Monday, October 16, 2006

Christianity and food

Every time I eat at McDonalds I leave there saying to myself, "I will NEVER eat here again!" But, for some inexplicable reason, I do.

So I stopped at McDonalds for lunch today on my way to a meeting at church. I was in a hurry. I knew I could grab something quick from the Golden Arches people. So I pulled into the parking lot, parked my car, walked in and got a Classic Grilled Chicken sandwich combo. I sat down and started to eat it, and that's when this thought hit me between the eyes, just like it does every time I eat at McDonalds: "This is DISGUSTING! No, more than that...this is WRONG!"

BTW, this is not just about McDonalds. It's about every restaurant that serves food in cardboard boxes and paper sacks. I'm not even talking about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of the food. I'm talking about the whole fast-food experience. It's just wrong I tell you!

Here's what I mean:

Invariably, whether it's Taco Bell or Burger King or Arby's or McDonalds or Wendy's, you walk up to this stainless steel counter, stand in line, and place your order with a bored high school student who has worn his or her tacky uniform too many days. S/he doesn't smile at you. What s/he says is, "Next in line." And instead of ordering food you order a number (example: "I'll have a number 3 with no cheese; light on the mayo.").

S/he hands you a receipt and then you get to stand there and watch some very stressed-out people throw your and 7 other people's meals together. There's a lot of yelling going on back there. Bells are ringing and beeps are beeping. Your order shows up on a computer screen. A person whose name tag says "Manager" is walking around eyeing the workers, keeping them on task. You see apple pies stacked in little boxes. A milk shake machine is dripping goo into a bucket. You see unknown bits and puddles of stuff all over the floor. It's on everyone's uniforms too.

If you're at Taco Bell you get the happy experience of seeing somebody squeeze guacamole or sour cream onto your taco through something that resembles a caulk gun. If you're at a burger joint you get to watch someone pour a huge bag of frozen somethings into a cauldron of hot oil. Some guy in a pickup truck at the drive-through window is spitting mad because the girl gave him a Coke instead of a Mountain Dew. Nobody's smiling; it's a job. They're ready to go home.

Your order comes out onto the stainless steel counter. "Number 122," the lady behind the counter says. That's you. So you take your boxed-up sandwich and your French fried "potatoes" (also in a cardboard container), fill up your cup with soda, and sit down....but not before you wipe off the ketchup and salt from the table left behind by the previous customer.

See, that's the problem right there. You're a customer, and this is a business. They're selling speed, not food. Or, if you have kids, they're selling a couple of cheap toys that will be played with for a few minutes and then thrown into the toy box at home, to be forgotten until your next yard sale.

OK, maybe I exaggerated...but not much.

The reason I said this fast-food experience is wrong is that it's not the way God intended us to eat! Food, like God Himself, is supposed to be savored. The Psalmist says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). God gave to human beings an enormous variety of foods with all kinds of tastes, smells, and textures, as a reflection of His beauty and goodness. Food is one of the things God richly gave us for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). It was "created to be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:3). So it should be prepared slowly and carefully, to preserve all the flavor it was intended to have. It should also be prepared with creativity and elegance, to glorify the creativity and elegance of the God who provided it. (I know how ridiculous that sounds to parents with little kids, but now that I'm 52 I can say it, and it's true!)

Not only that, but food is supposed to be a thing we enjoy with our friends and family, seasoned with plenty of laughter and conversation, not gobbled down in the car or squeezed into a 15-minute time slot at home. I believe that "fast food" is a contradiction in terms.

In the Bible, meals were special times of fellowship shared among believers, and between believers and God. Jesus ate with His disciples and attended countless parties at which delicious food and wine were served. Two of His most famous miracles involved an abundance of food (Mark 6 & 8). For His very first miracle, He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He compared Himself to bread that satisfies (John 6:35).

At least 21 times in the Old Testament, the Promised Land is referred to as a place flowing with milk and honey. God wanted to give good food to His people.

Through Isaiah the prophet God said, "Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare" (Isaiah 55:2). Now obviously, God was talking figuratively about Himself. He is the food that delights the soul. But He used food as a metaphor for a reason. Food is a symbol for God. So let's eat it slowly, and make it as good and as savory as possible.

Will I eat at McDonalds again? Yeah, probably. But I won't enjoy it. And that's wrong!

Christians, let's rebel. When we eat out, let's go to delis and other places where folks smile and food tastes like it's supposed to. When we eat at home (which we need to do more often) let's go more slowly. Let's invite each other over and make meal time a time to talk and laugh and worship and taste and see that the Lord is good.


PaulF said...

I agree with your main point, and yes, I accept your invitation. What time do you want us to come over? :)

However, I do think you were a little harsh. So in defense of fast food places (other than their nutritional value) I offer this:

First we should recognize God's sovereignty. So we know that fast food places must serve a purpose, and a good one at that.

I myself have been blessed by McDonald's. How? you ask. Simple, they open early enough that I was able to meet for a year and a half with someone whom discipled me when I first became a Christian. During that time, we were able to make connections with some of the workers and regular customers that, I believe, advanced the Kingdom.

All in one McDonalds.

I'm an optimist. So I believe that this scene is repeating itself over and over across the nation and the world.

And I haven't even started talking about the not so theoretical training these kids are getting. It's not much, but it's a start. And that's all these places are meant to be - A start.

So if you drive by a fast food place today, think about the good stuff that's going on behind that stainless steel counter and in front of it.

Mike said...

Paulf - I agree that God is sovereign and can use anything to further His purposes. Good art occasionally turns up at roadside art sales (you know, the kind with velvet pictures of Elvis). But it would be better to go to museums and galleries to enjoy and buy art. That's all I'm saying. Heck, my daughter worked at Taco Bell and I'm glad. My point is that the fast food experience cheapens what God intended by giving us food. I feel the fast-food industry capitalizes on the basest human instincts and exposes what's worst about American culture. And it's our fault because we buy into it.

Paul said...

Great post Mike. I couldn't help but think of the table that we set at church. Is it fast food? Are there times when we don't take more time to enjoy the feast that we present each week? I'm not saying we don't. I'm just wondering out loud if we do.

More concerning to me is whether people want fast food church or a deeper dining experience. Maybe I am going too deep in this, but there is a correlation I think.

Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

In line with your theme of quality being sacrificed for efficiency, you might be interested in the so-called "McDonaldization thesis" advanced in sociology circles.

Have you seen the documentary Super Size Me? The special feature on the DVD called "The Smoking Fry" was particularly interesting. Also, I'm looking forward to the fictionalization Fast Food Nation that opens soon (it sounds like a movie version of Sinclair's The Jungle for modern society).

Regarding the spitting mad guy in the drive thru: he should be more understanding because McD's only carries Coke products and he's asking for a Pepsi product. ;-)

doodlebugmom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rob said...

#11. Pastors shalt not defame Chick-fil-A.

Matt said...

Super writing, Mike. It resonates with me big time.

Our dinner table is becoming more and more the one sacred place where my family gathers, shares, and talks. Buying speed or convenience is no substitute, and may actually rob me of a chance to fellowship.

More and more, fellowship is deliberate. It doesn't just happen for me like it used to.

PaulF said...

My mom has a velvet Elvis, as well as a velvet matador.

Mike said...

Rob - You'll notice I didn't mention Chick-Fil-A by name. That was on purpose. I can't criticize a company that takes the Sabbath seriously like they do! Yay, Chick-Fil-A!!

Mike said...

Matthaeus F. - Yes, I've seen Super Size Me, but I didn't watch the special features. I'll have to check that out. Thanks!

Mike said...

Paul - Great comment about the correlation with church life. That's worth some discussion.

Jenn Page said...

You think McDonalds is bad? I ate at Sonic yesterday - I've got you beat.

Patricia said...

I just don't eat at fast food places unless I'm completely and totally desparate and starving, and that's not very often.

Anonymous said...

Whereas I agree with alot of your harsh comments about the fast-food industry I have to say it's still not wrong. We have a choice. If we want fast food then we choose fast-food. If we want food as God intended it the we have other choices.