I have been wanting to share a post like this for quite some time, but have been putting it off, unsure of how to begin talking about something that is so big.
The topic of stewardship is core to being human, and the way stewardship plays into our eating habits and choices has been a major topic on my mind (and heart) over the past few years.
While I am no expert in the scientific areas of nutrition and planetary health, I am an amateur—a lover. I love to learn about this; I literally often spend hours a week learning about it. As I continue to drink in expert perspectives and do a bit of my own research, I want to help bring all the facts together into bite-sized pieces that are easier for the everyday eater to digest. (BTW, isn’t it fun how many food puns we use on the regular?)
So, here’s my initial shot.
This is just a starting point. I hope and intend to share more as time goes on.
. . . . . .
What we eat, how we eat, why we eat . . . these are all matters related to stewardship, and that of various sorts.
Numerous “diet” and food-lifestyle fads have come and gone; plenty still clog up the airways, so to speak. While I am not particularly active on social media, I can only imagine the onslaught of charged statements for or against any particular trend. Keto. Vegan. High-fat, low-carb. High-carb, low fat. And these are just the ends of the spectrum. We can find any shade in between.
I have no desire to get into the nitty-gritty particulars of “diet” here (while I may remark on this at some point, now is not the time). Rather, what I desire to highlight is the importance of stewardship in eating.
Far too often, stewardship gets lost because other concerns become the focus—often selfish, even egotistical concerns.
When I say stewardship here, I have two primary sorts in mind, but others may be mentioned as well. Eating as an act of stewardship concerns primarily: 1) stewardship of our bodies, and 2) stewardship of the earth. The former has to do with eating for long-term health and longevity (not just years of life, but “life in years”) and the latter to do with creation care. Other relevant matters of stewardship such as stewardship of finances and resources might be considered subsets of either of these broader arenas.
Before getting a bit more into either of these two sorts of stewardship, why should we care? And what does eating really have to do with these? To start, we eat several times a day. Food is necessary for life. Not only that, but it is enjoyable. We gather around food. We plan for it, cook and serve it, go out and pay others to make it for us. We take pictures of it and post it on our social media feeds. In short, we need food and we love food.
Food is core to our existence and is one of the primary ways that we make use of the planet on which we live. For whatever combination of reasons, we have failed for far too long to notice how influential our eating habits have been (and are) upon both the health of our bodies and the health of our world at large. I would like to help bring greater awareness because, frankly, too many of us are getting too sick (and too early), and our good Earth isn’t headed in a promising direction either.
Stewarding Our Bodies
Too often, “healthcare” merely prescribes pills and procedures to treat symptoms, failing to look for and address root causes. I don’t want to be reductionistic and claim that all our health ailments are caused by the foods we eat; our bodies are far too complex to make such a claim. But certainly the habits we’ve formed and carried on numerous times a day for years and years must have some (and at times a rather strong) contribution. Genetics play a role in whether we may develop certain diseases throughout life, yes, but the lion’s share of whether we develop certain diseases (or when) is contributed by lifestyle. Lifestyle determines whether those genes are turned on or off—whether you actually develop that disease, or at what age and to what extremity.
Food can be a significant factor on the path toward health and longevity or toward disease and pain. While I am not claiming that food alone is lifesaving or that if we strictly control what we eat, we have our health in our hands, there does seem to be a heck of a lot of evidence that our food choices play a massive role in our health and longevity. What and how we eat matters immensely in how we steward the lives we’ve been given.
Eating as stewardship of the body can be the difference between developing early-onset dementia and being able to contribute to society with a sharp mind well into our 80s and 90s. It can be the difference between having a life-threatening heart attack before even having grandchildren and being able to live to see your grandchildren’s children. It can be the difference between following in the same paths of disease as your forebears and “defying the odds.”
Again, while I cannot promise that eating a certain way is a surefire way to avoid all disease, there is a lot pointing in this general direction. When we care thoughtfully for our bodies in what we eat, giving them what they need to thrive, we are able to live at our best, stewarding our years well.
(I also realize that for those of us with the luxury to choose what we eat day in and day out, even considering this matter can be just that: a luxury. But for those of us with that luxury, we have the responsibility to be good stewards with our choices. The fact that not all humans have this choice doesn’t give us license to squander ours. As we’ll see in the course of future posts, stewardship of our bodies and the planet actually are the best paths to “food justice” as well.)
Stewarding the Earth
I recognize that there is a LOT of confusion out there with regard to planetary health and how to care for the earth. While global warming used to be a hot-button issue that one side of the political spectrum was thought to be overblowing while the other side thought a fanciful farce, I think we’re all pretty well convinced by now that dear Earth has warmed, and a dangerous amount at that. In short, if we don’t make certain large-scale changes in a relatively short amount of time (I’m talking decades, here), we could be facing irreversible damage that will have catastrophic effects not only on the environment, but on all those who live in that environment. (That means effects on food supply, water supply, natural disasters of all sorts, negative economic impact, and much more.)
The question I want to focus on with regard to eating as stewarding the earth is, what is sustainable in the long term? It is irresponsible to live hedonistically, seeking to fulfill our every gastronomical whim while failing to ask about the ramifications. (Don’t hear me say we can never feast—I mean taking into consideration our large-scale, everyday habits.) I think most of us have heard about the ramifications to some extent, but unfortunately too many of us either remain somewhat misinformed or willfully ignorant.
Both the issues of global warming (esp. with reference to greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) and the notion of feeding a growing global population can be addressed by eating with a mind toward stewardship. Making choices with a mind not only toward what is tasty, but also toward what is conscious of the globally critical issues facing us today, is a more responsible, more loving way to eat. Stewards care for that which is entrusted to them, not merely about their own self-interests.
So . . . where is all this headed?
What does it mean?
How does one eat in order to steward body and planet well?
Well, in following posts, I will plan both to get more practical AND to support my claims with more specificity and evidence, but for now, in short, it means this: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.*
For me, the first is kind of a no-brainer, meaning: eat real, actual food. Not highly-processed, unrecognizable concoctions. If you can’t recognize what something was made from, you should probably avoid it.
The second is a good idea for numerous reasons, including maintaining a healthy body weight, not being greedy, and not being wasteful.
Finally, the third is where I plan to place my primary emphasis: mostly plants. I think that the scientific evidence is crystal clear that eating a predominantly whole food, plant-based diet is the best way to steward both our bodies and the planet well.
More on this to come. In the meantime, here are a few things to keep you intrigued and learning:
- A podcast: The Proof with Simon Hill; try episode 230: “Can dairy be regenerative?” with ecologist Nicholas Carter
- A blog: My New Roots—a delightfully beautiful and inspired plant-based food blog with an emphasis on whole plants, their sumptuousness, and their nutrition benefits
- A book: The Proof is in the Plants: How Science Shows a Plant-Based Diet Could Save Your Life (and the Planet) by Simon Hill**
- A recipe: Sunday Supper Stuffing—this meal makes plants the star without any sacrifice of flavor or decadence. I plan to make it on Thanksgiving; it is also a wonderful weekend meal, which can feed a small family for days!
Be well, my friends. Thank you for reading.
*This is Michael Pollan’s summary statement from his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
**I realize that two of my sources are from the same person. While I would typically be one of the first people to get suspicious when seeing something like this, let me just say that Simon Hill is a terrific researcher; he digs deep into the science, he interviews a large variety of folks who are experts in their fields of study, and he is all about engaging with complexity and nuance while minimizing the hype and hyperbole. I recommend two of his sources because I have found them to be high quality for the expert truth-seeker in this space while also very approachable to the person just venturing forth.