Imagine inviting some new neighbors to a dinner party. The first couple tells you they’d love to come. But, they warn, they think it’s immoral to eat animals, so please—vegetarian options only.
The second couple also wants to come, but—they’re almost embarrassed to mention it—they only eat locally grown food. No strawberries from Chili, or shrimp from Asia. Importing food from faraway countries damages the environment, they explain.
Couple number three also wants to attend—but, they ask, you aren’t serving genetically enhanced vegetables, are you, or meat produced by industrialized breeding practices?
At this point, you might be tempted to cancel the party and go out for a cheeseburger, followed up by a banana split—made with bananas from Ecuador. But you might wonder, as you bite into that greasy hunk of beef, just why it is that people have become so moralistic about food. Especially when so many are immoral in other areas—like their sex lives.
One person who has wondered about this is Mary Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. In her article “Is Food the New Sex?,” Eberstadt notes that food is cheap and plentiful in the West. The same can be said for sex. Technology has tamed many of the dangers associated with sex, like pregnancy and disease. Moreover, social and religious strictures have all but disappeared.
Which leads to an interesting question: What would happen, Eberstadt wondered, when, “for the first time in history . . . [people] are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want?” Would they pursue both food and sex with equal ardor?
Oddly enough, they don’t. Instead, many engage in a sexual free-for-all—but put stringent moral strictures on anything to do with food. A modern young woman might think nothing of living with several different men, and having abortions when she gets pregnant. But she would not dream of eating anything from a factory farm. That would be immoral.
In effect, some people have reversed the “moral poles” of sex and eating, Eberstadt writes. They are engaging in “mindful eating and mindless sex.”
Why is this happening? As Eberstadt writes, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone.”
“Not knowing what to do about it,” she says, “they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.”
Or, as my former colleague Jim Tonkowich notes, “For all our relativistic talk” about encouraging people to make their own moral choices, “we cannot get away from an inner sense of right and wrong and the desire to codify [it].”
Jim is right. As the apostle Paul put it, God’s law is written on our hearts. We can deceive ourselves into believing it doesn’t exist, but when we do, we find our God-given sense of morality breaking out in other forms. In this case, in food—though it would be better the other way around.
This is what we ought to lovingly share with our unsaved friends—maybe over dinner—people who may think nothing wrong with living together out of wedlock, but who wouldn’t dream of eating mandarin oranges from Spain.