Welcome to Kataphatic, a blog about fat liberation theology. We’re going to start out with a post about hunger. I would like to direct you to the right side of the page, where you can read about this blog and comment policy, learn a bit about me, or leave questions or comments. Without further ado, let us begin…
A study was released last month that seemed to imply that “calorie-restricted eating” leads to longer life (one of many examples here). I watched Seattle’s KOMO 4 news’ reporting of this study, and as part of their study they also interviewed a husband and wife team of scientists studying the effects on themselves of being constantly hungry. The interviewer choked on the goopy green smoothie (the couple’s daily breakfast) she was served by the husband, and the screen cut to the wife, whose skin was fallow and papery, talking about how they believed their lifestyle would lead to longer life.
Now, this does seem extreme, and most people don’t live like this. But this mentality permeates our culture in ways that aren’t so extreme; in ways that are in fact quite typical. Weight Watchers is currently running a series of TV advertisements (one example) for their new Momentum Program depicting “hungry” as a furry orange (and might I say rather cute!) monster. The voiceover says:
Dont let his cuteness fool you,
not even for a second.
He tempts. He taunts. He distracts.
He stands between you and losing
weight. Conquer Hungry with Weight
Watchers new Momentum Program
This is not at all out of the ordinary. We frequently use language to describe our hunger that betrays a belief that it is not only “a separate entity” rather than part of our own body, but also an enemy. It is something to struggle against, to fight, and ultimately, something to conquer. This is basically war imagery!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be at war with what is a natural and normal part of my body’s functioning. I also don’t happen to think that is God’s best for our bodies. So where does this distrust and hatred of hunger come form?
Within the Christian church today, and largely in US American society, there are echoes of a duality between the physical and spiritual, earthly and heavenly, body and soul. That which is physical and embodied is seen as corruptible and fallen, we are to be skeptical of it and do our best to control it. That which is spiritual is seen as perfect and holy; we are to cultivate it and try to be spiritual more than earthly. The spirit is at war with the flesh and anything that is “of the flesh,” hunger included (and also thirst, sexuality, emotions, and many others) becomes a prime target. These dualistic echoes come from a variety of places, including Gnosticism and a kind of Platonized Christianity (for a more in-depth discussion of this, see Kelly Brown Douglas’ book What’s Faith Got to Do With It?).
Let’s turn back to the study of the monkeys. There were a number of problems with this study, not the least of which was that the data was manipulated to show a larger correlation than there actually was between calorie-restricted eating and longevity. Moreover, even if it’s true that constant hunger might elongate our life briefly, the psychological, social, and physiological problems associated with constant hunger simply aren’t worth it. For more on this, check out this post over at Junkfood Science by nurse and blogger Sandy Szwarc.
All of this is the “bad news,” that we not only live in a society that demonizes our hunger but that our scientists are willing to skew the data in ways that support this demonization! But this blog is really about the Good News–the Gospel–for fat* folks (and really for everyone). This blog will be about the message of Jesus, the bringer of the Good News, who was a pretty earthy kinda guy, living fully into his body. In Luke 7 and Matthew 11 we see that Jesus is being called a “glutton” and a “drunkard.” The nuances around those words would fill multiple blog posts, but for now let’s just say that Jesus, the prime example for Christians of living life fully, ate and drank and partied with his friends. He affirmed the goodness of satisfying bodily appetites in pleasurable ways. And not only that, but he used food and drink as a metaphor to describe himself! He said “I am the bread of life” and at the last supper he used the bread and the wine as symbols of the gift of his body, and the new covenant, to God’s people.
Trying to control or defeat such a natural part of our body functioning does not affirm the goodness of our bodies as they are created. Sure, we are animals who have evolved along with other species. But we are also more than animals. We have been created; fearfully and wonderfully made. And our passions, our desires, our bodily hungers and needs are all good gifts from our Creator. Rather than seeing hunger as an enemy, fleeing from it or fighting it, what if we befriended it? Imagine how things might be different if we learned to listen to the message hunger has for us, to allow its subtle cues to teach us the types and amounts of foods our bodies need. What are we afraid will happen if we stop trying to defeat or control our hunger; that it will destroy us with completely out-of-control eating? This is one of God’s good gifts to us! It will not destroy us; instead, it can help us live more full lives.
Your hunger, your thirst, indeed your very body, are all good gifts, not bad things that must be fought against. Cherish your body. Treasure your hunger! With thanksgiving and rejoicing, let us eat and drink and remember that being embodied is a good gift.
* in this blog, the term “fat” will be used as a simple descriptor, no different than short or tall, curly-haired or straight-haired. I will explore the reasoning for this in more detail in a subsequent post.