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Food and Harm

An it harm none, do what ye will – Doreen Valiente

Most Pagans in this country were raised Christian. No I haven’t taken any sort of official poll, but since Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States, and Paganism is one of the fastest growing religions, the math is unavoidable. Coming from the structured dogma of a monotheistic religion into one that places all life-choices squarely in one’s own lap can be a heady experience, as is the vastly different image of the body.

Early Neo- Paganism – which was dominated by Wicca – held and still holds, that the body is a good thing, and the good feelings that arise from it are to be embraced and welcomed. Indeed, such feelings can be counted as acts of worship to a deity. This attitude has resulted in a good deal of healing for many around body image and sexuality. It has been a positive force for growth and change. Eating is something to be enjoyed, savored, and celebrated. Guilt is not necessary. Size is not equated with morality. Bodies are a gift, and we are glad to be in them.

This view is valid and useful in a place that has a strong local food culture that makes use of local foods and uses the whole animal. Watch a few episodes of  Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, or Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations if you are not sure what I mean by “local food culture.” But in the post-WWII US, poor quality food is so normal that “Standard American Diet” is a common term used to describe poor eating habits. These habits have at times combined badly with guilt-free eating. I have met many Pagans with health issues who happily consume refined and nutrient-free foods in the name of pleasure and worship. Food and its relationship to health is a current issue, and it is just as contentious and difficult to deal with in the context of religion as it is in the secular world. Often more so because of the spiritual component.

In his book Good To Eat, Riddles of Food and Culture, Marvin Harris posits that what we eat can become a religious issue if food laws are used to separate out one group of people - as with Kosher or Halel – or if a limitation in the food supply occurs – as with the Hindu prohibition on beef. So I ask, is the very sad state of our food supply enough of a reason to make food a religious issue for Pagans?

And it is truly bad. While comparatively very few people actually go hungry in the US, the poor quality of our food means that, even if we get enough calories, we lack vitamins and minerals that are necessary for our bodies to properly utilize those calories. This can mean that one may be goddess-sized while still being malnourished. How soon this lack creates an obvious problem such as type II diabetes depends on the constitution of the individual. But not all problems are obvious. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are just as affected by diet as any other illness, and can be cured with the right food and lifestyle. Even addictions can be treated using  diet. *

Not only is our food lacking in nutrients, but it is perfectly legal to add chemicals that our mammalian bodies are not designed to process – at least not in the amounts in which we receive them. This can happen at any stage of food production. I am happy to say that - at least in my own community – that there seems to be an upturn in people who are cooking for themselves rather than eating pre-prepared meals. This, of course, takes out all the preservatives and flavor enhancers. Making food for oneself also cuts out the vast majority of transgenic – commonly, and inaccurately, called “genetically modified” – foods.

Transgenic food crops include corn, soy, cotton (the seed oil), papaya, canola, and rice, as well as commercial dairy products. Transgenic organisms cause failure in our internal organs and damage our ability to reproduce. If you eat any sort of pre-packaged food or food products, then you are eating GMOs. Just this morning I realized the corn starch in my cupboard must have GMOs because it was not organic. And while “organic” still means non-GMO, food companies continue to work to erode those standards.

Our food is harming us, so yes, I do think this is a religious issue.

*For the record, healing with diet is not an abstract idea for me, but something I have been actively working for myself for over ten years.

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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.

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