All posts by Edward Zheng

Edward graduated from Princeton in 2013 with a degree in Economics and a certificate in Finance. Because he is in the "real world" now and making posts on the GW blog, his trademark "I'm just a guy looking for God, waiting for a girl, trying to get good grades" description is getting an overhaul. Edward is currently working at an awesome economic consulting firm called Cornerstone Research. He was also blessed with the amazing opportunity of externing at a Michelin star restaurant. During his free time, he loves cooking (as you might guess) and talking to his alter-ego, Bedward.

Being a Good Husband (Yea, you know you want to click)

So yea, the title was a bit misleading. I know all of you were really hoping that I secretly got married and was going to spill some sagacious advice on marriage, but unfortunately, that is not the case … I’m hoping to shed a little light on animal husbandry, something that I’ve started thinking about more and more ever since my love for cooking really blew up. While we traditionally think of cooking as all the actions that happen after you’ve obtained your meat/vegetable/other food product, such a mindset is incomplete (I’ve definitely had this mindset for the majority of my life). The restaurant industry is quite ahead in this area; there’s a strong understanding that food which is treated with respect in both the pre- and actual-cooking process, it just plain tastes better. Many restaurants build strong relationships with local farms and chefs are actually out there to see and understand how the animals/plants are raised with care. Unfortunately, when it comes to the average home cook, we can’t always do this, and the animal husbandry industry can take advantage of this through factory farming/industrial agriculture that produces cruel conditions to the animals.

“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10)

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26)

Avoiding and preventing animal cruelty seems like a pretty normal Christian thing to support. I mean … even without the verses above or considering the Genesis dominion verse (Genesis 1: 26) and what dominion means, it seems like the “right” thing to do. Preventing the unnecessary suffering of a living being just seems like something that most people can get on board with. So given this pretty reasonable stance and, on top of that, a clear call from God to take care of the animals on this earth, is there anything we can do? I mean after all, most of us aren’t in the animal husbandry industry. Surprise surprise, my answer to the question is “yes!” But I’m not going to go into that for this post. It will probably come up when I do a post on some of the intersections of food and economics. For this post, I want to just share some reflections on a particular case of (potential) animal cruelty.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Corinthians 6:12-13a)

A few weeks ago, the ban on foie gras in California was lifted. For those who don’t know, foie gras is the liver of a duck or goose.[1] While I’ve never had it (I did get to touch it once when I was externing at the restaurant), foie gras is, to many, the Holy Grail of fine cuisine. Perhaps the best analogy to think about is that bacon could be considered the “layman’s foie gras?” It’s rich, fatty, buttery taste/texture goes deliciously with just about anything. Anyways, such a description probably doesn’t even do it justice.

So if such a food is so delicious, why would there be a ban on it? A quick search will yield countless results. The main controversy behind foie gras is that its production relies on the force-feeding of the goose until its liver has become severely bloated. What this process, also known as “gavage,” looks like in practice is as follows, several times each day the geese are gathered and a long metal or plastic tube is shoved down each goose’s neck and then food is pumped straight into the goose’s liver. Watching this process can certainly be discomforting, and on top of the discomfort the geese must feel during the force-feeding process, there are other bodily discomforts that they also face because they are artificially bloated.

Many aviary experts, however, argue that gavage actually doesn’t produce additional harm to the geese for two reasons. 1) Geese have a different type of neck/esophagus that was naturally built to handle swallowing large objects whole, and 2) fowl naturally store a lot of fat and being fed such large quantities of food doesn’t cause extreme discomfort. While I’ve never been to a foie gras farm, based on some of the videos I’ve seen and accounts I’ve read, at least at the better foie gras farms, it doesn’t seem like the geese are harmed in any way worse than what you would traditionally see on farms for other animals.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1: 27)

Conventional wisdom says that this force-feeding is necessary for foie gras production because otherwise, farmed geese would not have such an enlarged liver that was as fatty and buttery and delectable. But is such force-feeding really necessary? I was recently introduced to a “this American Life” segment on natural foie gras that was being raised in Spain by a man named Eduardo Sousa. The segment can be found here and a similar Ted Talk here, both with chef Dan Barber explaining his experience going to this farm and what he saw. (I do highly recommend listening to either of these whenever you have some down time or on your next commute to work. It’s just a very fascinating story.)

At this farm, which Eduardo believe is the only completely natural foie gras farm in the world, Eduardo’s philosophy is to let his geese live as naturally as possible, to the point that are even free to just leave. The fences are built in a way such that there is only an electrical current on the outside, so as to protect the geese from predators. There is absolutely no force-feeding; the food is simply all available naturally throughout the hundreds of acres of farm space. When asked how the geese can have such large livers Eduardo explains that geese have a natural inclination to find abundance of food and generate reserves of fat. Normal domesticated geese sense that they are in their master’s control and will not freely eat. By creating an environment that is so free and abundant with food, Eduardo’s geese will fulfill their natural desires to gorge on the food. Additionally (and I am shocked by this), when wild geese fly south, Eduardo’s geese will call these wild geese to come down and enjoy the abundance of food on the farm. These wild geese willingly come onto the farm, mate with the domesticated geese, and even stay!

Naturally, such an unorthodox way of raising foie gras does incur a cost. Just to name a few of these: the land-to-geese ratio is much higher than the average geese farm, meaning higher costs for fewer geese; the geese are free to leave if they choose to do so; even when the geese gorge on the available food, their livers still won’t reach the largest sizes that force-feeding can produce.

“Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)

Every time I think about the topic of foie gras, I feel extremely conflicted. I can get on board with the arguments that aviary experts make about gavage not being cruel, so long as the other farming conditions are acceptable. And yet, the act of force-feeding is just not natural and must be inferior to an option that allows the geese to naturally grow and experience life. Additionally, this action is for a food that’s considered a luxury, not an everyday food. … I really don’t know when it comes to this specific topic. It seems … passable, but nowhere near optimal …

What’s fascinating as I hear about Eduardo’s natural foie gras, though, is just how much there is an understanding that everything he produces comes from God. Two things comes to mind, first, in response to the fact that Eduardo loses out on foie gras production by giving the geese so much freedom and such great living conditions, Eduardo states that he views this as “God’s tax.” Second, when asked about giving his foie gras to the chefs of the Spain, Eduardo says that chefs don’t deserve his foie gras (which btw, was described by chef Dan as so amazing/transformative that he would say it was like eating Eduardo’s foie gras was the first “real foie gras” he ever had). When chefs use foie gras for a dish, it’s about them, rather Eduardo wants to present his foie gras as an expression of nature and as God’s gift and reward for doing good work.

As I think about these points, it makes me think that the way I consider the question of animal cruelty in animal husbandry needs to profoundly change. The conversation should not simply be about minimizing animal suffering while maximizing food product to be sold, but should be a positive one that asks how farmers can best raise their animals such that the produced food product glorifies God. Such an understanding of what it means to raise animals for food (and vegetables) seems so distant from the vast majority of what is done today with the industrial agriculture and factory farming. In some ways, it’s almost unimaginable what it would look like for this aspect of food to change such that it is no longer about producing the particular type and quantity of food we want to eat, but about producing food in the way God would see fit. But, Eduardo’s farm gives me a glimpse of what it means to glorify God when working with food, and I hope and pray that God will also give me more glimpses in the future.

[1] From now on, to cut down on words, I will just refer to geese.

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Forgoing our daily bread

“As the deer panteth for the water

So my soul longeth after thee

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship thee”

– As the Deer (first two lines from Psalm 42:1)

Last night, I cooked myself a pretty homely meal: a lettuce and chicken noodle soup. While it tasted fine and certainly filled me up, upon reflection, I can immediately come up with at least five things I did wrong while I was cooking it. 1) Stove was too hot when I put the lettuce in. 2) Didn’t chop the lettuce into even pieces. 3) Didn’t sear the chicken first to create more flavor. 4) Boiled the chicken way a tad too long. 5) Let the noodles get stuck together. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Now, I won’t bore you with the 20+ more things I should’ve done differently, but it suffices to say that I wasn’t really treating my final food product with love and care. I would not have cooked in such a haphazard way if I were serving a friend or trying to impress a girl. And I certainly would have been more careful if I were cooking for God (more on cooking for God in a literal sense in a future blog post). So why did I lower my cooking standards? Well, because I was hungry … really hungry.

Is it really that bad that I “lowered my cooking standards” so that I could create my meal faster and eat it? Perhaps it’s not “bad” per se, but it is an indication that when I’m hungry, I’ll make compromises. I’ve certainly seen many people and been one of those people who will put other priorities aside when feeling very hungry. When particularly hungry in a group setting, I’ll sometimes completely zone out my friends’ conversations and just scarf down my food. During times when I want to commit to eating healthy, if I’m starving and can’t find a healthy place to eat, I may just resort to fast food. I’ve also seen many many instances in church settings where people shamelessly rush through saying grace whether it’s out of self-hunger or feeling the pressure of other people’s hunger. And certainly, I know that we all have those female friends who go completely “om nom nom nomz” when hungry and end up receiving the sarcastic “wow, you’re so lady-like when you eat” comments (just to clarify, I’m not trying to be mean, in fact, I think it’s endearing for a lady to break those social norms of “being lady-like” when eating).

These sorts of compromises are pretty representative of the gravity of the consequences we face when most of us allow our hunger to dictate what we want; these consequences simply range from being mildly rude to pretty amusing. And I suppose that makes perfect sense. Very few of us have truly experienced hunger in a despairing and life-threatening way. A hunger that’s so painful it consumes your every thought no matter how hard you try to focus on something else. A hunger that would lead you to forgo all dignity and beg on the streets. A hunger that would push your moral boundaries such that you steal or harm others for food.

I believe that there are two keys to truly appreciating the hunger (and thirst) metaphors in regards to how we should desire God: 1) to remember that the physical hunger we experience for food points us to our ultimate hunger for God

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 3:8)

and 2) to actually experience and appreciate the sensation of deep physical hunger through intentional, God-centered fasting. There are multiple reasons to fast, but the one I want to focus on for now is just the most straightforward one: fasting restricts our physical nourishment and causes us to desire it more. When we experience the pain and weakness of not having our physical sustenance, it gives us a glimpse of the pain and weakness of not having our spiritual sustenance. When we feel the overwhelming desire to consume food to restore us, it gives us a glimpse of just how overwhelming our desire to consume God’s Word should be.

If our hunger for earthly nourishment can drive us to make the “compromises” I listed above, should not our hunger for God, the ultimate nourishment, cause us to set aside all other priorities that we have? In light of that, I have two more thoughts on fasting:

  1. While fasting is often associated (at least in my mind) with times of either deep sorrow or need for reorientation to God, I believe the practice of fasting is just as, if not more important, during the good seasons. So often, we are reminded of our deep spiritual need when things are rough, when tragedy strikes, when we really feel like we can’t make it without God. Fasting reminds us of our weakness and how we ought to hunger after God.
  2. While there are various types of fasts in regards to time and what foods to actually abstain from, and it’s really between you and God to know what is right at different times, I strongly suggest considering a fast that will physically challenge you. I am certainly not saying this in the sense of trying to “prove your Christianity” through “more sacrifice.” Rather, as mentioned above, experiencing the physical weakness and deep desire for food serves to give deeper appreciation of our need for spiritual food and teaches how we deeply we should desire spiritual food.

I feel there is so much more to say on the topic of fasting, but this is where I’m leaving it for now. Perhaps in the future I’ll examine other aspects such as learning self-control through fasting, some simple suggestions for how to fast, and more.

Drinking to Remember

Feel free to imagine the following dialogue with some super bro-ey voices. (not that I have anything against bros, haha)

“Yo, what’s up.”

“Not much, bro, *snort.”

“Where’d you end up last night? I didn’t see you after 2.”

“Heh, *snort. Have no idea man.”

“*snort. Niiiiice man. All in all a pretty good night then, huh?”

“*snort. Yeah. Back to real life now.”

Now, I’ll admit, perhaps my bro-speak isn’t quite up to snuff. Word choice, syntax, etc. might be a bit off. Now, obviously, not every conversation between two “bros” is like this. Nor are bros the only types of people who have this type of conversation. Heck, even I will occasionally play the part of the first character (altho, obviously, not in bro-speak language). And I’ll even admit, my partaking in such conversation is not solely out of a desire to fit in or make small talk. While there is a part of me that is instantly repulsed and shocked at the idea that it is fun to drink to the point of being blacking out/extremely drunk (I mean, what’s the point of “having fun” if you’re not even consciously there to enjoy it?), there is another part of me that does think there is something fun and worthwhile to just completely letting go. And it makes those around you happy, too, right? And those around you have fun memories of you? So … before I get completely kicked off of being a writer on this blog, I will say with much conviction that I believe that drinking to the point of drunkenness and/or beyond is a sin. There are several Bible verses which speak to this:

Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)

Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)

This being said, what is the purpose of drinking? And just what exactly are you (Ed) trying to do in this blog post? That is a great question! I have no idea. Hmmmm, what to say. Perhaps the way to go is just to list out some very quick hits (some interesting, some pretty standard) on the thoughts that are currently running through my head when it comes to alcohol. Hopefully at least some of them will be in line with the Bible, haha. Feel free to comment/question/challenge. This is most definitely a work in progress, and I might try to spend some more time writing on one or a few of these.

Getting drunk is a sin.

I’ve already gone over this, but perhaps some implications to this. If we are to view getting drunk as a sin, is it then okay to laugh at stories of people getting hammered/wasted and the stupid things they do afterwards? And what about pushing drinks on to friends? I feel like I do these two things almost by instinct/reflex nowadays, but maybe I shouldn’t be.

Drinking alcohol (in isolation) is not a sin.

Yes, a lot of things in isolation are not sins, haha. Take money as the classic example. But back on topic, I have met people who believe or have believed that drinking alcohol is a sin. The Bible definitely has good things to say about drinking.

“And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

And think about the wedding scene where Jesus miraculously turns the water into wine in John Chapter 2.

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:10)

So what about the previous statement? Many things are not a sin in isolation.

There are most certainly ways that drinking, even in moderation, can be a sin. One of them is highlighted by this verse:

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” (Romans 14:21)

When our drinking becomes a stumbling block/temptation for those around us (to get drunk, to drink underage, or other things), that is certainly a time when we are in the wrong. For me, there’s another potential sin that’s been coming up lately. One of the main reasons I drink is to loosen up. I definitely think of myself as a more fun person when I drink, and I find myself much more capable of connecting with outgoing people. This thought process, though, leads down a very dangerous path. I find that sometimes I wonder if it’d be better if I perpetually had a little bit of alcohol in my system to make myself more fun. This of course, goes down the path of idolizing what alcohol does for me and a particular type of person I want to be.

Getting drunk (in a good way)

One of the things I’ve been thinking about (maybe a bit too much) is the idea of being drunk on the Holy Spirit. Now, this line of thought definitely has the potential to go awry but why not try writing on this a little and seeing where it goes. One way of viewing someone who is drunk is that the person is in his/her most free and uninhibited. If a person were drunk on the Holy Spirit, would that mean that a person is so influenced by the Holy Spirit such that even in his/her most uninhibited state, he/she did the right things. Another view on this subject is to think about the buzz you normally get from having drinks in moderation. How amazing would it be to get that buzz/joy from just enjoying the Spirit’s presence in your life. (After all, isn’t that one of the reasons why another word for alcohol is spirits?) Now lastly, and I mention this lastly rather than starting it as a caveat because this is probably most important part of this section. Nowhere, does the Bible actually state anything about being drunk on the Holy Spirit. The verse that often people are actually thinking of is:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18).

There’s actually a contrast here that’s being set up between being drunk compared to what it’s like to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Additionally, there are many verses which stress the importance of being sober:

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

So yea, as much as I enjoy thinking about the idea of being drunk on the Holy Spirit (perhaps that’s the Myers-Briggs F in me coming out) it’s a line of thought to approach very cautiously. I definitely want to spend some more time thinking and writing on this.

Conclusions

Hmmm, there really isn’t a conclusion to this post, haha. I’ve really only started drinking regularly post-college and am still trying to figure this out. Some other thoughts I want to write about, but just haven’t spend enough time thinking about include: 1. There is a limited window of time to grow in faith when it comes your own approach to drinking 2. Drinking (both in excess and underage) is something that many Christian communities don’t address well, or at least I’ll say I’m not good at addressing them when it comes up with friends. 3. Drinking during communion is our way of remembering Jesus’ new covenant for us, shed by his blood

Give us this day, our daily bread

Fusion

This post is going to be a bit of a strange one, melding the topic of food with work. A fusion of sorts if you will, although … to be honest, I’m usually not a fan of the whole fusion thing when it comes to food. It … it’s okay usually, the food tastes interesting and is sometimes good, but many times, the fusion of cuisines is pretty much forced. Hmmmm, well, if I’m honest, I haven’t really eaten much fusion, so perhaps I’ll reserve judgment on that topic for another topic.

Anyways, back on topic, I’ve yet to really write about my “real work” and how the Gospel speaks into that. Instead I’ve just been focusing on the topic of food, something I dream of doing for work someday. I work in economic consulting; briefly speaking, that means my firm generally will provide economic analysis/support to legal matters. At some point, I’d love to write more about my job and how I think the Gospel speaks into the industry as a whole, and how it speaks into my work as an individual in the firm.

Sabbath

For now, I want to take on the topic of Sabbath, or at least finding rest. When I first started work, I wondered if what taking a Sabbath would look like, given that I would have the weekends off. In college, it can often be very difficult to take a Sabbath because those weekends are actually the days where you can finally catch up with all the homework/studying you didn’t get to do during the week. But now, with the whole separation of work time and play time, things looked to be much easier! A lot of the topics/points that people will mention are that taking a Sabbath is not merely just “not doing work.” That’s certainly true, and that’s a mindset that I held going into the job. Little did I know, I would end up working my first real weekend, both days, haha. Throughout my first year (it’s actually been exactly one year to this day!), I’ve had to work a lot more weekends than I initially expected. I’ve greatly enjoyed my job so far, but it’s certainly made taking a Sabbath a lot more difficult. So what does it mean to take a Sabbath for someone who has occasionally has to work the weekend? (and what about those bankers who pretty much always have to work the weekend?)

There’s much to say about the topic of Sabbath and its purpose, but for now, I’ll just start with this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Obviously, there’s much to say about this clause of the Lord’s Prayer as well, but for me lately, this verse has been coming to me as a reminder to rest in God’s provision.

The cliché-ish part

One of the biggest barriers for me when it comes to taking a Sabbath is the concern of getting finished the work I am supposed to complete. In college, I often found this concern to be less impactful, given that my work only really affected me. It was a lot easier to trust that God would help me with a problem set or study for a test or write a thesis because at worst, only I would suffer. But in a corporate setting, where people depend on me to get things done, I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy trust in God’s provision. Can I really finish this exhibit in time for the deadline? Am I prepared enough for tomorrow morning’s meeting in front of my manager? Will my code for creating this dataset run fast enough, so that I can pass it on to my coworker? I often find myself asking these questions as the night approaches on weekdays or when considering whether or not I should go into the office on the weekend.

As I’ve gone through seasons of work that involve many late nights and weekends in the office, it’s amazing to see how much God has provided, in many regards. Whether it’s strength to work late nights, focus to provide quality work even when tired, insight into the problems we are solving, and more, God has truly given. And yet, even during weeks when I don’t have to work late nights or the weekends, I’ll constantly worry about needing to put in extra hours to get more work done, forgetting all about God’s provision in my time of need.

“Give us this day, our daily bread” is a request with very powerful implications. When we say this prayer, we are asking God to provide food for us, each and every day. If I think about it, my ability to eat food comes from the money I make at my work. By extension, my prayer for God to provide my bread, is actually a prayer to provide in my work. Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, my ability to complete work is not something in my own hands. I can put hours and hours into a project, yet ultimately the success of that endeavor is in God’s hands. Quite the sobering thought. Yet also a very reassuring one as well. When God calls me to work, I should do so faithfully, knowing that God will see to it that my work is fruitful. When God calls me to rest, must I not rest? He is the provider, and as hard as I strive on my own power, it will not bear fruit.

So what about that Sabbath question you asked?

So what does taking the Sabbath mean for people who have to work the weekends and may not be able to take the whole day off? I haven’t quite figured this out yet at a practical level. But I do know, there are many reasons for us to take the Sabbath, and one of them is that it’s God reminder that our work is not what provides for us, it’s him. Even if there are weeks when I can’t take a full day off, I hope that I will remember that my work is only fruitful because God is providing my daily bread. Remembering this gives me the confidence to take real breaks while I’m working (I’m not talking about going on Facebook while working, which isn’t really a break), to block out my Sunday morning to go to church, to leave the office at a reasonable time even if there is a lot of work for the next day, and to not think or stress about work when I’m go home or am out with friends. While none of these are what we traditionally consider a “Sabbath,” I think it’s a right start towards finding true Sabbath rest at a demanding job.

It’s not cheating if …

“I’m letting myself go … but it’s just for today!” This is a very common phrase I hear when I go out to eat. Heck, it’s a phrase I often use, myself, whenever I go to a fancy restaurant or just happen to be eating something extremely delicious with a bunch of friends. This phrase becomes even more common when it involves someone who is on a diet and decides to give him/herself a day off the diet in order to indulge in whatever decadent food is there. This idea of having a “cheat day” or “cheat meal” is quite common in a lot of material about dieting; it understands how hard it is for people to stay disciplined to a limited number of calories for an extended period of time.

Cheat days

I find the idea of the cheat day quite fascinating because at the heart of it, the cheat day recognizes just how much we are prone to give into temptation. On one hand, this term has been coined with the word “cheat,” meaning that allowing oneself a day to indulge every week is cheating and that constantly sticking to a low calorie diet all the time would be even better if done without cheating. On the other hand, the whole point of the cheat day is to say that it’s okay to have a day to eat more decadently without feeling guilty because otherwise, one might be tempted to quit the diet, or worse, go on a complete binge of decadent food.

Basically, cheat days are a “bend but don’t break” approach, somewhat similar to approaches that are often suggested for other tasks that require discipline such as taking planned breaks while working or having designated off-days when working out. What’s different in these two cases, however, is that the break from the activity actually has additional benefits. A break from can help refresh your mind and give new perspective when returning to the work, and days off from working out gives your body time to rebuild muscle. Based on my understanding and research (basically some Googling) of cheat days, the only “benefit” is reduced temptation to stop dieting/go on a binge eating rampage. But is this really how we should approach the occasional indulgence of food? “It’s okay to let go every once in a while because it’s better than really letting go and completely giving up on a diet.”

Why all this fuss about “cheat days?”

Recently, there were two blog posts written on opposite ends of the same topic, unhealthy approaches to eating. On one hand, there is over-eating, gluttonous eating, and on the other hand, there is under-eating, which is often associated with having an eating disorder. (As a side note, I recognize that I’m oversimplifying things quite a bit. Over-eating and under-eating do sometimes go hand-in-hand, and eating disorders are extremely complicated. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time in this post to delve into details nor am I really one to speak much on this.) As discussed in both blog posts, neither of these is simply to be identified simply by looking at a person’s weight. While weight can be an indication of habitual over-eating or under-eating, these unhealthy approaches to eating are often linked to other issues of the heart, such as body image or escaping stress just to name a few.

What I dislike about the current way that our culture approaches “cheat days” is that it feeds into many of the issues of the heart that come with gluttonous eating and eating disorders. “It’s okay to indulge once a week because you’ve dieted so well the other six days that you’ll still be net minus 200 calories for the week and on your way to a better body.” “It’s okay to eat something fatty today; you deserve something tasty after all those nasty kale/quinoa/beet/insert other healthy veggie juice drinks.” (For the record, I have nothing against kale/quinoa/beet/other healthy veggies or juice drinks) Cheat days don’t even begin to address the heart related issues that come with unhealthy eating; rather they exist only in the framework that has already bought into the idea that the heart related issues will be solved through eating or not eating. More explicitly, the cheat days mentality has already accepted that a person who is struggling with under-eating because of a body image issue will only be happy once that body image goal is met. Similarly, the cheat days has ceded that a person who is struggling with binge eating because of stress he/she will only feel better by over-eating. The next step in both cases is just to try to control the eating amount. Only the symptom is addressed, not the root.

There are a few natural follow-up concerns with only addressing the symptom of excessive over-eating or under-eating. How much can I go over my normal amount on a cheat day? If I can just grit it out and not cheat at all, wouldn’t that be better? What happens if the symptom is fixed, but the underlying issue persists, won’t it all just collapse?

This makes sense, but why are you trying to ruin a good thing? Lots of people do this and are losing weight and getting healthier. Just let people eat how they want to eat.

For the record, I don’t find anything wrong with the simple practice of having certain meals where one would eat more or more decadently than he or she usually does. This does have the practical effect of encouraging people not to binge eat or give up on trying to eat healthy, which is good as well. My main point is that cheat days, as we’ve constructed them, undersell the beauty of food and what food means to us as humans. Instead of appreciating what God has given us in food, we view it merely as a means to please ourselves and get what we desire. Food is meant to be enjoyed as a gift from God and a reminder of our dependence to God. What the cheat days mentality does is place ourselves above food, giving us the power to eat or not eat it as a means to control our body image, stress, and more.

Okay, so you don’t like this construct, but you like the practice. What do you propose instead?

In a Gospel Coalition blog post title “Toward a Theology of Dessert,” (http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/toward-a-theology-of-dessert/) the author proposes that we consider “dessert as feasting.” She introduces an interesting biblical framework for understanding how we eat; there are three primary modes of eating: feasting, fasting, and ordinary. While I’d love to go into more depth about this, for now, let’s just focus on feasting. In the Bible, we see God calling us to feast as a way of celebrating His goodness and provision for us. For example, Leviticus 23 lists out the seven feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) in which the Israelites are to partake. In Revelations, we are told that in the new Jerusalem, we will partake in the “feast of the Lamb.” In the story of the prodigal son, when the son returns, the father kills a fattened lamb to eat and throws a party for his son’s return. In these examples, and more, we see food as a celebration of God and what he has given us.

With this in mind, I believe a more appropriate perspective on cheat days is to consider feasting as the times when we can “let go.” I don’t have a particular definition in mind for what constitutes a feast in our context, but this could include times of eating with friends, celebrating a birthday, housewarming parties, and more. Rather than viewing times we indulge as a cheating from the norm and something simply to be done to prevent further backsliding, feasting tells us that these are normal and celebratory occurrences. After all, it’s not cheating if God wants us feast.

Final Remarks

I feel there’s quite a bit more to say about understanding God’s desire for us to have times of feasting, but perhaps that will come in another post. Having a mindset of feasting retains the positive practical aspects of cheat days, while also providing a better understanding of food’s purposes and limits. I’m not going to pretend that this change in mindset will somehow solve the many of the heart issues that lie beneath unhealthy eating approaches. Those heart issues, ultimately, are not things that will be solved by food, period. What feasting does do, as a mindset, is recognize that ultimately all things point to God, and hopefully in this tiny way, will remind us that the heart issues are ultimately resolved in finding God.

Just one more bite

I just finished downing about $75 worth of bbq with some co-workers and am super stuffed (this is yesterday night). It makes me wonder if I’m being a hypocrite on the following topic, but I suppose this’ll serve nicely as a concrete example to consider.

Gluttony

A few months ago, an interesting article blog post was made called: “Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony.” In this post, the author makes the point that and explores why Christians seem to be fixated on homosexuality as a sin that needs to be addressed when there are other sins, such as gluttony, that are just as, if not more, prevalent throughout American society. Now, before I get any further, I want to make clear that I’m not going to be delving into the topic of homosexuality, nor am I really going to delve into her blog post (which can be found here: Link). The main reason I bring it up, though, is because I do agree that gluttony is a sin (out of many) on which we generally don’t focus.

Goal

I hope to eventually flesh out a few different facets of gluttony, including food-related temptations that one might not necessarily put under the umbrella of “gluttony” but are nonetheless related. Eventually, I do hope to begin examining why gluttony is an oft overlooked sin and discuss a bit about the consequences of gluttony. For now, I’ll start with a first pass at a definition and a quick application that many of us can relate to, even if we do not profess to find gluttony a struggle.

So what do you mean by gluttony? And what does the Bible say about gluttony?

So before I go any further, what do I mean by gluttony? Wikipedia calls gluttony “over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste,” which I think works okay as a first definition. The Bible is quite clear that gluttony is a sin, for example Proverbs 25:16 states: “If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit.” Another example is found in Philippians 3:18-19: “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Before I move on, I would like to add that I believe an appropriate approach to gluttony should not be overly focused simply on the large quantity of consumption. Usually, we tend to think of gluttony simply to be eating a lot/past the point when we are full. This certainly is gluttony, but I believe a fuller understanding must incorporate this idea that “their god is their stomach.” Hopefully I can refine this definition in future posts, but we’ll leave this as is for now.

So why should I care about gluttony?

Wow, what a stupid question. Gluttony is a sin, so of course you should care, duh … (sarcastic tone, in case you couldn’t tell) But just some more food for thought, we live in a country where it is often stereotyped that people are more overweight and more unhealthy than any other country (this is temporarily putting aside the fact that there is actual data supporting this: Link). Of course, I do want to note that weight is a product of many factors such as genetics, exercise, disease, and more, and food consumption is only one of them. That being said, it cannot be ignored that over-consumption of food is a major player in the obesity and unhealthiness that is prevalent in America.

And as another food for thought, while many of us (meaning most people I know) may not struggle with gluttony in the traditional sense of constant over-eating, we unfortunately do exhibit behavior that is often quite gluttonous. And as I as before, gluttony is a sin, so we should care about it.

Okay, so gluttony is bad, that makes sense. But I’m skinny or I don’t eat a lot or (sadly) I actually have a problem with under-eating; that must mean gluttony isn’t an issue for me, right?

This is where I’m supposed to drop that cliché of answer “Yes! It is an issue for everyone!” But no, not going to do that. Instead, I think I’d rather approach the question of why I believe gluttonous behavior comes to many of us in avoidable doses. At the root (or one of the roots) of gluttony is a desire to please the body. As with most desires, pleasing the body is not inherently bad, but it can often lead to scenarios where we look to food in an unhealthy way that threatens to replace God. Whether it’s the eating ice cream after a hard day, mindlessly chomping away at snacks while we’re doing nothing, pulling out a dessert after an extremely healthy meal, or other common rituals with food, we can begin to subtly fool ourselves into believe that we can always satisfy ourselves with food. “When I eat ice cream, it will make me feel good and I will forget my troubles.” “As I keep munching on these snacks, I am making myself happy which is better than me doing nothing at all and being bored.” “I deserve pleasure from this dessert because I did didn’t get pleasure from my super healthy meal.”  When we commit those acts, especially on a repeated basis, these are the things we are saying with our body. We are allowing our stomach (pleasure) to be our god.

So what do I think of the bold question above? Maybe you’re slightly overweight, but it’s not really because you turn to eating to constantly please yourself. Or maybe you’re super fit and healthy, but go on binges of chocolate whenever you’re stressed. Or maybe you’re super fit and healthy and just have a healthy love of food. It’s not really my place to judge whether or not gluttony is an issue for you personally. But, it’s important that we not fall into the trap of using simple appearances to evaluate ourselves regarding gluttony.

So was I being gluttonous yesterday?

So given all I’ve said, was my huge consumption of bbq yesterday an act of gluttony? I hope that at the very least I’ve somewhat made you think that this type of question is one worth asking yourself occasionally. And additionally, I hope you’ll occasionally think about the habits you have with food and whether or not they exhibit gluttonous behavior.

So about that question, I sincerely don’t believe that I was eating so much simply to give pleasure to myself. I certainly wasn’t eating to escape sadness, or because I was bored, or because I thought I deserved to feel pleasure after a healthy lunch (although, side note, I did have a spinach salad that was way too healthy). These subtle things probably weren’t in play, but what about the more traditional definition of gluttony? Was I over-indulging/over-consuming? And where’s the line where a lot becomes “over.” Some questions perhaps to tackle in my next post!

Let them eat me

About 250 years ago during the French Revolution, Marie Antenoitte famously said (or more accurately famously did not say), “let them eat cake.” Okay … well actually, to be even more accurate, she famously did not say, “qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” which means “let them eat brioche.” Brioche, which is highly enriched bread with egg and butter and is so delightfully delicious that it borders on sinful (… okay, I exaggerate), sounds really good right about now … but let’s get back on point. It was something completely out of question given that bread wasn’t even available. Such an utterance was an example of just how out of touch the aristocracy was during that time.

Sometimes, when I think about the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (John 6), I like to imagine that Jesus uttered something along the lines of “let them eat bread” which would have elicited similar bursts of outrage. It’s pretty cool, though, that Jesus is able to provide bread for these five thousand. (In that sense, Jesus is a “greater Marie Antoinette,” though I guess that’s not really saying much, haha). Now, this passage is one that has many, many sermons on it, so I’m not going to try to expound and hit every beautiful connection that could be made. I will make note that one of the most important points to read into is Jesus’s later statement. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) It is this statement on which I believe a strong understanding of how the Gospel applies to food lies and to which I hope many of my posts will return.

So, what does it mean that Jesus is the bread of life? And how can it be that we will never go hungry or thirsty? And if Jesus is the bread of life, perhaps really what Jesus was saying was not “let them eat bread,” but rather, “let them eat me!” (Oh! What a deep and insightful thought! haha …) But anyways, I think this is a great place to just stop, haha. Now you guys are hooked! I had some more written here, but given my busy schedule, I don’t feel I’ve quite flushed things out nor written in a manner which is organized and cohesive. There’s just so much here, and I suppose part of me wants to write this perfect, all-encompassing piece even though that’s quite unreasonable. Perhaps I shall expound on this passage later.

So hi, my name is Edward Cullen…ary … haha. It’s actually Edward Zheng. I graduated from Princeton University as an Economics major in 2013 with a certificate in Finance. I’m currently working in economic consulting at an absolutely awesome place called Cornerstone Research (which … “cornerstone” is interestingly quite a Christian term). As you might be able to tell from my post so far, I’m a bit of a goofy person when online. So why is my blog post about food? I absolutely love eating and cooking: something which I’m sure is true for quite a few other people. So, definitely do post on this topic or respond to my posts! Additionally, I will say that one of the “value-adds” I hope to bring is some professional experience and insight not only into food, but also the food industry. During my junior summer, I was blessed with an amazing experience of externing at a Michelin star restaurant. At some point, I’ll probably add more about this particular experience later.

Before I end, here’s just a brief, but not complete, list of topics that I hope to post about going forward: organic/locally grown food, gluttony, cooking for yourself, eating disorders (maybe … I know it’s a sensitive topic), movements in the food industry, food philosophies, being vegetarian, fellowshipping over food, world hunger, haute cuisine (super fancy dining), fasting, animal cruelty, eating food properly (aka, if you order well done steak I kill you), and more. There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to food, so I would love to hear what people are interested in and hear people’s thoughts in general!