Daniel’s Diet: A Biblical Remedy for a Global Epidemic

The Old Testament offers an ancient (yet simple, relevant and practical) cure for our twenty-first century problems.

“America’s Food Crisis and How to Fix It” is the headline of Bryan Walsh’s feature article in the August 31 issue of TIME. In case you haven’t heard, our food system is in peril, and our bodies aren’t faring any better. Our convenience-based approach to cuisine is unsavory and inhumane – and not just for in terms of the animals.

A short excerpt from Walsh’s article on best new photo booths offers insight into our deeply flawed food system:

Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won’t bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and stomach-churning stench. He’s fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about five months of age, he’ll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population.

Meat production using such a method has become the norm, and with it comes all sorts of hidden costs: soil erosion, contaminated food, and climate change (our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy). Nevertheless, those costs are well hidden, so on the surface it costs less to eat poorly. And the more poor people we have, the further entrenched these deplorable habits become. Consider the statistics from Agriculture and Trade Policy’s 2006 report Food Without Thought: How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity:

  • Americans spend over half of every food dollar on ready-prepared, ready-to-eat food, most of which is high in added fats and sugars.
  • On any given day, one quarter of U.S. adults eat fast food.
  • U.S. consumption of high fructose corn syrup (an added sugar) increased over 1,000 percent in the last 30 years.
  • U.S. consumption of added fats shot up more than 35 percent in that same period.
  • The average American consumes over 50 gallons of carbonated soft drinks a year.
  • Nearly one-third of our calories come from junk food.
  • A full one-third of U.S. vegetable consumption consists of frozen potatoes (mostly French fries), potato chips, and iceberg lettuce

Our bodies cannot tolerate this diet and neither can the earth. Walsh concludes his article with a call for more sustainable solutions. I’ve got one that you won’t hear from any policy wonk, politician, or pundit, but I’ll bet many physicians would endorse it. It’s pretty simple (though not necessarily easy). It’s also pretty ancient, dating back to 605 B.C. I call this solution Daniel’s diet, as it came from (of all places) a bible study I completed on the Old Testament book of Daniel. In it, Beth Moore, an amazing teacher with a gift for making the most archaic passages seem relevant, showed us how young Daniel, a faithful servant of God, managed to live 70 years in service to the king of Babylon without betraying his faith. Setting an example of how to live in the world without succumbing to it, Daniel saw his every action as a way to honor God. His first action came shortly after entering the palace, where the king offered Daniel a daily ration of the best food and wine from his own kitchens. Here’s Daniel’s response:

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