August 8, 2020
From podcast: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/lifestyle-podcasts/food-catholic/
[00:02:03] Podcast Sponsors
[00:05:30] Guest Introduction
[00:09:15] What A “Food Catholic” Is
[00:12:34] “Phood Pharisees”
[00:16:51] Diets As A Substitute For True Righteousness
[00:22:14] How To Use Food To Assist In The Pursuit Of Holiness
[00:26:23] How Food As An Anti-Aging Tactic Can Enhance Or Detract From Your Spirituality
[00:32:27] Podcast Sponsors
[00:35:41] Advice For Social Situations Where You're Offered Food You Personally Find Objectionable
[00:40:46] How To View Food With Respect To The Humane Treatment Of God's Creation
[00:51:44] Balancing Rigorous Physical And Spiritual Disciplines
[01:00:18] The One Thing Fitness Buffs Need To Hear The Most
[01:03:58] Closing the Podcast
[01:04:52] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Douglas: I would define idolatry as looking to any finite thing to supply a need that only the infinite can supply. Keeping in mind that your life is meant to be spent. You're supposed to expend it. You're not supposed to put yourself in a museum case and keep yourself going. My question is not “Is Joel Salatin doing a good thing?” but, “Is the good thing that Joel Salatin is doing is scalable to the point where everybody gets to eat?”
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Well, every so often I like to, and I have been doing this with increasing frequency actually, interview someone who is really an expert in spiritual fitness, the spiritual disciplines, caring for that one part of us that is often shriveled and shrunk up inside because we're so busy exercising right and eating right. And my guest on today's show is definitely one of those people. His name is Doug Wilson. He's a little bit of a polarizing figure in the religious community in the U.S., but he's a man who I've grown to know over the past–oh, 20 years I've known this guy, and he's pretty smart. He's written an incredible suite of books including one on food and a Christian approach to health food and health in general. I think you are going to be fascinated by his take on eating healthy and on caring for our bodies and a balance that we can strike between that and judging others while at the same time loving ourselves and caring for our temple, so to speak. So, sit back and get ready for an interesting episode with the great Doug Wilson.
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Welcome to the show, folks. I have today, actually, an old family friend of mine, Doug Wilson, who is the minister of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, a church that I attended through much of my childhood and also during college and still visit quite frequently whenever I'm down in Moscow, Idaho, which is only about 90 minutes from my home in Spokane. And so, I've known Mr. Wilson for quite some time, and he actually had a stint in the U.S Navy for a while, and then he attended the same university that I did, University of Idaho. However, while I got a glorified personal training certification, he studied philosophy, and since then, went on to do quite a bit. Notably, he helped to found and now serves on the board of Logos School, the school that my wife attended, which is a classical and Christian K through 12 school down in Moscow.
He's also the Senior Fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, which I would consider to be one of the better liberal arts institutions in the country, actually, and quite close to the coffee shop that my mom actually runs down in Moscow, Idaho. And so, I'm familiar with a lot of the students that go to that university as well, or to that college as well. He has authored many books. Mr. Wilson is a prolific author and his books are fantastic. He has books on marriage, on child-rearing, on–I absolutely love his titles on raising boys just because I have twin boys myself, some excellent books on Christian education. His son, Nathan Wilson, you might also be familiar with as a well-known fiction author. And I'll link to all of his books, as well as everything else that we talk about if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/dougwilson.
And Doug also has about a metric ton of grandkids spread across the planet with what seems to be rapidly increasing frequency. And so, he has a lot of children out there bearing his name as well. And so, the topic that I really wanted to get into today is related to a book that Mr. Wilson wrote called “Confession of a Food Catholic.” I'm also going to link to that in the shownotes as well because I really, really would love to get your perspective. And by the way, I seem to be going back and forth between Doug and Mr. Wilson. What do you prefer for this show?
Douglas: Oh, Doug is great.
Ben: Alright, alright, that's going to shorten the syllables I got to use. Alright. So, Doug, you wrote this book called “Confession of a Food Catholic,” and I know that you've also done quite a bit of thinking about how we tackle this relationship between health and fitness and pursuit of a better body, and caring for our bodies, and caring for God's temple, but at the same time, not kind of sliding into a selfish obsession with our bodies and with health or with longevity or anti-aging at all costs, and this is certainly something that's been a topic on my mind quite a bit lately. And so, this book “Confession of a Food Catholic” that you wrote, which you say is dedicated to all those at church dinners, who I noticed didn't have enough protein on their plates, and who tried to cover it up by noticing I didn't have enough greens on mine.
Let's start here. What is a food catholic, and why would you describe yourself as a food catholic?
Douglas: Great. First, thanks for having me on. This is a great opportunity. A food catholic is someone who believes that all foods are acceptable for us to eat with regard to our spiritual condition. In other words, I cannot put distance between me and God through anything I put in my mouth, or I can't be put right with God through anything that I eat. And what I've noticed, and the reason I wrote the book is that many people feel, when they eat, they feel a spiritual guilt, either they feel if they eat poorly, if they miss the regimen that they assign for themselves, it's not like, “Oh, I failed to do the extra push-up,” it's there's a spiritual guilt that many people feel. And what I wanted to do was go to war with that sensation of guilt with regard to what you eat.
Now, if someone said, “Yeah, but if someone had a diet of deep-fried Twinkies and that's all they ate, wouldn't that be bad for them?” Well, yeah, it'd be bad for them, it'd be bad for their physical well-being. It's not healthy, but they're not corrupting their soul by means of the Twinkie. Now, they may be corrupting their soul by means of their lack of discipline, but that's a different issue, it's a different category. So, we have a tendency to blame when we have a moral failing or a spiritual shortcoming. We want to blame the stuff instead of addressing the root spiritual issue, which is your relationship to God. I think it's far worse to be fighting with someone over what they–you go out to lunch with a friend and you spend the time quarreling over what they ordered instead of just enjoying the time with your friend.
Ben: Right. So, what you're saying, basically, is that sometimes the legalism or the self-righteousness that we get with a lot of these laws that we set up for ourselves regarding food, whether it's, “I'm going to be gluten-free,” or, “I'm avoiding carbohydrates,” or, “I'm not consuming vegetable oils because those aren't good for my body,” what you're saying is that what you would care more about is not whether someone eats organic or processed food, but why they're actually making those decisions.
Douglas: Exactly. So, what somebody else eats is, frankly, none of my business. They're the one that has to eat it. It's their lunch, they ordered it. If you want a meal that's higher in fiber or lower in fiber, or you need gluten not there, or maybe you're at the counter and you order extra gluten.
Douglas: Did you double the gluten because —
Ben: Gluten powder. We actually call that soy sauce. So, you use this term in the book called the phood pharisee, which is great, the P-H-O-O-D, the phood Pharisee. And you described these food pharisees as those who would be unwilling to bring their food laws before the Bible to be examined and said that's a topic that Christians really need to think through biblically.
And when you get into this whole concept of a phood pharisee lifestyle, what I'd love for you to do, if possible, is tell me what you would describe a phood pharisee as. And then, get into some of the issues regarding–I think you break it down into five different issues that this phood pharisee lifestyle could be described as.
Douglas: Alright. So, if you bring your food, if you say, “Okay, I want to compare how I eat to the Bible, I want to bring my food choices to the Bible,” there's good news and bad news. Well, good news and bad news for the phood pharisee. The good news is that whatever it is you're eating is fine. That's the good news. The bad news is whatever it is your neighbor is eating is also fine. And the phood pharisee is someone who wants to feel superior. They want to look down on someone who's making sub-optimal choices.
Ben: Right. Which is very easy. I mean, for me as a nutritionist and a guy who's expected to judge people based on what they eat in many cases, that is really difficult, for me personally, not to slip into that and judge someone's character based on whether they're at the church potluck reaching for the bowl full of Twinkies or the kale salad.
Douglas: Right. Now, there is a point. Let's say because everything in life is on a dimmer switch and the pharisee wants everything on an on/off switch, they want it either to be righteousness or unrighteousness. And of course, if you're mom, if you're the mom and you're overseeing the diet of your eight-year-old son, who would eat, if you gave him whatever he felt like, yeah, he would eat all sorts of things that mothers were assigned to keep him from eating. You have authority over him. Okay. Make choices. He's your son, he's your child. But your neighbor, or your next-door neighbor, or your brother at church, he's not in that position. He's a grown-up. Let him eat what he wants.
And then, if you have a relationship where it matters, let's say you're his doctor, or he comes to you and he hires you to be his fitness trainer, after three weeks of him doing nothing that you say, you could say, “You know, you're paying, you're wasting money talking to me this way because you're hiring my advice, but you're not taking it.” Okay. Well, you have a relationship there that you can draw on. I like to compare it to this. Whenever you disapprove of something that anybody else is doing, it's like writing a check. And let's say it's a $10 check, it's a mild disapproval, it's a $10 check. Well, the thing about checks is you have to have money in the bank to write the check. And if you read a $10 check with someone and you've got $1,000 in the bank with them, that $10 check clears. But if you've got 50 cents in your account with them and you write a $10 check, it's not going to clear.
And we have become sort of censorious, and we believe that what other people do with their lives is somehow our business. And one of the things I'm driving at in this book is minding that great Pauline principle of minding your own business. You can say something if someone is your responsibility. I know someone who's got their elderly diabetic father living with them and they have to watch what he would want to sneak. And so, they have to watch that, but they've got a relationship with a deep account there. You can write the check, but you can't write checks for everybody when you've not invested in their lives.
Ben: Yeah. And you say, I think in the book the way you phrase it is that this control over our diet, when you discuss one of the first issues amongst these phood pharisees, which would be a heart issue that the control of diets is used as a substitute for true righteousness. And you mentioned a passage in the Bible about–in Matthew, “What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth is what defiles them.”
Now, when you say the control of diets is often used as a substitute for true righteousness, what exactly do you mean by that?
Douglas: So, if you go back into some of the very famous names, names like Post, and Kellogg, and Graham, the inventor of graham flour and graham crackers and so forth, those are all big corporate enterprises now. But at the time, they were alt foodie enterprises. Okay? And when they first began, they were trying to get rid of lust, for example, by use of the Graham Diet.
Ben: Okay. I've heard of this before. Can you unpack that a little bit? It just sounds super out there to hear that a graham cracker would be used to suppress sexual urges.
Douglas: The 19th-century evangelist, Charles Finney, founded Oberlin College, and had all the students there on the Graham Diet. And the part of the purpose of this was to subdue animal urges. Well, going back to your question, it's a category mistake. I believe you can defile your body–I could drink a vial of mercury and defile my body, killing me, right?
Douglas: But it would be a physical harm that I would be doing to a physical body. I can't get at covetousness by eating more celery, or I can't get at–basically, righteousness is a matter of loving God and loving my neighbor. If I love God and love my neighbor, that's not going to be increased or diminished by whether or not I have another helping of this health food, or if I avoid the extra sugar-loaded cookie.
Ben: Although theoretically, I mean, when you look at something like the Graham Diet, you could see how a complete lack of the fats and the cholesterols and some of the vitamins necessary, for example, for creation of testosterone, or progesterone, or estrogen could create a scenario where you actually could develop almost like food-based hypogonadism, or a food-based lack of actual drive, or sexual hormones just based on the fact that you're consuming cardboard for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Douglas: Exactly. But that's sort of like a bank shot. So, Charles Spurgeon, a great 19th-century preacher once said a lot of churches are praying for a revival of the holy spirit when what they really need to do is open the windows, they need oxygen in their brains. And of course, you could jigger with your diet such that you give yourself roaring headaches, and then because of the headaches, you're tempted to be crabby with everybody you meet. Well, that crabbiness and biting people's heads off, that is a spiritual thing and it's affected by your diet, but it's a bank shot, it's not a direct thing. So, it's not like I can eat righteousness. Whatever food I'm eating, it might have more fiber, less fiber, might have more gluten or less gluten, but none of the foods that I eat are made up of pure thoughts.
Douglas: I can't eat pure thoughts and then get pure thoughts directly as a result of that.
Ben: Okay. So, that would be the heart issue then. There's this argument that there's not anything inherently wrong with something like, say, gluten or anything inherently better about something being organic or natural because where things really start is the heart, not necessarily what we eat. So, you must first straighten out your heart when it comes to assessing how you might approach food.
Douglas: Exactly. If I could interject there.
Ben: Yeah. Go ahead.
Douglas: The most important thing about the table is who you're eating with. Are you loving the people you sit down to share a meal with? And if you're loving God and loving your neighbor across the table, then the food can be something that really enhances that. The food is celebratory, or it's not for nothing that people at weddings sit down to eat and drink together. That's deeply embedded in our nature. God wants us to celebrate that way, but we want to keep first things first, God first, then our neighbor, then the food.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. And I think part of this too when it comes to how a lot of Christians view food is I think sometimes it can be almost considered as a path to holiness or a path to so-called enlightenment, fasting being a perfect example. We see fasting as being something tied to a lot of religious practices, whether it's fasting for morning. I just read this book, the “Atomic –” it's something like–I can't even see my bookshelf from where I'm at right now, but it's the “Atomic Power of Fasting,” I think it's called. And all it is is the history of combining fasting with prayer and combining fasting with meditation and the fact that fasting does seem, to a certain extent, to almost amplify those practices. And so, you'll get many Christians perhaps not focusing as much on what they eat and more on what they don't eat, or how seldomly they eat.
What's your take on a food strategy, something like fasting to, for example, enhance spirituality or assist with a pursuit of holiness?
Douglas: Yeah. Very good. So, the Lord Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, and it was after he had done that that he had his famous encounter, his temptations from the devil. But this is something we see in scripture, and we also see it in world religions around the world, and that is the rigorous–I would put it this way, a rigorous discipline of ascetic fasting. It attunes you more closely to the spiritual realm, you become much more spiritually sensitive. At the end of the 40 days, that's where the Lord has his encounter with the devil.
Now, some modern scholars would say, “Well, yeah. You fast for 40 days and then you start hallucinating.” Well, this is the difficulty. The fact that I'm in touch with the spiritual realm doesn't mean that I'm equipped to be in touch with the spiritual realm. I believe that some hallucinogenic drugs do the same thing. Some people when they took LSD were sort of catapulted into the spiritual realm. Instead of going there slowly over a month and a half, they were just pitched into it. Just being in the spiritual realm doesn't mean that you're qualified to be there. After all, the devil is in the spiritual realm. The devil's already there. So, if someone says, “I'm going to fast rigorously, and then I'm going to see visions,” well, I'm not prepared to dispute that. I think that that's really true. I think that we are spiritual beings, not just physical beings. I believe that the spiritual realm is real, but I believe that people can go to that spiritual realm and not be in fellowship with God when they go there, which is a dangerous place to be.
Ben: So, what you're saying is that fasting in a pursuit of holiness in the absence of a proper relationship with God is something that could actually threaten to derail you spiritually?
Douglas: Yeah. It could derail you or–and this happened with some of the Jesus people back in the day, is they took some acid trip and they encountered something that scared them sideways and came back and got right with God. Alright. So, there are things like that. There are people who go into the spiritual realm and then are misled. There are people who are prepared and equipped like the Lord Jesus, resisted the temptations of the devil when He encountered the devil in that setting. So, just being spiritually attuned is not the same thing as being spiritually right.
Ben: Got it. So, another thing that I'm curious about when it comes to fasting is, of course, the reason that a lot of people are fasting or eating healthy food right now. For them, it's this idea of anti-aging or longevity, and even couching that sometimes in terms of–and I've explained it this way before. You want to enable or equip yourself to be able to do the very best job with the skills that God has given you to be able to live out your purpose in the most impactful way. And if you are diabetic in a wheelchair when you're 50, you're far less likely to be able to do that than if you're robust and strong, and you've lifted weights, and done some fasting, and eaten good foods, and really equipped yourself to be able to make a difference physically just because our bodies are what's going to house our souls and spirits and enable us to do something like get on an airplane to go give a talk to someone about the gospel, or to be able to get out of bed in the morning and go to the office to do your job and to glorify and magnify God with whatever it is that you're doing in your career.
And so, to me, that makes sense, but you also get in the book into another phood pharisee issue, which you refer to as the God issue, which I think might relate to this a little bit. So, can you get into what your thoughts are in terms of using food as a way to enhance our physiology in a way to really almost keep ourselves on this planet for a longer period of time?
Douglas: Sure. I think obviously, it's a good thing. In the Psalms, it talks about old faithful Christians being fruitful into their old age. And then, at the end of Deuteronomy, it famously says that Moses died when he was 120 years old. And it says in Deuteronomy 34:7, “His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” So, when Moses died at 120, he walked up the mountain in order to die there. So, the last thing Moses did was climb a mountain and then God took him. So, it's obviously —
Ben: I wouldn't mind going that way.
Douglas: Yeah. I think that's a good way to go. So, obviously, it's a good thing to be able to be fruitful and productive as long as you can be, right? But everything is a cost/benefit analysis where if you eke out an extra six months because you spent five years focusing on certain aspects of your health and that bought you an extra six months, well, you lost on that trade. If you just let yourself go to pieces and you don't take care of your body at all, and you die of emphysema in your 40s, and it's directly the result of things that you were doing, well, that's a problem, too. The other thing is that our lives are missed, James tells us, not only are our lives are missed, but God doesn't operate according to our time–someone might take superb care of themselves and get hit by a truck, and then somebody else is lazy and lives to be 98.
Douglas: Everything we do we have to do as good stewards without believing that we are in complete control. God lets us govern our lives to a certain extent, which is fine, so long as we remember that He's got the ultimate decision-making power of how we are to spend our lives.
Ben: Right. And this might be kind of a philosophical can of worms, but then what would you say to someone who says, “Well, God has determined when I'm going to die, and let's say that's going to be when I'm 78 years old out on a hike dropping dead of a heart attack, therefore, it doesn't really matter whether I were to consume the black bean, kale versus the Twinkies and donuts every day for food just because God's already laid it all out and when I'm going to die is when I'm going to die”?
Douglas: Yeah. You could answer that guy somewhat readily by saying, “And suppose you were a farmer who said, ‘You know, if God has determined that I'm going to harvest a crop this year, then I'm going to harvest a crop, whether I plant or not.' Okay. Well, if you don't plant, I'm willing to bet $10 on which one he foreordained for you to get.” Okay. So, what I urge people to do is to live as wise stewards doing the best they know with the information they have, but leaving the results to God, knowing that you could be overridden. So, God wants us to be responsible. He wants us to take the best care of ourselves as we know-how, keeping in mind that your life is meant to be spent. You're supposed to expend it, you're not supposed to put yourself in a museum case and keep yourself going. Your life is supposed to be laid down for others. So, you expend yourself for others and you want to be able to do that as long as you possibly can.
My wife and I are currently living with–we moved in with my dad two years ago. He's 92. And one of his great challenges is his mind wants to be far more productive now than his body will let him. He's like an old warhorse in the stable that hears the sound of battle and he wants to go out but he's just not up to it. King David, one time, in the Bible, when he was elderly, he went into battle as an older man, was almost overwhelmed, and then his soldiers wouldn't let him go anymore because his willingness to fight–his body didn't match what he wanted to be able to do. And so, what we should do is try to pace ourselves so that as long as we're here, we're able to do productive things. We always want to be able to contribute. We don't want to spend the last 10 years just sitting there.
Ben: When it comes to that idea of free will versus predestination, it's a matter of trusting God and knowing that He has a plan right now for your life. But then, what's the saying go, “Trust God, but then put on your seatbelt,” something like that?
Douglas: Right. And so, a great verse for this would be in Deuteronomy 29:29. It says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may keep the words of this law.” So, God runs the universe, we don't. His secret ways are his secret ways, I trust him to do right, but I've got to live according to the light of nature and according to the light of scripture, and I've got to make the best decisions I know how to make surrendering the ultimate outcome to Him.
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I want to ask you a little bit about caring for our planet, and also a few other questions about caring for our bodies. But before I do, I do know that there are some Christians who listen to the show, who do have some pretty strict rules for themselves about the things that they will eat and the things that they will not eat, how they care for their bodies, and health is important to them. And I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that, although as you alluded to, and as you also described in your book, that's not where true holiness is derived, and that you must care for your heart and your holiness via things that go outside of food. You can't eat your way into morality. But at the same time, many of these folks are finding themselves in situations where they might be with other Christians or with people who they may be ministering to at other family's homes and they're presented with a variety of food choices that aren't necessarily the same type of food choices they might have available at home, or the same type of food choices they would make at home.
Ben: What would be your advice to people who are sitting with and dining with and breaking bread or gluten-free bread with others in that type of situation? Do you simply just say a prayer and dig in and trust that God will protect you from the herbicides and the pesticides, or what's your approach to that or your advice for that type of situation?
Douglas: I think that this is a golden rule type of thing, “Do as you would be done by.” So, for example, if we invited someone over for dinner, and let's say one of the people, the wife, say, was allergic to nuts, and if there were nuts in any of the foods, we're not going to finish the dinner because we're all going to be down at the ER. She's going to swell up and it's that kind of allergic reaction. Well, if you're the invited guest, it's loving to let the host know that you are allergic to peanuts. You would want someone to do that for you so you do that for them.
Ben: Yeah. That's kind of given, like a true food allergy.
Douglas: Yeah, true food allergy where death might result or some severe reaction. But you just love the other person by giving full information. If it is simply a matter of not my cup of tea, let's say I've been in situations where I'm served something that I just don't like. Now, I don't believe there's anything spiritual or not spiritual in the eating of it, but I just don't like that, that food that I was served. I believe it's my responsibility to eat it as though I did like it. And so, there's no health. It's a small sacrifice that I can make for the sake of the fellowship with the people. And when the plate comes out with the salad, you say, “This salad has snails in it.” Well, okay. They should have thought that–
Ben: The chicken that maybe had grains instead of insects, you just come back to that. I suppose in a way, it could come back to that Bible verse that essentially says, “Love covers all.” And in a situation like that, you simply love who you're at that table with. Love your neighbor more than your diet and give thanks for the food as something that can unite us and cause us to come together and just basically trust God. Perhaps eat a little less than you might normally if you don't want a stomachache, but trust God and love your neighbor.
Douglas: Yeah. You don't have to ask for seconds, right?
Douglas: But you want to conduct yourself in a way that's consistent with the fellowship and the harmony because you value the fellowship with the people you're eating with more than you value your personal convenience.
Douglas: Now, there's nothing wrong with your personal taste. If you're going out to eat by yourself, you should order what you want, not what somebody else would have wanted you to order. You're eating by yourself, you're in the restaurant, order what you want to eat. But if you're with other people, that dynamic is more important than what you would do if you were by yourself.
Ben: Okay. So, we've established so far that food doesn't make you holy. Diets aren't a substitute for true righteousness, and that we should trust God more while at the same time making decisions that enable us to care for our bodies in the best way possible. And that when we are with others and breaking bread with them, that it's more important to love others and follow the golden rule than to take our health into account at all costs and make other people uncomfortable or create some kind of divisionary type of situation at a table or at a feast.
And that leads into the idea that I know people are increasingly concerned about. And I even interviewed a gentleman on my show about a couple of years ago, a regenerative farmer and a Christian and an author named Joel Salatin. He wrote a book called “The Pigness of Pigs.” And in that book, he talks about how these big corporate farms can find pigs in cramped and dark pens and inject them with antibiotics and feed them herbicide saturated food to increase profits. That's really not respecting a pig as a creation of God, and that furthermore, that's also not caring for God's planet and our environment in a way that we really should be doing as good stewards, as good gardeners of this Earth that we live on. And so, a big part of that book if we were to fully live out that idea of caring for God's plan, it would mean making a lot of different food choices when it comes to even something as simple as the origin of the package of meat that we might be grabbing from the meat counter at Rosar's.
And so, what's your take on this when it comes to the environmental considerations and the animals that surround us that we are eating?
Douglas: This is a great question, and it's also a huge one. That means we won't be able to get into every aspect of it, but I want to point in different directions because now you're not just talking about farming and raising pigs, for example. You're also talking about economies of scale, prices, the general economy, and so on. And I'll try to illustrate what I mean. First, this is no knocks against Joel Salatin, God bless him and I'm happy he's doing what he's doing. And when people do that and they make a living from it, it's knock yourself out. I'm grateful for that sort of thing. But this is the issue. It's not just the pigness of pigs, it's also the humanness of humans. Let's say he describes to me a pig's life, a pig that he raised and brought to market, and I compared the life of that pig to the life of a pig in the stockyards somewhere. Okay? I have no doubt that Joel Salatin is exactly right when it comes to which pig's life was better.
Douglas: So, I have no quarrel there. But there's the other end of the equation also, and that is, how much does Joel Salatin's bacon cost? And how much does the bacon at Walmart cost? And do poor people get to eat bacon? The difficulty that I have with the movement to locally source everything and organic farming and all of that is no objection to organic farming or respecting the lives of the livestock and the nature of these things, that's all great. But all of those considerations are going to affect how much the bacon costs. And if you grow organic apples, because of the care you have to put into them, they're $5 apples. What you're saying is that poor people don't get apples at all. So, my question is not “Is Joel Salatin doing a good thing?” but, “Is the good thing that Joel Salatin is doing scalable to the point where everybody,” there's seven billion of us, right, “is scalable to the point where everybody gets to eat?”
Ben: Yeah. And Dr. Mark Hyman, who I also interviewed a few months ago, talks about the true cost of food, the fact that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are on the rise due to the overuse of antibiotics, and that loss of biodiversity is caused by a lot of these modern farming practices that may short-term reduce the cost of food or the monocropping of agriculture like corn or soy or grain resulting in less expensive foods short-term, but eventual depletion of the soils, minerals, and nutrients. And so, I think there's a little bit of a long-term thinking pattern that may dictate that some of these things are going to be expensive in the long run from a health or an environmental standpoint. But I guess my question beyond simply whether or not certain practices would make a food affordable for the masses is, how Christians should approach the environmental impact behind the food choices that we make? Like, should we actually be taking that into account in a significant manner when we are shopping at the grocery store?
Douglas: Yeah. I think we should take all of those things into account, yes. And, I appreciate the fact that you were talking about measuring not just the short-term impact, but also the long-term impact. And then, I would return to how does this translate into my life as an individual Christian. One of my friends has a chicken ranch down in Texas. And if you've never seen 20,000 chickens at one go–
Ben: I've got 14 outside, I can imagine.
Douglas: And 20,000, whoa. We need to recognize that when we are talking about the environment, the ecology, the inner relationships with animals, the impact that human beings have on the world, we are all of us, I think, operating way above our paygrade. The humorist P.J. O'Rourke once said, “There's a certain kind of environmentalism that says there's way too much of you, just the right amount of me.” So, if we practiced the buzzword today is sustainable, let's say that all the meat we raised was raised sustainably, all the food we raised was raised in a diverse setting and not monoculture corn and so on, not Iowa in other words. Let's say we did that. Well, how many people could we support that way? That's the issue. And then, let's say it's half of the world's population. Well, now, who's in charge of, who gets to stay, and who has to go?
And so, these are legitimate questions. The problem is that we live in an era where there's no shortage of political authorities that want to coercively set the ceilings. They want to set the boundaries and they want to be in charge of that. I would prefer to let market solutions work their way to the top. So, if someone figures out the best way to make the best corn, grow the best corn, or the best way to raise the best ham, or the best way to cultivate an orchard, I would like the free market to be allowed to work so that that rises to the top.
Ben: Yeah. That makes sense. I think this is probably something we could talk for a good hour about, but I think that there's definitely a greater scalability to things like regenerative farming and organic agriculture than big food, so to speak, would paint things to be. However, I think that a big part of this discussion comes down to the church doing its job and actually ensuring that that the poor and the homeless, and the widows, and the fatherless, are actually taken care of by the church and can actually be given food that will be nourishing to their bodies in a scalable way. So, I think that there's kind of a larger religious and political consideration here when it comes to who's doing what to take care of the people who can't afford this food. And I also think that the food is a lot more sustainable and more scalable than we have perhaps been led to believe by the Kelloggs and the Nestles of the world, so to speak.
Douglas: Another thing that you want to make sure that we do is not just take care of the individual widow and orphan, which is pure and undefiled religion, James says. But also, as part of our social conscience, we should labor, pray, work to see to it that big corporate interests are not allowed to construct the laws in such a way as when a small farmer is developing some new way of doing it that the big corporations can get their thumb on the scale. They've got a battery of lawyers that can go lobby Congress to pass a law that affects the little guy and not the big guy. So, I want equal weights and measures so that what applies to one applies to all and they're not allowed to use their weight, they're not allowed to throw their weight around in such a way as to prevent genuine scalable competition from arising.
Ben: Right, right. Yeah. That makes sense. In the defense of some of these corporations, I know, for example, General Mills seems to be acquiring more healthy food companies that are actually putting out foods that might be a little bit better for the body or better for the environment. But to a large degree, yeah, a lot of this regenerative farming, a lot of this caring for the Earth at the same time that we're supplying food, a lot of it is really hampered by monocropping, by Monsanto-esque corporations, et cetera. And again, a pretty big can of worms that I think deserves perhaps a podcast entirely to itself.
But I did have a couple of other questions I wanted to ask you, particularly more related to the person listening, who might be a Christian or someone who is struggling with this notion of caring for one's body, but also not doing so in a way that might become sinful. To me, and I was thinking about this before I got you on the show, this idea of fitness, or buffeting the body, or training the body. Do you think it leads to a bit of a gluttony, whether that attachment to fitness, that attachment to CrossFit, that attachment to rolling out of bed and strapping on your shoes for your five-mile morning run that you think you're going to feel like crap the rest of the day if you don't get that in, or you know you're going to feel like crap?
I've wondered whether an attachment to those type of things that are considered to be honorable, laudable, noble in society nowadays because that's what the folks on the front cover of Men's Health and Women's Health are doing, if that attachment is an addiction almost similar to something like gluttony, something that can almost lead to sin? Like, how do you think about fitness, or about buffeting the body, or having these intense habits or routines or rituals of care, of self-care?
Douglas: That's a great question and it goes right to the heart, I think, of a bunch of what we've been circling around here. I would define idolatry as placing any finite thing in the place where you're looking to any finite thing to supply a need that only the infinite can supply. And different people idolize different things. So, one person idolizes money, which means he's looking to money to meet a need that only God can supply. Someone else looks at sex and they want sex to supply what only God can supply. Another person looks at fitness, and if they've idolized, it's good to be fit just like it's good to be married and have sex, and just like it's good to have money.
So, the Bible doesn't mind God's people having money, but he minds money having his people. He doesn't mind his people having sex, he minds sex having his people. He doesn't mind his people having fitness, he minds fitness having his people. Right? So, if the drive to be fit or the drive to be healthy, if you're looking to that to satisfy a need in yourself that only Christ can supply, then the problem is you've slipped into idolatry. And it was a good comparison when you said, “Is there a kind of gluttony there?” Well, what's happening in the old-fashioned glutton, who is sitting down to work his way through a mountain of buttered toast–
Ben: Right. The epicurean fat bastard, so to speak.
Douglas: Right. Exactly. So, he's looking to food to meet a need in himself that only God can supply. So, he's an idolater of food. Someone else could be an idolater of just the right kind of food, or just the right amount of food, or just the right amount of exercise, or just the right look. “I want to look like the person on the cover of that magazine.” And if you're an idolater, that means that you're never going to be satisfied. That's the issue. Christ satisfies, idolatries never do. And some people go from idol to idol. Fitness doesn't work so they move to health, health doesn't work so they move to making money, that sort of thing.
And when it comes to the human body, I was thinking about this before the interview, there's a difference between–some people are fit, either fit and not fit, there's healthy and not healthy, and then there's busted and not busted. A few winters ago, I slipped on the ice and broke my shoulder. And so, now, I can't raise my right hand. I can't change light bulbs very well with my right hand. I can still do it with my left. So, that's busted. My right shoulder is busted. That's not an issue of fitness or an issue of health. Someone could be fit. They could run a race and they could make it the whole distance, but they might have some underlying health disease, or someone else might be healthy and they're not sick, they don't have a cold, they go to work every day, they've not had a sick day for years, but if they walk up the stairs too quickly, they have to sit down at the top and pan for a while. That's not fit.
Ben: And I personally think that part of this as well is not only the fact that these things can become idols. And in many cases, that's tied to neurochemistry. It's tied to the dopamine response that you might receive from these activities that you've woven as habits and rituals and routines into your life. It can stem from a lack of trust in God that your body is going to do what it needs to do to make maximum impact without you necessarily having to be on an Air Assault bike for 60 minutes every day.
But I think a part of it, at least this was a big part of it for me, this was a light bulb moment for me, was this idea that all of these attachments, as Anthony de Mello might say, these attachments that are pleasures that eventually become these attachments that we depend upon for happiness in life become that because we have lost or we have never gained the ability to find joy in really what the only source of true and lasting and deeply fulfilling joy would be, and that is God, the presence of God and god's creation around us. You had recommended actually to me a few months ago a book by John Piper, which I actually really enjoyed about this called “Desiring God.” In that book, John gets into this idea of opening your eyes to see the glory and savor the glory of God and to be in a constancy of prayer, and a dwelling with God, and a dwelling upon God's word.
And as I've begun to do that on a daily basis, both my wife and I, and I brought the boys along with us, what we've really been focusing on is this idea that all of these things that we're surrounded with, whether it'd be our food, or exercise, or the sunshine, or a backyard barbecue, or a trip to the beach, or anything else, these are all pleasures, these are all wonderful, but if we become attached to them and do not focus instead upon the ultimate source of joy coming from God and our relationship with God, then we do create a scenario where we get on this treadmill, so to speak, both literally and figuratively, of pursuing our joy and happiness through some of these things that even to the world might look like noble and laudable pursuits such as fitness, when ultimately, that's going to lead to the same dead end as eating fried chicken wings laying in bed with greasy chicken skin dripping off your face in that whole epicurean scenario for that same type of joy. So, I think a big part of this is where are you finding your joy.
Douglas: Where are you finding your joy. And if it's true spiritual joy, then it will satisfy. When Jesus talked to the woman at the well, He said, “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask him for living water.” And she misunderstood Him and said, “Well, tell me about this so I don't have to come out to the well every day,” because physical water, you need something to drink every day, you need something to eat every day. And if you're looking for your ultimate value or your ultimate joy in that, it's just not going to be able to carry you. But as Augustine said, there's a God-shaped vacuum in every human heart and only God will fit there.
It's like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Some people like to put puzzles together with scissors and a mallet. They try to put other things in that spot, but only God will fit there because it says in Ecclesiastes, “God has put eternity in our hearts. We were made for communion with Him.” And so, no created thing, whether it's money, or a big house, or a fast car, or a trophy wife, or long health, or longevity, whatever it is, those things are not going to give ultimate satisfaction. They can give temporary satisfaction, and it's fine that they give temporary satisfaction, but we have to recognize it for what it is.
Ben: Yeah. And the God-shaped whole concept I think is a perfect way to describe this. I think it was Blaise Pascal, who–I forget the name of his book back in–
Ben: Yeah, “Pensées.” He has a great quote about that. I think he calls it “The Infinite Abyss,” that that can only be filled with an infinite object, which would be God, and until you actually fill that hole, you're just going to keep throwing stuff in there and eventually hope that something that you toss in there is going to be the thing that fulfills and it just never is until you put God into the God-shaped hole.
Now, with the folks who are listening in and the audience that you're speaking to, Doug, I know that you travel around the world speaking to Christian educators and to churches, and in many cases, in reform circles and beyond, you have a podcast. I'm going to link to that in the shownotes, by the way, if you guys go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/dougwilson. Doug has a couple of podcasts, and actually, a blog that I subscribed to with some really good writing along with a lot of excellent books that I would recommend that you peruse. But, Doug, I don't think that you're on fitness shows very much.
Ben: And because of that–
Douglas: Thanks for having me.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. There's probably the greatest number of people who are listening to your voice right now while running through the wilderness or doing burpees. But anyways, what would be the message that you think the physical culture, population, immersed deeply in the realm of fitness, immersed deeply in the realm of choosing their diet very carefully, increasingly, immersed deeply in the realm of, “How do I live as long as possible? Like, what's the next anti-aging and longevity biohack that I can engage in?” What do you think is the message that the folks need to hear the most in that sector? What would you like to say to the fitness world that perhaps you ever haven't been given as much of a chance to say?
Douglas: I would say don't focus on living long in such a way as to make you forget what life is about. The point is to have lived, not to have lived a long time. There are people who live a long time, who wasted it all, and there are people who died in their 20s, who lay down their lives for the sake of God or for the sake of some wonderful cause. And the short life well-lived is better than a long life frittered away. So, basically, what you want to do is have all your health disciplines, and all your fitness disciplines, and all of those things, you want them subservient to life itself, and Christ is life itself. So, you want to know God, you want to know Christ. And then, fine, all the things you're doing, they're perfectly lawful things, they just need to be number three and four.
Ben: A short life well-lived is better than a long life frittered away. I think that for people who are spending literal years of their life with red laser lights up their nose jumping on many trampolines and laying in hyperbaric chambers, I think that's a good message, along with the other messages that I think have come up repeatedly during this interview. I mean, for those of you listening in, food does not make you holy. Sometimes loving your neighbor is a lot more important than the food that you're putting into your mouth around your neighbor. This idea that there is a God-shaped hole that can only be filled with God and much of the rest of this can be attachments and idolatry. And then, finally, a short life well-lived is better than a long life frittered away.
These are truths that I would encourage you, if you're listening, to write down, to journal, to dwell upon this week as you step back and look at your own life, your own approach to food, your own approach to fitness, and assess whether it is a healthy relationship with those activities, and whether you are simply finding joy in God or magnifying and glorifying God in the excellence with which you approach those activities, or whether those have become attachments or idols. And like I mentioned, Doug also has a lot of really good writing that he's done on topics like this, probably most notably, the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, “The Confessions of a Food Catholic.” And I'll link to that book, and also Doug's other writings and books and podcasts again if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/dougwilson. And when you go to that URL, you can also, if you have your own questions, comments, feedback, your own thoughts to add, I would love to see them. I read them all. So, you can leave them there at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/dougwilson.
Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your thoughts with us about all this stuff.
Douglas: It was my privilege. I really appreciate the invitation.
Ben: Awesome. Alright, folks. So, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Doug Wilson of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
“You can sin with food in many ways — by not sharing it, by eating way too much of it, by throwing it across the restaurant table… But you do not sin with food by bowing your head over it, saying grace with true gratitude in your heart, and tucking in.” – Doug Wilson, Confessions of a Food Catholic
In his sharp-edged but humorous title, Confessions of a Food Catholic, Doug addresses the unscriptural approach to food that many Christians have developed in recent years. (By the way, a “food catholic” is somebody who accepts all eaters of all foods, even if he or she doesn't actually eat quinoa.) Specifically, the book addresses divisive threats to Christian table fellowship, the know-it-all pride of newfangled “health food” rules, and the dislocated moralism that makes “organic” and “natural” the signs of righteousness while disdaining the brethren who buy their beef at Stuffmart.
On today's podcast, Doug and I get into his approach to how Christianity mingles with food choices, and much more—including longevity and anti-aging, nutrition, diet, fitness, and the ultimate source of the joy and happiness so many of us turn to these type of activities to fulfill. We also discuss Doug's take on Joel Salatin, the true cost of food, and how we care for the planet.
Doug is an old family friend and the minister of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, which is a member of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) and the church I attended all throughout my childhood and during college. After his stint in the submarine service of the U.S. Navy, he attended the University of Idaho where he obtained an MA in philosophy.
As one of its founders, Doug has served on the board of Logos School, a classical and Christian school (K-12), since its inception. He is also a Senior Fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College, which I consider to be one of the better liberal arts institutions in the country. He is the author of numerous books, including Reforming Marriage, The Case for Classical Christian Education, Letter from a Christian Citizen, and Blackthorn Winter. Doug is also the general editor for the Omnibus textbook series. You can check out his blog here, and his metric ton of grandkids can be found spread across the planet with rapidly increasing frequency.
During this discussion, you'll discover:
-What a “food catholic” is…9:15
- A food catholic believes that all foods are acceptable for us to eat with regard to our spiritual condition
- People feel a “spiritual guilt” when they eat
- Food itself does not corrupt the soul; a lack of discipline does
- We want to blame the “stuff” rather than the root: a relationship with God
-How to identify what Doug calls “phood pharisees”…12:35
- A “phood pharisee” is someone who wants to feel superior to those who make, what they believe, are suboptimal food choices
- Everything is on a “dimmer switch”; the pharisee wants an “on/off” switch
- Relational roles: children, people hired to give advice, vs. the neighbor with whom you have no moral, legal, or contractual obligation to instruct
- Writing checks…relationships and responsibilities is akin to having sufficient “funds invested to address and/or correct poor food choices
-How people use diets as a substitute for true righteousness…16:50
- Post, Kellogg, Graham, etc. marketed their food products to confront sin, i.e., lust
- Evangelist Charles Finneyfounded Oberlin College and had all the students on the “Graham Diet” to “subdue animal urges”
- Charles Spurgeon: “People are praying for revival, when all they need is to open their window”
- “Bank shot”: your spirituality can be influencedby your diet, but the food itself is not made up of pure thoughts and you cannot get pure thoughts from food
- The most important thing about the table is who you're eating with; loving the people you're sharing a meal with; the food is celebratory
- God first, then our neighbor, then our food
- Book: The Atomic Power with God, Through Fasting and Prayerby Franklin Hall
-How to use food to assist in the pursuit of holiness…22:15
- A rigorous discipline of ascetic fasting attunes you more closely to the spiritual realm
- Being in the spiritual realm doesn't mean you're equipped to be there (drug use)
- Fasting without a relationship with God can actually derail your spirituality
- Spiritually attuned is not the same thing as spiritually right
-How food as an anti-aging tactic can enhance or detract from your spirituality…26:25
- It's a good thing to be fruitful and productive as long as possible
- Cost/benefit analysis: trading time on the earth for quality of life
- We're stewards of the bodies we've been given
- Do the best you know to do with the information you have and leave the results to God
- Your life is intended to be “spent”, i.e. active, with normal wear and tear
- Deuteronomy 29:29 – “The secret things belong to the Lordour God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law”
-Advice for social situations where you're offered food you personally find objectionable… 36:50
- The Golden Rule: Do as you would be done by
- The loving thing is to make your host aware of any allergies
- If you simply don't like the food, it's your responsibility to act as though you do like it
- “Trust God, and love your neighbor”
- Being a good neighbor or guest is the priority over personal preferences or choices
-How to view food with respect to the humane treatment of God's creation…41:50
- BGF podcast with Joel Salatin
- Book: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigsby Joel Salatin
- Economies of scale: How much does Joel Salatin's bacon cost?
- BGF podcast with Dr. Mark Hyman
- Being conscious of the environmental impact of food production practices
- We're operating “above our pay grade” in regards to food production
- J. O'Rourke: “There's way too much of you, and just the right amount of me”
- Politicians want to coercively set the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not; let the market work out the issues
- The scalability of regenerative farming may be more practical than what we're led to believe by huge corporations
- Equal weights and measures: what applies to one, applies to all
-Balancing rigorous physical and spiritual disciplines…52:00
- Idolatry: relying on any finite thing to supply a need that only the infinite can supply
- The drive to be fit/healthy – If you're looking to that to satisfy a need in yourself that only God can supply, then the problem is you've slipped into idolatry
- Book: Desiring Godby John Piper
- “Where are you finding your joy?”
- True spiritual joy will satisfy your inner desires
- “There's a God-shaped vacuum in every human heart.” – St. Augustine – Only God will fit there
- Like putting together a puzzle
- Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”(God has put eternity in our hearts – we were made for communion with him)
- Infinite abyss can only be filled with an infinite object, that is God – Penséesby Blaise Pascal
-The one thing fitness buffs need to hear the most…1:00:15
- Doug Wilson's blog
- Don't focus on living long in such a way as to make you forget what life is about – the point is to have lived, not living a long time
- To journal:
- “The short life well lived is better than a long life frittered away”
- “Food does not make you holy”
- “Loving your neighbor is a lot more important than the food you are putting into your mouth”
Resources from this episode:
– Doug Wilson:
– BGF podcasts:
- Confessions of a Food Catholicby Doug Wilson
- Other books by Doug Wilson
- The Atomic Power with God, Through Fasting and Prayerby Franklin Hall
- The Marvelous Pigness of Pigsby Joel Salatin
- Desiring Godby John Piper
- Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Realityby Anthony de Mello
- Penséesby Blaise Pascal
– Other resources:
- Evangelist Charles Finneyfounder of Oberlin College
- Charles Spurgeon
- J. O'Rourke
- The Atlantic article: Looking to Quell Sexual Urges? Consider the Graham Cracker
- Doug's post: 7 Reasons For Unmasking The Masks
- Mark Hyman: The True Cost Of Food
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One thought on “[Transcript] – Why Your Pursuit Of A Better Body & The Perfect Diet Is Never Going To Make You Happy, How Christians Should Make Food Choices, The Ultimate Source Of Joy & Much More With Doug Wilson.”
thanks for this. I believe it is an important topic and a question and one i have been asking myself lately. I like to eat well and follow many of your practises for myself and my family. I would also like to get the dna testing completed, dutch tests etc I also get supplements which vary over different members of my family. At the same the time, the reality of the world is that – so many people dont have any food, fullstop. And thinking about what flavour of gut health probiotic i may purchase compared to another person in the world wondering where their next meal is coming from should bring about a conversation that leads to action (for myself). There is a spiritual God pleasing balance in there somewhere. I also know for you it is your work, and industry so you obviously have to turn up the volume when it comes to ‘indulging’ and experimenting into the fitness/health world.
Just a practise my family have started that someone else may find helpful – one week a month we do a leftovers week. We dont buy any foods like we used to and just use up cans, canned fish, leftover veg and salad, eggs etc and get creative and make do. We then save that week of shopping money to support charities that provide food to the needy. Anyway I appreciate you Ben, your philosophy of life, your expression of faith, for stimulating thought and conversation and for your thorough approach you took to boundless. Thanks from Sydney, Australia