Garden Diary

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Mediterranean diet

An article in the Atlantic monthly highlights a recently published article in the New England Journal of Medicine "Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet".

Looking at the "Mediterranean diet" made me think, well, we could also call this the Jesus diet: in the realm of food and drink, what would Jesus eat? Likely just this sort of diet. Some of the evidence is explicit in the Scriptures that the foods of the "Mediterranean" diet are Biblically approved.

Olive Oil: Revelation 6:5-6: [5] When he [the Lamb] opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!"

Fish: John 21:7-9: That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.

Wine: Luke 9:31-35: Jesus said, "To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, `We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, `He has a demon.'  The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children."

Others are there by inference, such as lamb which would have been eaten at Passover, and the other items that made up the diet of a typical Jew in Roman Palestine. While the articles don't mention bread in the tables, whole grains were definitely part of the diet, particularly wheat and barley. There are so many references to bread in the New Testament, I didn't think any were needed, although the New Testament version of fish and chips is right there in John 21 (there being no potatoes in Palestine at the time, since those didn't arrive in the "Old World" until after Columbus).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The beginning of the Great Fast

Many people think of Lent as a time for "giving up" something, as a time of sacrifice, in the sense that a sacrifice is giving up something. And so, over the past week, I have heard or seen references to the Lenten fast ranging from my mother-in-law (who is not Catholic and has not attend church for years) joke about giving up something to a cartoon in which there's an exclamation emerging from St. Peter's, Rome, shouting "You're giving up WHAT for Lent?".

But I think this emphasis on "giving up" is a misunderstanding of fasting. Fasting is a taking up, an engagement, not a negation. Christian theory has always held that penance consists of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and fasting and almsgiving are considered the "wings" of prayer, that is, the means by which our prayer soars above to heaven.

St. John Chrsysostom writes: "† Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use.
For the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting.
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies."

Recently my daughter Molly received a diagnosis of celiac disease. As you might know, this is an autoimmune disorder in which the body becomes unable to digest gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt. The presence of gluten can lead to inflammation in the bowels and to all sorts of problems with the digestive tract, and the only solution known at this time is to completely eliminate gluten from the diet.

This is a good illustration of what fasting is: An elimination of food for the sake of health. The practice of non-gluten eating is really a re-ordering of how a person eats and so is not just a giving-up, but a whole new way of eating. Fasting should likewise be a whole new way of living, and for the sake of health (keeping in mind that in Latin salus means not only health but salvation).