The Newest Diet Trend: What Would Jesus Eat?
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In A Biblical Feast (Ten Speed, 1998), Morse details the era's diet -- short on flesh but big on "fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes: olives, grapes, pomegranates, figs, dates, melons, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cucumbers, onions, garlic, leeks, lentils, fava beans and garbanzo beans -- all staples of today's Mediterranean cuisines," as are the spelt, pickles, garlic, yogurt and other Middle Eastern essentials she grew up eating.
"Only eighty-four ingredients are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments," she tells me. "Cumin is mentioned. Sesame is not. There is some vague reference to chicken." Salt, mined from the earth, was the standard seasoning; others such as cinnamon and mace, brought from Asia via trade routes, were prohibitively expensive. The fish in the Sea of Galilee -- "Saint Peter's fish" -- were tilapia.
Compared to what's available in 21st-century American strip malls, this was indeed a purer, healthier cuisine. But was it that way because the lentil-scarfing masses cared about their health and feared God's wrath or because they were prisoners of their own time and could neither find nor afford anything else? Were Christ alive today, would he eat Quarter Pounders? McDonald's keeps kosher in Israel.
"White flour was very expensive in biblical times," Morse points out. Bakers milled chickpeas and other pulses into powders that they added to whole wheat, barley and millet flour as filler -- thus increasing their breads' protein content, albeit inadvertently. Because olives were ubiquitous, high-antioxidant olive oil happened to be the cheap everyday fat. Folks ate fruit -- usually raw and fresh -- because they'd never heard of, much less tasted, cane sugar.
But hey: If believing that God wants them to ditch the Krispy Kremes is the only way some of our fattest fellow Americans can be convinced to shape up, then why not? More power to those who promote healthy diets to those who might never otherwise touch hippie chow with 10-foot poles. But what would God say about supplements? On a mountaintop yesterday, I think I heard Him proclaim: Save money! Buy them at Walgreens!