In this age of processed food at every turn, it's becoming very clear that the modern Western diet isn't exactly the healthiest thing going on. Granted, life expectancy is much higher these days, in part due to a wider availability of nutritious foods - in other words, the potential is there for us to thrive on healthy, high-quality foods. We also have better refrigeration, which as we know has helped to preserve foods for a longer period of time, thus saving us from eating contaminated or spoiled foods.
But life expectancy has expanded for a lot of reasons that don't necessarily include diet. We have better hygiene, for example, and our medical knowledge is vastly greater - people are no longer being bled to expel bad humours or "black bile" any more, thankfully. Devices such as pacemakers can extend life for decades, and of course, antibiotics have saved millions of lives. At the same time, we're now in a situation where diseases that typically strike older people, things like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, are now afflicting younger people, and for the first time in generations, we face a situation where children might not outlive their parents, due to these afflictions.
So what has changed about what we eat? Could it be, in fact, that, that the diet in Jesus' time was in fact healthier than our own, all things considered? Could it be that the whole foods that Jesus and the ancient Israelis ate held a greater nutritional value than our processed food-laden diet these days?
First of all, the people of Jesus' time didn't have any processed food. If you wanted some bread, you had to make it yourself. If you wanted fish, you needed to catch it yourself (or buy from St. Peter!). Since you couldn't refrigerate anything, you had to eat what you had pretty quickly, which meant that you went to the markets daily. There were no preservatives in foods, nothing to ensure a longer shelf life, so the entire composition of food was different. There were no food labs to engineer taste and texture, so what you got was what you had, for better or worse.
So let's take a look at the main staples of the ancient Israeli diet:
Generally, people ate two meals a day, rather than our three squares plus a million snacks. Typically, the first meal was lunch or brunch, and the second one was later in the day, around our dinner time, and that was it. They couldn't afford much else. For those of you into intermittent fasting or even OMAD (one meal a day), this was about as close to that, so you can likely guess the good aspects of this practice. The benefits of this kind of eating schedule are many:
In terms of the quality of food eaten during Jesus' time, it was much better, at least in terms of it being whole, real food, made by hand, rather than it being out of a can, a bag, or a box. Additionally, this was a diet rich in healthy fats, good sources of fiber, moderate protein, and grains that aren't processed or depleted of nutritional value.
Sure, these people were poor, and they didn't have the endless stream of food that we have today, so I'm not suggesting that everyone was in pristine health all the time. But that's not my main point here. What I am suggesting is that the diet that many of us consume these days (and not just in the USA), is killing us - and I'm not exaggerating. With an explosion in rates of diabetes and Alzheimer's, as well as cancer, we have to take a hard look at this.
The solution is not new regulations or taxing unhealthy foods, and I also don't believe in food-shaming or the "keto police" or anything like that. People get to choose for themselves what they want to eat, and while I'm sure that many of us wish that everyone would make healthy choices, that doesn't always happen. What we can do is to educate each other on food and nutrition and perhaps advocate for more access to healthier foods.
One legitimate complaint is that healthy foods are more expensive - they cost more to produce, especially if you're eating organic, so that's a serious concern. Processed foods are cheap because they can be mass produced for a low cost - furthermore, using highly refined ingredients such as vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, and other nasty additives save producers money and increase profits. They can sell more because they can make more.
Another issue is that some people don't live near farmer's markets where you can get fresh, locally-produced foods for a good price. That's where community organizations can come into play. Perhaps a parish or a chapter of the Knights of Columbus could sponsor a farmer's market once a month in areas that otherwise have little access to fresh foods. We're so used to the government coming to the rescue that we don't always see that the community might be the best solution.
What it comes down to is this: educate yourself. Go on YouTube and watch videos by Dr. Eric Berg or Thomas de Lauer and start to get an understanding of how your body metabolizes food and how this impacts your overall health. Both of these sites are science-based, and I can personally attest to their effectiveness. For my part, I want to do more articles about food and health because of this modern health crisis. All of us have to learn a lot more and to make the journey away from processed, refined foods and toward healthy foods that will nourish our body, mind, and spirit.