slave to the two-party system and encourage everyone to looked at write-ins and third parties if they are struggling to find a candidate. Don't believe the lie that you are wasting your vote - you only waste your vote when it is for the candidate you don't truly believe is the best choice.
After the realization that the two-party system was dead to me, I started to also have a bad taste in my mouth from unbridled capitalism, because I saw the relentless pursuit of wealth in the West today as unchristian and uncharitable. I didn't accept the Libertarian viewpoint of things, partly because so many atheists were attached to libertarianism (and they resisted any religious influence in political movements), and partly because I didn't agree with the "anything goes as long as it doesn't *hurt* anyone" mentality, especially morally speaking. I could sense that the typical solutions we were faced with - Democrat vs Republican, capitalism vs socialism/communism - were unfair limitations that we were being forced to believe in - there had to be something else out there that "felt right", that allowed us to live a life without overbearing control by the government, but also without the anarchy so many libertarians were calling for; a way of living that allowed us to still protect and help the most vulnerable among us without having to install a socialist, faceless bureaucracy that would enforce death panels, abortion, euthanasia, and sterilization as ways in which to run our healthcare and welfare system with the limited funds we have due to the rich hiding their money overseas and Americans no longer giving birth to new taxpayers.
Relentlessly I wrestled with these issues, fighting against the accepted norms, but having no alternative to hang my hat on; but then came Benedict XVI's trip to the UK and the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariates. All of a sudden, EWTN was awash in all thinks Anglican. I started to learn about GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and the "return to the land" movement, when Catholics were being encouraged to flee from the cities and back into the rural life. That made sense to me, since from the moment we moved out there, I was convinced that I wanted to get a house in the country and have livestock and grow fruit and veg. I then learned about a system of economics devised by Chesterton, Belloc, and others - a system called distributism - and all that I had struggled to create on my own as a Christian solution to our current economic problems, was in fact already suggested by the Church in her social doctrine and put into theory and practice in the writings on distributism. It was finding that eureka moment, that instant when the clouds parted and the sun shown on my face for the first time! My walls that I had built around Catholic social teaching - mistaking it for a Christianized version of communism - fell into rubble and the great wisdom of the Church's teaching regarding Christian economic and political principles entered my life, and I've never looked back.
DOING IT FOR ME, AND THE WORLD
This brings us to what I really would like to write about today, which is the subject of this blog posting: eating organic and its place in my diet, as well as its role in Catholic Social Teaching. Permit me to explain my thoughts through the prism of distributism, the Catholic Worker movement, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Church's teachings on the environment and proper care of Creation.
And that's what it boils down to: being responsible in your buying habits. We don't live in a vacuum. When we buy from the big stores, and when we buy the GMO fruit and veg soaked in pesticides, we are saying 'Yes' to that system. We are voting with our wallets that we support child slavery, that we support corporate farms over small, local farms. But money is tight - it's practically toilet paper these days and we have to stretch the dollar the best we can. Yes, you're right. But for me personally, the expense is part of the way in which I am trying to reduce my spending on food.
I know it's expensive to eat organic foods. It's ridiculous, actually, but that's what happens when your company isn't getting millions in corporate welfare because you're large enough to grease the palms of the local Congressman or Senator. For my situation, though, the high cost of eating organic (and shopping local and/or fair trade) is that, not only am I helping people earn a living wage, but I'm also cutting back on the amount of food I consume, thanks to the high cost of eating. When I can walk out of a store week after week with a shopping cart packed to the top with $200 worth of food, it's easy to take that for granted. However, when I walk out of a store with only a few shopping bags in each hand and it cost me nearly $200, then I have to stop and think about what I should or shouldn't buy; what do I want vs what do I need? When I'm shoveling a $2 bag of junk food into my mouth, it's easy to do that day after day and not think much of it. But when I came home with that $8 jar of organic peanut butter, I couldn't help but decide that I was going to use it sparingly and cherish each expensive bite.
So, I've decided to transition over to a 90% Organic lifestyle (I'd say 100%, but that's not realistic for me - I don't expect friends and family to offer me organic things to eat and drink, and when you're on vacation or at a pub, you can't expect to get all organic sustenance). I'm not going to rush things because if I do, things will get too expensive too quickly; I'm thinking that I'll reach 90% organic perhaps by this time next year, the very latest. Right now, I'd say that I'm at about 20% organic; as I buy new items for meals, I've been buying organic, but I still have a lot in the house that isn't organic and I'd like to finish that up first. But I've noticed that even when I buy junk food, I'm trying to make it organic and the result is that I make it last longer (since it's much more expensive than other food) and chances are that it has better ingredients and therefore I feel fuller longer.
I've often prayerfully contemplated the "theology" of food. Once I wrote that our dietary habits are like any other activities we have - they can be good activities, or sinful activities. I have often seen gorging on junk food or grossly overeating food from restaurants as the "mortal sin" of food (not speaking specifically about the mortal sin attached to gluttony). Every sin is an abuse or distortion of something good: food is good, but gluttony is bad. Alcohol is good, but drunkenness is bad. Sex is good, but fornication is bad. With eating, we can enjoy eating as God intended, if you will; he gave us the fruit of the earth and the animals of the field, air, and waters. We've been blessed with being able to create products from these gifts, such as bread, beer, cheese, and the various delicious recipes that have been created since human life began and developed.
However, now we have an abuse of food - not just overconsumption, but food filled with chemicals, preservatives, food stripped of its nutrients to protect shelf-life. Quite often, most of the shelves at the supermarket are not filled with food, but are filled with food-like products, not sold for its nutritional value, but for the pleasure we gain by its consumption. Sadly, this pleasure contributes to the various health problems we have today (high blood pressure, diabetes, morbid obesity, etc). Watch Food Inc. and be horrified that the food industry purposely uses chemicals that increases our hunger and which make us addicted to certain kinds of food. This is what I mean by some foods being the "mortal sin" of nutrition; whereas mortal sin cuts us off from God's grace, these kinds of food cut us off from the nutritional benefit from eating real food. When I eat real food (and products/recipes made with real food), in a way I feel closer to God, because I'm eating at a level of food that's closer to the farm, closer to his Creation. Oftentimes in Scripture, Heaven is described as a wedding feast or a banquet; the "promised land" was described as a land flowing with milk and honey, where no one will be hungry (the promised land of this world is an image, a symbol, for the true promised land, which is eternal life with God). This is why eating can very much be considered a spiritual moment, especially when sharing a meal with others (you see this emphasis on fellowship strongly with Middle Eastern and religious, rural cultures). In growing real food (or raising a humble amount of livestock) we are more conscious of the cycle of seasons, the rain, the soil, the cycle of life (along with the cycle of the liturgical year). Yes, there is definitely a "theology of food" that we normally don't pay attention to, but I have been trying for years to open my eyes up to what God is trying to tell me about it.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED
I've learned a lot about food quality over the last couple of years, especially because of what I've seen and read on Facebook. For one thing, there are a lot of strange opinions on Facebook! People who insist that humans aren't *supposed* to consume wheat or dairy, or that if you don't eat a vegan diet, you're going to die at any minute; or the only true and healthy human diet is to eat raw fruit and veg, or only meat products. There are others out there that insist that you don't need modern medicine, doctors, or dentists at all and all you need to do is use this ingredient or that supplement. All of that is hogwash. Use common sense. My opinion is that, for the most part, what God has given us - with proper use and portions - we should be able to use it today. When people insist that eating bread is unhealthy and that it makes us sick, I think to Christ giving us his Body to eat, using bread as the host, and the fact that Scripture records our Lord eating bread or giving bread to the people to eat - if Jesus Christ ate it, I should be able to eat it; the same with wine, fish, and anything else common to eat in Biblical times.
Obviously, I'm not a fundamentalist and Scripture isn't my only prism of seeing things, but you get my point. There's no doubt that eating a vegetable-based diet is a lot healthier, but many people agree that this is also based on the fact that our meat portions (along with the frequency with which we eat meat) is way out of proportion compared to earlier, poorer times in world history. I went to a Vietnamese restaurant once and ordered a dish that had three tiny skewers with tiny portions of thin, grilled pork on them, served on top of about 400 pounds of vegetables; that's the portion that is normal in other parts of the world, not the 1lbs bacon cheeseburgers or 40oz steaks that we can get here. Regardless, you can't argue with the fact that so many Religious Orders eat a vegetarian diet in their monasteries and convents (as a form of asceticism, as well as for cost and health reasons, eating meat or fish very rarely and usually on great liturgical feasts). I've also learned about the quality of ingredients thanks to the couple of times I've lost weight on South Beach, buying rice, grains, and breads with their natural bran and fiber still intact.
I've learned about GMO ingredients; for many people, these are safe and our apprehension of them is unjustified - for others, such as myself, I believe not enough research has been done on them and I cannot help but notice that since we started genetically-engineering so much of our food, we've never seen so many food allergies. I just can't ignore that there might be a connection. When eating organic foods, they are never genetically-modified; when you buy a product that has a Non-GMO stamp on it, even though it doesn't have GMOs in it, that doesn't mean the product is organic and it might still contain plenty of chemicals and other hazards.
I've always tried to get myself to eat fish three times a week, as recommended, and the Mediterranean-style diet, which often includes more fish and seafood than the Western way of eating, is sometimes used as proof that eating seafood often can be healthy for you. However, not only do we have to worry about mercury and even birth control hormones in our seafood, but we're also over-farming our oceans empty due to our ravenous appetite (oh, how many all-you-can-eat seafood fests I have been part of or have seen advertised). Seafood Watch is a wonderful tool that can be used (either online, as a printed list, or even as a smartphone app) and you use it in order to find out the types of seafood you should buy in order to let the over-farmed types of seafood to replenish their populations.
Fair Trade products are important, especially as a Catholic. I spend every day insisting that people should be able to earn a living wage, but then I go to the store and buy my $1.99 coffee or my $1.25 pound of chocolate; fair trade products mean that much more of the profit of selling an item goes to the producer, the person who did all the work. Fair Trade coffees, teas, chocolates, clothing, and other products allow us in the First World to spend a bit more on items so that the people in the Third World can earn a living wage and survive where they live. The internet makes it possible to find many fair trade products (and, in many cases, these products are also organic).
OUR CHOICES MATTER
And this is how all of this ties into Catholic Social Teaching. We're asked to live a Christian life, caring deeply for the plight of the destitute among us, and we can often make a big difference in the lives around us by how we spend our money - not just with charitable giving and tithing, but also with how we choose to live our lives. In buying local, we support the smaller farms (many of them truly family farms), instead of sending our money to the giant corporate farms that buy and sell politicians who make laws based on kickbacks instead of based on our health needs. When we buy fair trade items, we say 'no' to the many forms of slavery around the world that allows us to buy cheaper items, but at the expense of human dignity and freedom. When we buy organic, again we say 'no' to the factory farming that is ruining our health and contributing to the gluttony that is plaguing the West, especially the United States; we are also saying 'no' to the style of farming that poisons our drinking water and the waterways with chemicals and pesticides that seep into the water supply or runoff into the local waterways, poisoning people and sea life.Laudato Si', which I believe is his best document to date. It builds upon the legacy of St. John Paul II and "the Green Pope", Benedict XVI, in the proper care and consideration of the environment. The secular world saw it as the Catholic Church's endorsement of man-made climate change, but that's a warping of its true intent. Christians (at least Catholics) have always seen the universe as the work of God. The First Vatican Council stated that it is reasonable in our observation of the world around us to come to the conclusion that we have a Creator; for me, any exploration of the scientific world has only cemented my belief in God. Sadly, even Christians have forgotten over the centuries (especially since the Industrial Revolution) that Creation is here for us to share with future generations; the Eastern Christians have done a marvelous job reminding themselves of seeing Creation as an icon of God the Creator. It might have even been before becoming Catholic when I read a book about the proper stewardship of Creation written by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, "the Green Patriarch". Benedict XVI, the Green Pope, often wrote about the importance of protecting the environment from destruction, and he made the "greening" of the Vatican a priority of his pontificate; a Newsweek article from 2008 (Benedict XVI, the Green Pope) stated:
"It may be known for sending out iconic smoke signals when a new pope is elected, but the Vatican is actually the world's only sovereign state that can lay claim to being carbon-neutral. That means that all greenhouse gas emissions from the Holy See are offset through renewable energies and carbon credits. Last summer the city-state's ancient buildings were outfitted with solar panels intended to be a key source of electricity, and an eco-restoration firm donated enough trees in a Hungarian national park to nullify all carbon emitted from Vatican City, which takes up one-fifth of a square mile."
Pope Francis picked up the baton and wrote about our responsibility towards Creation, whose destruction always affects the poor the most. Worried about our over-consumption in the name of comfort and greed, he warns us how the Earth "now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life" (LS, 2).
This all ties in with how we live our lives. War destroys the environment, as does the way in which we see our natural resources as sources of wealth and power. Speaking for only myself, I can see that my voracious appetite contributes to all the things I hate about the current way in which we do things: over-consumption, low wages, poisonous ingredients, factory farming, destruction of the environment. When I run my air conditioner 24/7, or when I eat my weight in cheese fries, or when I buy things at the cheapest prices (ignoring the plight of the illegal immigrant picking my fruit or the woman or child forced to work in a sweatshop to make my clothes or electronics), I keep that system alive. I'm encouraging the advertising firms to keep inundating me night and day with ads. I'm keeping the pharmaceutical industry wealthy due to my need for diabetes medication (along with all the other health problems I'm going to have). I keep people enslaved in factories or on farms or in food plants, making slave wages so that I can keep more of my money to keep me fat and happy. I keep the big energy companies, and this nation, addicted to the fossil fuels that are ruining the environment and keeping us a slave to evil empires like Saudi Arabia and Russia. I keep factory farms in business, the same farms that get video taped horribly abusing livestock and killing them in the most horrific fashion imaginable.Subsidiarity and solidarity are integral parts of the Christian faith, so that means supporting local businesses and living a lifestyle that doesn't harm others; I've been ignoring both of these methods regarding how I've been living my life. In America, especially thanks to our version of Protestantism, there is a deeply ingrained characteristic of wanting to do things by ourselves, for ourselves, which is a contradiction of solidarity and subsidiarity; this is why any conversation about these issues ushers name-calling, that the faithful Catholic is a liberal or a communist; it's just a very foreign concept to most Americans since "rugged individualism" is something that we treat like a badge of honor - any way of life that condemns this Americanism is dubbed as unpatriotic, socialist, communist, liberal, etc. and is dismissed. However, for the Catholic, this is a way of life that Christ asks us to live consistently - a way of life that I've been failing at due to my food addiction, my pride, my stubbornness, and my laziness.
Speaking of laziness...one of the ways in which I am working on my appetite is through exercising; at this point, mainly walking. The American Heart Association suggests that we need at least 10,000 steps a day; on a typical work day, I only get anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 steps. On the days in which I get 10,000+ steps, I don't want to eat garbage - I feel as though my walk was a waste if I'm going to throw away that effort by consuming junk food or a large meal after all that effort.
By changing over to an organic and fair trade lifestyle, allowing myself to follow the principles of the Catechism regarding subsidiarity and solidarity, being loyal to the ways of distributism and the Catholic Worker Movement, and finally seeing my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:12-20), made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27) for the glorification of God, therefore treating my body with the dignity it deserves, presenting it as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) in part by abstaining from the passions of the flesh that wage war against my soul (1 Pet 2:11), I hope to finally open myself up to God's grace regarding my health and appetite. It's hard - impossible even - but with God all things are possible (Mat 19:26). At the end of the day, I'm just trying to live the adage that St. Augustine wrote about when he said, "Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever, and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow."