When Food Choices ARE a Moral Issue

By Mandi Ehman, Contributing Writer

A couple months ago I wrote a post called “Food Choices Are Not a Moral Issue.

There were several who commented that disagreed with the title of the post…and I actually agree with them!

My main goal in that post was to open a discussion about judging other people’s food choices, and I stand by the assertion that it’s not my place to judge what other people choose to eat.

On the other hand, what I choose to eat is a moral issue, but it’s one based on personal conviction. There are potential moral issues about food sources, making healthy choices, gluttony and more.

The problem is that — except for gluttony — the Bible doesn’t lay out specific tenets related to those issues, and I don’t believe that we are in a position to add our own tenets to those God has given us and expect other people to live by them.
green smoothie-4

Image by jules:stonesoup

Here’s an example:

You may be convicted by the information about conventional meat production to choose different sources for your food or to fight the injustice that organizations like Monsanto are perpetuating on millions of people around the world. Personally, I haven’t been convicted of either thing — although I’m still researching and learning more and certainly agree that we need to be informed about these issues.

But I have been convicted about child slavery in the Ivory Coast for the harvesting of chocolate and coffee.

I could easily lay out facts and Bible verses in an attempt to make my personal conviction yours or declare that you’re sinning when you eat a mainstream brand of chocolate, but I don’t believe that your choice in this area is a moral issue that’s up for discussion.

My responsibility is to live out my conviction and help educate others — lovingly and without judgment — about what I know, but judging those who continue to buy conventional coffee and chocolate crosses the line.

There are dozens of these issues in Christian circles and not just related to food. How about homeschooling, dresses only, secular music, Harry Potter, alcohol, etc.?
Divine fair trade chocolate

Image by HowardLake

The list goes on and on and Christians have been attempting to add tenets to the Bible since the time of Jesus; the issues today are just different than they were then.

Once I know something — through research, education or the example of other people — and have been convicted by the Holy Spirit that it’s an issue I need to address, I absolutely do have a moral responsibility to make changes to my life.

But judging someone based on their food choices — or expecting them to share your convictions on issues that aren’t specifically addressed in the Bible — just creates division.

The amazing part to me is how many times the Bible addresses the issue of food. Although it can be argued that the verse I quoted in the original post was addressing a very specific food issue at the time, the Bible actually warns Christ-followers again and again not to let food become a divisive issue among them.

Food Choices

Image by Paul Keller

Perhaps the most relevant of these passages is Romans 14:1-23, which explores the idea in depth of differing food convictions between believers. This is a long passage, but there’s so much relevant stuff here that I’m going to go ahead and share it in its entirety (emphasis mine):

The Law of Liberty

14 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;[a] and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose[b] and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.[c]11 For it is written:

“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”[d]

12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

The Law of Love

14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things[e]is acceptable to God and approved by men.

19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.[f]22 Do you have faith?[g] Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.[h]

the big yawn

Image by ali edwards

And a few other verses to consider as well:

  • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 states that “food does not commend us to God,” and that we have a responsibility to not cause other people to stumble with our choices (which could apply to food choices on either end of the spectrum, frankly!).
  • Luke 12:23 says, “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” I love this verse for those times when it’s easy to get caught up in trying to discern what is healthiest or trying to protect our children from any food that we believe may be harmful to their little bodies. It’s easy to become fearful when researching and switching to a real food diet, but Jesus assures us that we don’t need to walk in worry or fear!
  • Colossians 2:16-23 addresses believers who were being tempted by false teachers to follow Jewish dietary restrictions as an obligation of their faith. It says, “Let no one judge you in food or in drink…why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourself to regulations, ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’…?”
  • Matthew 15:11 says plainly, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

**All verses are from the New King James Version

And yes, I know the Bible says that “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Even if we ignore the context in which that verse was written — referring to sexual immortality — the problem with deciding what that means for another Christian is that there are dozens of self-proclaimed experts offering differing advice on what food is healthy and what is unhealthy, and since the New Testament doesn’t lay out a prescribed diet, there’s no standard that can be applied objectively.

It’s all based on the opinions and research (often conflicting research) of people.

All of that aside, the Bible does list gluttony as a sin, and I think as Christians we do have a responsibility to exhort one another in love. If you have a close friend who is living a lifestyle of gluttony (whether they’re overindulging in soda and onion rings or kefir and green smoothies), you do have the same obligation to confront them in love as you do if they are gossiping or not honoring their husbands.
No-Knead Bread - Finished Loaf

 Image by Denna Jones

There are two key points that I think are important to point out:

  • Even gluttony has nothing to do with exactly what you are choosing to eat; it’s more about an attitude and relationship with food.
  • And it’s important to confront one another in love, not sit idly by and think ill of them or try to convince them that they’re wrong through snide and sarcastic remarks.

Now, because I don’t want anyone to take anything I’ve said the wrong way, let me be clear: I think it’s really good to research and learn more about our food sources, how food really affects our bodies, etc., but it’s important when doing that to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance for our lives rather than just following the prescribed diet of man.

Once our eyes have been opened and we’re convicted by the Holy Spirit to make changes in a certain area — either because of the way it affects our body or the impact it has on communities or the environment — we need to follow through with those changes.

I also think it’s good — really good — to share the changes we’re making with other people in a loving, non-judgmental way. I’m thankful for the people who have done this with me because I have learned a lot through their sharing.

The key is to live out our personal convictions without judging others or allowing food choices to become divisive!

How are food choices a moral issue in your life? Have you struggled with judging others because of their food choices?

Top Image by fishermansdaughter

About Mandi Ehman

Mandi Ehman lives in wild, wonderful West Virginia with her husband of ten years and four beautiful, spunky little girls. As a full-time work-at-home, homeschooling mom, she runs Life Your Way, a site that blends intentional and creative living, and Jungle Deals & Steals, where it's all Amazon, all the time.

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Comments

  1. The book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, by Ellen F. Davis, was life-changing for me, in regards to my attitude toward food and how that relates to spirituality. It focuses on the Old Testament, so it is a nice complement to what you’ve already got here in this blog post. Highly recommended! Another one is American Wasteland, by Jonathan Bloom. It’s not about spirituality, but about our responsibility as citizens (and stewards) of this earth, which I do believe is a spiritual issue.

  2. Great follow-up post to your other! Thanks for taking all the time to write this.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I am a strong Christian who is continually trying to do what God wants me to do. A few years ago, we were financially able to buy all organic and homeopathic food and products. I was amazed at how quick I was to judge others and I felt very justified. I was disgusted at people who put junk into their kids bodies. Fast forward five years and we are barely making it financially in this economy. We still try to eat as many organic things as possible, but financially we can’t afford to do it all. The worst, is when I am around other Christians who do eat a perfectly organic diet, they speak with such judgmental conviction.

    The bottom line is we all could improve. I mean, should I judge you if you buy plastic toys for your children and not wooden ones? Should I get caught up in the nitty-gritty details of life while a world of lost people are living without salvation? Do I get caught up in trivial things that, though important, are the “lesser” things?

    I am so glad to read a balanced article from a healthy person without a spirit of piousness and superiority. It is refreshing, because I often feel internally beaten up after reading things. Bottom line is we are all doing the best we can with what we have been given. But, that still isn’t enough! Praise be to God who is my advocate because I can never have it together enough to gain my own salvation.

    The scripture that comes to mind is this: Ephesians 2:9 “For by GRACE you have been saved through faith; and that NOT of yourselves, it is a GIFT of God; NOT a result of works, so that NO ONE may boast.”

    When we boast about our “right” choices and look down on others, we have forgotten that before the Lord, our works are nothing. It is because of His love that we are saved. If it were by works, then we could list all we have done to attain that salvation. I now try to do my best at eating right, take care of my body and on and on the list goes….but, I do not allow my faith to be placed in my earthly decisions, but in the fact that in my wicked flesh, God sees a child he adores and died for. That doesn’t make me feel inferior. That makes me feel like a princess. May God have mercy on us all as we struggle to overcome our nutritional superiority complexes! HA!

    Thanks so much.

  4. Thank you so much for this lovely, balanced post. I write this with a Diet Pepsi in my hand so I am not a devoted real-food person, but I continue to read about food and hopefully, improve my choices as I go along. I am single, with no kids (although I live and work at an orphanage in Mozambique and have 30 boys, if that counts!) and yet find I am drawn to blogs about homeschooling, natural remedies and healthy eating. What I have found so discouraging over the years is the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle undertones of self-righteousness and judgement that come through. Not always but enough to push me away. But I keep reading! And I am so encouraged when I read a post like this, your passion for making God-honoring choices for the health of you and your family comes through and is inspiring, but not at the expense of other people. I love the verses you shared. Thanks so much! Blessings, Laura

  5. If chocolate is fair trade is it not child labor? Indefinitely don’t want any part in that!!!!

  6. I have experienced freedom in this area – finally. When our family first started this journey, I worried about everything – what we were eating at someone else’s house…what would they have at the church potluck….could I attend my grandmother’s birthday party? Then I realized that life is entirely TOO SHORT for this type of mess and worry. Relationships are more important than food.
    I will do the best I can to feed my family well…and if sometimes I have to buy a loaf of whole wheat bread rather than make it, then so be it. Good enough is good enough for me. :-)
    I really enjoyed your verses. I would add one more that has really spoken to me:

    “So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.” Hebrews 13:9

  7. I think the term “judging” needs to be more clearly defined, honestly. I feel some use a spirit of meekness as an excuse to water down Truth. If all Truth is of God, how can we not judge a lie? In food, in lifestyle, in ANY area of life. Judging a situation, being astute, seeing someone dying in lifestyle choices or sin…how can we not be filled with a righteous anger? I notice people are quick to use Matthew 7:1, but ignore 7:2. Personally, I’m glad someone “judged” my lifestyle enough to knock me on my butt with Truth. I’m strong enough in my convictions that I’m willing to face contrary confrontation or opposing judgement.

    • I’m actually not saying we shouldn’t judge sin for what it is. Sin should be called sin, and I think as believers we have a responsibility to exhort and, yes, judge one another in that way.

      But there’s two key parts to that. One, we’re only called to “judge”, as it were, other believers, not those who don’t know Christ.

      And as far as this conversation goes, the Bible doesn’t lay out specific guidelines for what we should or should not eat, and I don’t believe man is in a position to add additional commandments to the Word of God. Just because you, hypothetically, believe that eating McDonald’s is a sin doesn’t mean that it is a sin for everybody. If you’ve been convicted not to eat fast food/processed foods/feed the corporate giant/whatever, that’s great, but the Bible doesn’t give us license to add rules and regulations for other believers. In fact, it warns us against doing just that.

      • I agree! Maybe where I have a hang up is that I don’t necessarily view food as a moral choice. I don’t think eating at McDonald’s is a sin, I think it’s an atrocity. Maybe I feel justified having a righteous indignation b/c I’m more angry at “the man/system” than at the individuals who choose to patronize such establishments. I was once that person. Maybe that’s why I look at it as, “if I can change, anyone can change.” I get frustrated when people choose to ignore Truth in every area if life. Not my place to change their minds, but is frustrating all the same. :)

        • The problem with judging the lifestyle of other believers is that we don’t always know what else in going on in their life right now. We get upset that they are still watching TV when we tossed it years ago but what we don’t see is that God has bigger problems that they need work on in their life right honestly the TV thing isn’t even on His list of fixes right now.
          Our family right now for example is well under the poverty level, we are on food stamps and are limited to where we can shop for food. Others who judge without love, not saying you are, see our using food stamps as not having enough faith as well as our balance of white flour/sugar whole wheat/natural food choices as awful and toxic because we simply cannot afford to get or go to the stores that carr, ….fill in the blank of whatever eating method is the current conviction. Even when we might know the person up close and personal and we are pretty sure they are just being stubborn is something “destined to perish” like food something we need to be stressing ourselves over or harming our relationship with them over?
          It’s just like my homeschool method it is totally opposite from what my friends do and I think it is the best for everyone but they aren’t interested and I have the choice tocontinue to fret over thier life choices or just let things slide and offer advice when I’m asked.

  8. I appreciate all the comment from readers who admit that they struggle with judging other people’s food choices. It helps to soften my heart as I can now see that it is just an area where they struggle….just like we all have our own sin issues. My husband’s side of the family is very health conscious and it comes across as very judgemental. My family is in the process of making better choices and we have come a long way, but we don’t measure up to some of the standards that others have set. It honestly tempts me to run the other way, which I know is not the right answer either. It’s very tiring to feel judged when you are doing the best you can at the moment. I don’t want to feel shame for not hitting the mark others have set. Thank you for posting the importance of being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I think that is key.
    Thanks for such a great article.

  9. Thank you for this insightful and balanced post, Mandi. I particularly appreciated your comments about not worrying or obsessing too much about making all perfect food choices for our families. We live overseas in a third-world (desert) country and don’t have access to a lot of “clean” foods – grass-fed beef and dairy, wild salmon, free range eggs, pastured pork and organic, local produce are all totally unavailable here. We make the best choices we can with what we have access to, but sometimes I get overwhelmed and anxious about what I’m feeding my children when I spend too much time reading about the evils of CAFOs and industrial farming. Your post was a good reminder to me on many levels, thank you for sharing what is in your heart!

  10. Thank you for a great post applying God’s Word in a way that gave me new understanding. It’s very easy to judge concerning foods (as well as probably everything else), whether in thoughts or actions, but God makes it crystal clear what His standards are and how we should refrain and/or share. It is always a heart issue and what the H.S. has personally convicted/called us to do about every aspect of our lives, one step at a time in His timing.

  11. Wow…I think this post hits the nail on the head! As most of you, I also have struggled with passing judgment on others because of their food choices. I used to get ANGRY when I watched my Nana and my husband’s aunt go through horrible, painful, chronic diseases (at least in part) because of their terrible diets. I want them to get better because I love them so much and hate seeing them in pain, but I feel like they refuse to help themselves. I went through a lot of anger about this for a while, but I finally realized that they just don’t get it. They were not raised to believe that what we eat affects our health so drastically. They both know that it might make you fat, but they truly don’t get that it causes all sorts of diseases and such. And when you try to tell them what you know, it’s hard for them to believe because of the constant, ever-changing research on what IS healthy, and what is NOT healthy, etc. For example, most doctors and the media still say that Canola oil is healthier than lard. But this is misinformation. How can I expect my family to believe ME over their DOCTOR, though? I don’t blame them for giving up on trying to figure out what’s healthy and what’s not.

    The bottom line is that this world needs a lot less criticism and a lot more unconditional love. I eventually got over my anger, with the grace of God. He has really shown me in the last 6 months exactly how judgmental I’ve been. And I love Him even more for it! :) He is so good and so merciful to me!! How can I possibly stay angry or worry about people taking my tax money in the future because they’ll be so unhealthy they have to be on SSI? We’ve got to remember how much grace we have received and not worry about the rest. Trust Him. It is in His hands. :)

  12. Kid Creek Farm says:

    Great post. Well balanced and full of solid wisdom.

    As whole-food eaters, sustainable, pasture-farmers, AND Christians, we are kind of the odd-ducks in our neck of the woods. Most of the folks in our community who appreciate real food, and who make conscientious choices about food, are non-Christian, and primarily pantheistic, new-age types. Most of our Christian friends have more the attitude that God doesn’t really care about what you eat, or how it was produced, because God is about spiritual things, and food is a physical thing. We are considered “greenies”, “hippies”, and even “liberals”, none of which acurately describe us.

    Anyway, I’m just excited to see Christians starting to have this conversation and ask the questions. How DOES scripture inform the way we eat? In the age of Industrialized, Corporate, Mega-Size Agriculture, how does the mandate “Love your neighbor” effect our food choices?

    Vision Forum recently held a conferenced call “The Reformation of Food and the Family” where they tackled a lot of these issues: real food vs. frankenfoods, GMOs, land stewardship and farming, food regulations, eating habits and food culture, etc. Topics I have personally NEVER seen discussed by the Church. It was actually very well done, IMO, and like your post, balanced and Biblical. There was lots to think about, and as a farmer and real-food fanatic, it was incredibly encouraging to have fellow believers join the conversation.

  13. awesome article mandi!

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