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The Newest Diet Trend: What Would Jesus Eat?

Whether you call it the Hallelujah Diet, the Maker's Diet or the Lord's Diet, the holy spirit is driving one of America's biggest weight-loss fads.

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"In just 21 days, I LOST 14 POUNDS and FEEL GREAT. I have also been able to COME OFF MY ASTHMA and ALLERGY MEDICATIONS."

Malkmus, who used to host the "America Needs Christ" radio show and claims that well over a million people have adopted the diet, "is a very eloquent speaker who is capable of inspiring people who trust what he says. ... I do not believe he is trustworthy," asserts Quackwatch's Barrett.

"You can find lots of words in religious writings that suggest a lot of things," Barrett tells me, "and I don't think any one of them is necessarily more determinant than others." Barrett has nothing against veganism, but companies such as Hallelujah Acres "are selling dietary supplements that may or may not be rational to use, and they encourage people to waste a lot of money on supplements they don't need."

He isn't even totally convinced that Malkmus's original claim is true. "Whether Malkmus actually had cancer is not clear. In a local newspaper report that was published in 1998, Malkmus admitted that he never consulted a cancer specialist for diagnosis but had relied on nutritionists and chiropractors."

Christian critics assail Malkmus for cherrypicking Genesis 1:29 while ignoring Genesis 9:3, in which God expands the allowable edibles to include flesh: "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you."

"The whole idea that a biblical diet is a vegetarian or vegan diet is just not true," says the Rev. Rayner Hesse, an Episcopal priest and the co-author, with Anthony Chiffolo, of Cooking With the Bible (Greenwood, 2006). To research their book, which examines 18 meals mentioned in the Old and New Testaments and shows how to prepare them today, the pair studied not just the Bible and Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic dictionaries but also food history and geography.

"The stories in the Bible range over a thousand years in time and their settings extend from Egypt to Persia and north. Learning which foods were available in those times and places and learning the ways in which these foods were prepared helps you understand and appreciate the stories," says Chiffolo, whose other books include Advent and Christmas with the Saints, 100 Names of Mary and At Prayer with the Saints.

"In some cases, the Bible tells us word for word what was eaten," Hesse adds. For example, in the Old Testament tale of Abraham and Sarah rushing to entertain three unexpected visitors (who turn out to be angels), Abraham orders a servant to cook a calf freshly seized from his herd. Given the culinary technologies available near what is now Hebron circa 1500 BCE, "the only way it would be possible to kill a calf and have it ready for dinner within the story's time-span would be to shishkebab it," Hesse says.

"What did Jesus eat? We know for sure he ate fish," offers Chiffolo. Then as now, "What people ate was determined by social stratifications and income levels. People with lots of money would have had meat or fish every day. People who didn't have money might have had fish or eggs once a week."

"Jesus was lower-middle-class," Hesse says. "So his meals would have been pretty sparse and very, very basic: fish occasionally, meat very rarely, and whatever could be grown in a home garden." Because fresh water was largely non-potable, he and his companions would have drunk wine instead, and eaten dates and raisins for dessert.

"I don't think people would have been obese in Jesus' crowd," Hesse says.

Kitty Morse agrees. During an Anglican Easter sermon at a Casablanca church in her native Morocco, "The realization suddenly struck me: Jesus and the disciples dined à la marocaine."

"The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci  "created a misconception that persists to this day, by portraying the celebrants seated on chairs along one side of an elegant, linen-covered banquet table" -- when the meal, if it actually happened, would have taken place in a humble house, its diners eating and drinking from communal vessels while reclining on the floor.

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