Demonizing Food

Printed in the Winter 2013 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Gillis, Anne Sermons. "Demonizing Food" Quest  101. 1 (Winter 2013): pg. 28-31.

By Anne Sermons Gillis

Ann Sermons GillisOne of the less-examined areas of addiction is food addiction. It is estimated that eight million Americans have an eating disorder–seven million women and one million men. Celebrities with eating disorders include Elton John, Princess Diana, Nicole Richie, Jane Fonda, Joan Rivers, Britney Spears, and Lynn Redgrave. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

In addition to eating disorders, we have disordered eating. We use food to cover up emotions and to dull emotional pain. Some authorities believe that over 65 percent of women and 45 percent of men have disordered eating patterns. These statistics point to a startling truth: our relationship with food is sick.

Over the past sixty years, the American diet has dramatically shifted. People moved away from nature and turned to the high-tech world. Technology spawned agribusiness, replaced family farms, and touched and changed all areas of human consumption. We exchanged Grandma's homegrown, love-filled butterbeans for a convenient microwavable pouch. Demeter and Ceres no longer bless our crops; instead, the Goddess is a steel-winged, poison-spraying angel who targets unwanted weeds and insects. This activity supposedly ensures a plentiful harvest.

Some people believe poor health is a direct result of pesticides, herbicides, and processed foods. After all, most processed foods contain sugar, white flour, unhealthy fats, or salt. Maybe this is not the whole truth. Maybe it is not changes in our food production or eating fast food that makes us unhealthy. Consider this thought. We allowed our food to be mass-produced, poisoned, and lose quality because we were already sick. Unhealthy food and food production are not the source of the problem. The sickness of our souls is reflected in the sickness of our foods. Sick people grow and eat sick food. People in harmony with themselves grow, buy, and eat nourishing food.

There's more to our food dilemma. There are so many opposing theories about foods that it is hard for to discern the healthy from the harmful. Probiotics are beneficial, but the yogurt I thought was a superfood turns out to be a mucus-forming, acid-based product. Countries whose people eat a diet high in dairy- and animal-based products have the highest rates of osteoporosis. What am I to believe? The whole-wheat organic bread I've been making for forty years has gluten. Turns out a lot of folks can't tolerate gluten.

Given the conflicting data, we turn food into demons. The problem with demonizing food is that our demons end up chasing us like the hounds of heaven. The age-old story is told in Genesis: when Adam and Eve were instructed to leave the apples alone, apples became the most desirable fruit in the garden. They could have eaten anything else, but what did they go for? They made a beeline for the apple tree. Adam and Eve revealed the forbidden fruit syndrome: what you can't have is what you will want the most.

Can you see why diets that cut out certain foods eventually fail? I have a friend who tries every new diet on the planet. When she gets ready to go on a diet, she starts eating more junk food—and greater quantities of food. It only takes the anticipation of a diet to spark her bingeing behavior. My friend knows she won't be allowed to eat certain foods, so the forbidden foods became even more appealing. Then she diets to lose the weight gained as a result of going on the diet in the first place.

Grandmother Rosa is a South American–born indigenous elder. Her liveliness captured the spiritually hungry at a medicine gathering in the '90s. Grandmother's spirit told her to stop making food her enemy. "Love all the food you eat," she was told. It didn't matter whether she ate bean sprouts or chocolate; she was to respect and love it all. Her change in attitude created amazing results. Not only did Grandmother Rosa lose weight, she lost the desire for many foods that didn't support her physical health. There is a big difference between sacrificing and losing desire. When we approach food from a point of sacrifice, we thwart our ability to achieve our goals.

I suggest an alternative to dieting and to believing in food magic. Love all the food you eat. Bless your food before you eat. In addition, spend time each day discovering who you are through prayer, contemplation, spiritual reading, and by being still and listening to inner wisdom.

Quantum physics delivered us from victimhood; it reveals that energy affects energy. Our thoughts are energy. Our food is energy. When done in openness, authenticity, and humility, prayer is a higher form of energy that affects our lives both physically and emotionally. Bring Spirit into your relationship with food. Don't pray like a beggar. "Please, please, help me, help me, help me." Don't whine. Bless your food. Bless your relationship to food. Let your trips to the grocery store be spiritual pilgrimages rather than burdensome everyday tasks. When eating out, be a radiant, joy-filled consumer rather than a holy terror to your server.

The following prayer is from my book Offbeat Prayers for the Modern Mystic. I took the prayer that my father and grandfather said and created a contemporary version. Use this prayer or find another creative and expressive form that will allow you to reestablish a wholesome attitude toward your food and your life.

New Grace 

Not only are we grateful for this food, but we are grateful to the essence that gave it form. We give thanks to that life force within the food that brings us vitality. May this food become a celebration of the immortality of life itself. May we be ever grateful for all of life's creations.

Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.
Bless these bodies to the service of our spirits. Amen. 

Recently, when checking out at the grocery, I had one of those quirky inspirations. I made a smiley face out of the fruits and vegetables I placed on the conveyor belt. I told the checkout woman, "Look, I made a present for you." She was delighted and shared her enthusiasm with fellow onlookers. I began to make a practice of honoring my food as I purchased it. Yesterday I made another face. I used broccoli as the hair and cucumbers as the horns. The checkout lady asked if she could disturb it to ring me up! Sometimes I just line up the groceries so they look orderly and bless the food as I place it on the conveyor belt. The first time I did this I was particularly prayerful. The man standing behind me said, "I like the way you place your groceries; you have a special way." It never occurred to me that someone would notice what I was doing.

The quality of our restaurants and grocery stores reflects the spiritual qualities of our lives. In the early '70s, I cultured my yogurt or went to the health food store on Thursdays. Dannon yogurt was delivered only one day a week, and if I didn't get there in time, I wouldn't be able to get any yogurt that week. About twenty years ago, a grocery store opened in my neighborhood. I walked the aisles looking at fresh whole-wheat breads without preservatives. Fresh herbs nestled beside organic fruits and vegetables. In fact, the vegetables and fruits made up the largest section of the store. This scene would be the norm in the west, but this store was in Memphis, Tennessee—home of Billy Bob and barbecue. I cried in gratitude. I cried because we are blessed by so many choices, because we are changing as a culture. I cried with compassion for those who cry lack in the midst of such great abundance, and I rejoiced for all that I had. I cried for those who will never see such opulence. I remembered the raging results of hunger and the look of sheer desperation in the faces of children in India, Brazil, and other Third World countries. The grocery stores of today can become our new temples when we allow the sacredness of life into our relationship with food.

It's tempting to want to straighten out our lives by embracing certain foods. Many believe food magic will fix everything, but a change in diet alone is never sufficient to heal the body. Our diets and eating habits cannot be corrected from the outside in—they must change from the inside out. As we begin to love ourselves, to appreciate our uniqueness, and to accept our dharmic place in the universe, our food regains its sacred place.

When our days and lives are consumed by planning what to eat, shopping for food, food preparation, deciding on a restaurant, eating, or cleaning up after we eat, it is important to be in harmony with food. Food is not the demon. The real demons are inside us. Our demons are the rejected and unloved parts of our Self. As soon as we can become the powerful works of spiritual art that we actually are, the demons in our foods disappear. We no longer need to project our inner fragilities onto our outer worlds. Eat well and prosper.

Anne Sermons Gillis is a member of the Houston Lodge. She is a minister, speaker, author, and life coach. She is the Ambassador of Joy and the founder of the EZosophy Philosophy.

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