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How many rights can make a wrong?

The scene was an outdoor wedding reception. The newlyweds seemed cool and calm, but it was the father of the groom who was showing signs of apprehension. The burden had fallen upon him to say grace before the meal. His training in mathematics, however, had not prepared him to execute the responsibilities of an emcee. He was lost for words. Turning to me, and somewhat bewildered, he asked, "What should I say?" I suggested that he ask God to bless the food, the families, the friends, and the fun. He found favour in this formula. And so, with this extended alliteration, he happily granted permission to all the guests to begin the meal.

Perhaps it was my Italian heritage that came to my rescue. A tavola non s' invecchia (at the table, one does not age) is a time-honored Italian maxim. In this context, the table is linked to family members, friends, conversation, cordiality, and mirth. The salutary combination of nourishing food and nurturing friendships may not arrest the aging process, but it no doubt promotes both health and longevity.

Primavera, for Italians, means several things that are beautifully intertwined: Springtime, the engagement ring (which symbolizes "first truth" - prima + vera), and food in the form of the first greens that make a tasty and nutritious salad. Primavera, then, integrates food with nature, love, and the cosmos. Through eating, we become united with Gods nature, with our neighbors, and with our own body/soul identity. It is significant that, etymologically, our companions are those with whom we share bread.

Unfortunately, in our modern, scientific, analytic world, eating is often short-circuited. It has lost much of its festive and social importance, being replaced by the TV-dinner, "fast-foods," eating-on-the-run and on-the-fly (as in airplanes). Eating has become re-fueling.

But when eating is reduced to the mere intake of food, strange problems begin to surface. One problem results when a person becomes hyper-critical of the kind of food he is willing to purchase, consume, and digest. These foods must be pure, free of meat, fat, and any artificial chemicals. But seeking purity in one's diet can be a relentless pursuit. The ultra-scrupulous dieter finds reasons to avoid sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn, and all dairy products. In making what he believes to be all the "right" choices, he embarks on a path of malnutrition, depriving himself of a variety of nutrients that are necessary for good health.

Welcome to the world of Orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that, as the Greek root indicates, means "fixation on right eating".

Steven Bratman first identified this disorder in 1997. He warns that a fixation on eating only "the right foods" can lead to severe malnutrition and even death. Bratman, himself, once fell victim to orthorexia nervosa. "I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years," he writes, "but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food."

His admission to having lost the "poetry of life" is most revealing. This should not be surprising, since there is a poetic, even mystical connection between food, earth, nature, life, society, companionship, and civility. The motion picture Babette's Feast (1987) is a beautiful and compelling portrait of this phenomenon. One reviewer described it as "a film of the sacramental vision--God's love reaching out to us body and soul." Food should not be demythologized. Il vino e la poesia della terra (wine is the poetry of the earth), said Mario Soldati. It should not be severed from its transcendent associations. Food is not just food no more than a "kiss is just a kiss".

Consider some of the questions contained in the diagnostic questionnaire developed for potential orthorexics: 1) Does your diet socially isolate you? 2) Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about healthy foods? 3) Do you look down on others who don't eat this way? 4) Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from family and friends? 5) Do you feel guilty or self-loathing when you stray from your diet? Answering "yes" to such questions could indicate the presence of this eating disorder. The overriding point here, however, is the voluntary dissociation of food from all of the personal and social factors with which eating has a natural and beneficial affinity.

God, in His providence, has provided an abundance of healthy food for us. Nature is our bounty. We should trust that God has supplied us, through nature, with what we need to eat. At the same time, we might very well develop a healthy suspicion about the need for science to be excessively involved in manipulating our food. Food, as we have said, lends itself naturally to sociability, civility, dining etiquette, festivity, and celebration. The Last Supper and the wedding at Cana involved far more than just eating.

Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International's Truth & Charity Forum.
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Title Annotation:dining
Author:DeMarco, Donald
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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