A votre santé! (To your health!)
Could our diet be a symptom, rather than a cause, of our unhealthy and unbalanced lives?
For many years, citizens of countries such as Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia enjoyed excellent health relative to the rest of the world. Public health researchers credited the "Mediterranean Diet," an assemblage of foods that features fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry, whole grains, and olive oil (and includes little red meat or processed food).
But it wasn’t just the nutrients in these foods that imparted well-being – healthful eating in Mediterranean cultures was defined by positive social values. The food economy was small-scale and local; no one was far removed from the people whose physical labor produced the food on their tables. The people also prioritized the preparation and slow consumption of food in the hierarchy of their daily demands, cultivating a time of sharing and personal interaction. Time spent eating was relaxing, nourishing to the spirit, and pleasant to the senses.
But recent studies indicate that the health advantage of people in southern Europe is slipping away. The Mediterranean diet is changing, and so is the Mediterranean lifestyle. Patterns of production and consumption are becoming more globalized. Fast food chains have arrived in countries like Greece for the first time. Fewer people are in jobs that are physically involving.
Sounds like America, doesn’t it?
In our conversations with clergy, we’ve heard again and again how the demands of the job make it difficult to eat healthfully or exercise. So we elected to add a mindful eating component called Naturally Slim® to our wellness program, Spirited Life; many of our participants are going through it now and sharing with us that already they’re enjoying remarkable success. Naturally Slim’s lessons call attention to our culture’s tendency to make food choices based on convenience, rather than rooting them in our values or faith commitments, and provides ways to change that habit. It’s an initial step toward moving pastors into a frame of mind that approximates what people in Mediterranean cultures have known for centuries.
I was alerted to the Mediterranean Diet article by Pastor Mary Frances McClure and the website of Trinity UMC in Red Springs (North Carolina Conference, Rockingham District). Mary Frances discusses how the congregation might multiply table fellowship with one another, and extend hospitality to community members who habitually eat alone. Her post is well worth reading.
Stay cool out there.
John James, M.A.
Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative