I ate at McDonald’s for the first time in 1965 when the number of hamburgers sold was still in the millions. I was ten years old, and the restaurant had just opened to great excitement in my neighborhood. I settled into a booth with my hamburger and French fries, but I stopped after two bites. They were terrible! The meat was tough and the French fries too salty. It was a similar reaction many people have to their first cigarette. If I had only stopped then.
Like most Americans, if I am in a hurry, I am lured into the Golden Arches or another fast-food restaurant. It is convenient and satisfies my craving for fat and salt. I know that what I am eating is not healthy for me. The density of calories, the concentration of cholesterol, sodium and starch are not what my body needs. But as Paul says, “The things I would not do, I do”.
Living a healthy life is a multifaceted proposition. “You are what you eat” remains a truism, and in America, with two fast food restaurants on every corner, “what we are” is increasingly obese.
Since the proliferation of fast-food restaurants in the last 20 years, the number of obese teenagers has tripled. One in six teenagers is now obese. In the same time period, teenage consumption of soft drinks doubled. Fast-food restaurants sell these high-calorie, sugary soft drinks excluding any healthier beverage options. The resulting explosion in childhood obesity has made formerly unusual diagnoses of illness in children now commonplace. When I first began practicing medicine 25 years ago, it was very rare to diagnose a child or teenager with hypertension or Type II diabetes. Now, it is not only common, but almost a daily occurrence.
Is America’s addiction to fast food to blame? It is hard not to see a correlation. Almost every child in America eats at McDonald’s at least once a month. All the drive-through lines in the medical district where I work are backed up at lunchtime. Our national fast-food addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Highly-processed, refined foods are not only bad for our physical bodies but for our spiritual health as well. Fast food is designed to be eaten alone and in a hurry – a formula for spiritual isolation.
For Jesus, the concept of fast food would be unacceptable. From the Gospels, we know that Jesus liked to have conversation with his meals. He used meals to create community. Eating was not something to do as quickly as possible; meals were intended to be time for fellowship. Early Christians gathered together to share their faith, eating a full meal together as a way of growing closer. They were more connected to harvest times and farming practices. Today, we refer to this as slow food, but for early Christians, this was a part of their life and their faith.
It is time for modern Christians to reconnect with our Christian heritage of shared meals. We can use mealtime to nurture community while nourishing our bodies. Following the path of Jesus and of those in the early Church, we should cook and eat in community more often, and even when we are alone, we should eat foods that come directly from the earth. As we build fellowship over food and become more connected with natural foods, we can slowly break the addiction to unhealthy fast-food. Shared meals may take more time, but they are spiritually enriching and healthier for our bodies.