Friday, May 19, 2006

Rejected, not Dejected

Further to my last post, after submitting the article to the MB Herald for publication, I received the following email from Ms. Laura Kalmar, editor of that same publication:

Dear Daniel,

Thanks for your submission. We certainly appreciate feedback from readers, and this topic has generated some excellent discussion. At the moment, James Toews is our columnist for "Intersection," so we won't be able to use your article in our regular feature.

While I understand the argument (and subtle irony) of your article, I'd invite you to write a response to James' column in a Letter to the Editor.


Laura Kalmar
MB Herald
Thank you very much Ms. Kalmar, I just might do that.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

With Tongue Firmly in Cheek...

Recently, in the MB Herald, James Toews published an article entitled Why I don't drink. After reading his article, I was most distressed to find that my precious alcoholism was in danger of being destroyed by spiritual conviction. Actually, I thought he was dead wrong and felt that a response was necessary. What originally started out as a letter to the editor has blossomed into a short article, which I will dutifully submit for publication to said MB Herald. Without the expectation that this article will ever be published, I present it to you here in its entirety.

NOTE: I strongly suggest that you read the original article prior to reading mine. Also, as the title of this post says, I've written with tongue firmly in cheek and by no means mean to diminish or make fun of the struggles of those with eating disorders. The example of food is used simply because it is the vice that Mennonites most often partake of.

Why I don’t Eat

Daniel Johnson

“And what will you have this evening?” The black aproned server stands with her pen poised ready to jot down my order.

“Just water, thanks” I say, and note the slightly awkward silence around the table as my companions around the table suddenly become terribly interested in the patterns on this fine restaurant’s flatware. In this age of fad diets, anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, questioning why another person isn’t eating is a major faux pas; the fear of being insensitive overrides our natural curiosity.

Of course, if the question were asked, an answer would easily fall from my lips. “I’m on the Atkins Diet,” or, “I’m flushing the toxins from my body,” or, “I’m just not hungry,” would all be good enough answers for my companions; good enough, at least, to make them avoid asking the question of me in the future. Unfortunately, “I’m a Christian,” just wouldn’t cut it as an answer; “I’m a Mennonite,” would be an even less satisfactory answer, especially if my companions didn’t know what a Mennonite was. With our church potlucks, community barbeques, and rich foods, “I’m a Christian” and, “I’m not eating tonight” seem to be almost entirely contradictory.

Though it would be ‘biblical’ for me to abstain from food in order to focus more on the kingdom of God, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17) and indeed, I have used bible verses in the past to justify my abstention, I don’t eat mostly because of the culture that I grew up in, and the experiences of my childhood and my youth.

From the early days of my childhood, I often would hear the adults in my life discussing who was on what diet, and how good people looked after they had lost weight. I also clearly remember diets being posted on my grandmother’s refrigerator door; usually these were variations on “One half grapefruit in the morning, bland chicken and rice for lunch, vegetables and water for supper.” As my grandmother was a model Christian in my eyes, surely her ability to eat so little must be direct result of her faith; if I were to be a better Christian, then I too should diet and control my weight.

I was also exposed to the dangers of overindulgence in culinary delights: “Fat Fanny Fran” was a regular fixture in my class. Every day she lugged an enormous brown bag filled with chocolate bars, potato chips, and ham sandwiches with white bread to school and toted the same brown bag, now filled with ‘empties’ back home. The sight of her ever expanding waistline was more than enough to scare me into avoiding too much food, at all cost.

Later in life, as a teenage drive-thru clerk, the dangers of eating too much were reinforced by what I saw from my post at the cash register. Cars with the backseats filled with the garbage of months of take-out meals while the owners filled up the front seats, other youths coming through the drive-thru after a night of partying, and fryers filled with solid blocks of fat, were all scenes commonly seen under the golden arches. I finally understood the connection between overindulgence in food and self destructive behaviours.

Unfortunately, at the time it seemed like the only activities that were acceptable for young Christians involved consumption (and over-consumption) of food. I remember several nights when I came home from a night out with friends with an aching belly, only to wake up with gastrointestinal distress the next morning. I also wasn’t immune to the mystique of fine dining; what unsuspecting diner hasn’t been lured by the luxurious sounding names like “Coq Au Vin,” and “Boondocked Prime Rib of Beef,” only to encounter Chef’s Revenge later in the evening. The way that many in my community of faith treated food, it seemed to me that the mysterious essences of food literally bound our communities together.

Though several years passed when my only concern towards food was how good it made me feel at the moment, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing serious harm to my body by my overindulgence. Additionally, the statistics were getting too hard to ignore: the number one killer in North America is heart disease and stroke, often caused by a diet rich in fatty foods; fatty liver disease (steatahepatitis) is often caused by eating too many rich foods; there is a direct link between the consumption of food products and eventual mortality. Something wasn’t right with this picture.

Finally, I came to a realization: In order to avoid the possibility of harm, I should never engage in activities that might lead to harm. I’ve since stopped driving my car, drinking alcohol, and eating. I’ve finally realized the truth: If I eat, I might overindulge, and if I overindulge even once, then Jesus doesn’t love me. The next time someone has the nerve to ask my why I don’t eat, I’m going to turn the tables on them and ask the more challenging question:
“So, why do you eat?”