Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Why Junk Food Is Less Holy

Drew Belsky

I saw the headline this morning: “Processed Food Linked to Depression.” Then this study:

There were 2,122 cases of depression under the strict definition and the top fifth of consumers—nine or more servings of ultra-processed food a day—had around a 50% higher risk of depression compared with women who are the lowest amount of four servings or fewer a day, the researchers found (it was around a third higher for the broader category).

For crunchy people like me…well…

But even if you don’t spend your free time railing against seed oils and defending salt and fat, it shouldn’t seem outlandish to Catholics that faker food makes for sadder people.

It’s true that the human spirit is exalted over the body (Rom. 8), but that doesn’t mean we say (literally) “to hell with the body.” We’re not Manicheans. On the contrary, the body is the Lord’s temple. In a corporeal way, we house the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:13,19) and receive Jesus in the Eucharist (11:28-30). The physical body of Our Lady housed the Second Person of the Trinity and was specially made to be worthy of him.

So our bodies, unstained by sin and in their ideal state, contain and reflect the glory of God. I think our food can do that, too. The Fall corrupted everything, so I wouldn’t say rotten or poisoned food is good to eat, or that Tide Pods bring good health because God made the molecules in them. But I still think there’s a terrestrial ideal, a “foodness” to aspire to here on earth. And the food is best when it’s un-“stained” by the “corruption” of…well…monosodium glutamate.

It’s easy for our fallenness to wreck good things. Try the virtues: fortitude can become abuse of the weak, and prudence can become cowardice or indifference. Food, too: someone discovers that the calcium in milk is good for you—and then isolates the calcium, infuses it by arcane mechanical processes into sugar-laced extruded wheat puffs shaped like chocolate chip cookies, and insists that conditioning your kids to want chocolate chip cookies for breakfast makes for a “good source of calcium.”

All this to say it’s better to stick with the milk. It’s more natural. It’s closer to what God gives us. You don’t have to tweak it, and you won’t improve it.

Nor, for the lactose-intolerant, do we want for variety. Our Lord signed off on at least three foods—bread (Matt. 24:26), wine, and fish (Luke 24:42-43)—in his earthly life. God gave Adam and Eve plants (Gen. 1:30, 2:16) and Noah meat (3:3). He’s pro-cows and pro-bees (Lev. 20:24). He authorized cooking, baking, and fermentation. So we have a lot to work with before seed oils and ultra-pasteurization and certain sad imitations of nourishment must factor. If I’m going to follow Jesus’ example in all things, I want that to include eating the way he ate.

Strictly speaking, there’s no succeeding: an apple beats Apple Jacks, but there’s still no telling what the grocery store did to it. Even your own apple tree meets man’s fallen nature in some way. We can’t be food Pelagians; we can’t do it on our own. But we search for the ideal, understanding that the search fortifies us for the life to come. Call it a sort of theosis, from Cookie Crisp to a home-baked cookie to just the butter and eggs.

“Are you trying to say I’m mortally sinning every time I eat a chocolate bar?” No—if that were the case, I’d be in the confessional more often than pre-Protestant Martin Luther. It’s not (necessarily) a sin to eat poorly, but I think how we eat does reflect our respect for the temple that is our body.

And so I’ll mangle St. James and suggest that every body reflects the glory of God, but a well-nourished body, eating authentic God-given food, reflecteth much. Thus hints science, at least.

Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!