Archives For August 2016

You need to know about Joel Salatin and his new book The Marvelous Pigness of PigsIf you aren’t already familiar with Joel, here’s how the book jacket describes him:

“Joel Salatin is a third generation farmer who works with his family on their farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  The Salatin Polyface Farm is internationally known for innovative pastured livestock and services more than 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs.”

That’s the farming side of Joel. Joel was, in fact, the featured sustainable farmer in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma which has helped shape a new consciousness of what of our food system is and what it should be.

Here’s how the website of his new book’s publisher describes him and the message of his tenth book:

“Joel Salatin is perhaps the nation’s best known farmer, whose environmentally friendly, sustainable Polyface Farms has been featured in Food, Inc. and Time magazine. Now in his first book written for a faith audience, Salatin offers a deeply personal argument for earth stewardship, and calls for fellow Christians to join him in looking to the Bible for a foodscape in line with spiritual truth. Salatin urges Christians to rethink America’s allegiance to cheap corporate food that destroys creation in its production, impoverishes third world countries, and supports oligarchical interests. He wonders why Christians ignore and even revel in unhealthy eating habits and factory farming that runs counter to God’s design. With scripture and Biblical stories, Salatin presents an alternative and shows readers that in appreciating the pigness of pigs, we celebrate the Glory of God.”

The shortest and best way to think about Joel is in his own terms. He calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer.

He’s someone you should know. He’s a Christian changing God’s world for the better.

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The following are a sampling of his words from his book. You’ll be struck by his unique voice and earthy, faith-centered perspective on food and our food system.

When we’re more interested in dysfunctional Hollywood celebrity culture or the Little League program than we are about what is going to become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, we voluntarily place ourselves into the corporate food agenda. That agenda is decidedly nutrient deficient, price inappropriate, and anti-community based. It promotes centralization, customer ignorance, and a mechanical view of life.

Things that the religious right would abhor if they were promoted by churches are embraced warmly in the food system. While preachers rail against bringing junk into our homes via TV, the Internet, and pornographic literature, few bat an eye at a home stashed with high fructose corn syrup, potato chips, and Pop-Tarts, indeed, some even suggest that the cheaper we eat, the more money we’ll have to put in the offering plate. And to top it off, they denigrate anyone who would suggest part of caring for children is caring about what they eat. (pp. 80-81)


The problem is we Christians do not trust God’s plan. We don’t. Oh, we trust it when it comes to matters of spirituality. But we think God’s plan is broken – along with mainstream scientists of our day – when it comes to physical things. The result is that we Christians marching off to sanctity-of-life rallies send our kids off to college to get a good enough education to go work for a multinational corporation dedicated to adulterating God’s creation.

I would suggest that a God-honoring farm is one that shows strength rather than weakness. It’s one that has no veterinary bills. It’s one that has healthy plants and animals. It’s one that produces food that develops healthier people. This is not a health-and-wealth message.  It is ultimately a humility-and-dependence message. God’s designs work. (p. 68)


The whole idea of pornography, which of course the Christian community universally condemns, is instant and expedient gratification of a sacred act sanctified by marriage. Where is the Christian who dares to identify the pornographic food system that revels in death-inducing, sickness-encouraging, and creation-destroying orgies of self-indulgence? Strong language? Have you walked into a confinement factory chicken house lately? How about a confinement hog factory? Just like pornography disrespects and cheapens God-given and -sanctioned specialness in sex, factory-farmed hog houses disrespect and cheapen the God-sculpted specialness of pigs. (p. 133)


As I wrote earlier, Christians will not consistently care and act as if God’s Creation mattered, unless churches weave a whole faith into their worship, theology, and culture. I’ve set myself a goal of figuring out what that weaving would look like in what I call the “whole faith church.” This is another post in that series.

The first feature of a whole faith church that I highlighted was, perhaps surprisingly, a church in which membership would mean something. Membership would be the binding together of believers around a central faith in what God offers us and calls us to through Jesus. That faith would be inextricably bound up with a commitment, growing out of transformed hearts, to living out that faith together in concrete, tangible, accountable ways.

In this post I highlight another feature of the whole faith church. It is this:

A defining feature of a whole faith church will be that this community of believers will be fully committed to demonstrating the proper and attentive relationship between humanity and Creation in its common meals, including communion.

This means that the food of the whole faith church will come as much as is practically possible from farms where the land, water, and animals of God’s earth are stewarded in ways that God would find fitting of a good, loving shepherd and from farm enterprises which support a good quality of life for the farmers and their communities.

Because our food system is complicated, the practical application of this principle will be complicated and not always black and white. This will be a long-term odyssey that a whole faith church will need to address with loving kindness. Education and research will be needed. Farms visited. Thoughtful meetings held to discern how to make this work on a day-to-day basis in the local place in which a whole faith church is nested. In upcoming posts, I’ll dive into specific questions about how this feature of a whole faith church would be lived out.

A good starting point, however, for examining any food choice for the whole faith church would be to keep Galatians 5:22-23 in mind. In other words, whole faith churches would ask this fundamental question – does the food we are thinking of purchasing come from a farm which has been operated with as much love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as is possible?

If you look into it, you’ll probably find that much of the food served in the common meals of a church, especially any meat products being served, does not measure up very well to that criteria.

You do not have to work very hard, for example, to learn that most pigs are raised in ways that are cruel and completely counter to the fruits of the spirit. Reading Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat is a good way to learn more about the natural capacities and intelligence of these animals and how much has been sacrificed to provide cheap pork. The Chicago Tribune ran a series recently on the cruel excesses of the increasing number of pig factory farms in Illinois. What’s more, there are clear links between the indiscriminate use of antibiotics (which promote growth) in pig factory farms here and in China and the rise of strains of bacteria that are resistant to every antibiotic doctors have in their arsenal. This resistance is leading to the misery-filled deaths of adults and children

If you do this research with an open mind and transformed heart, it becomes clear that the factory farming of pigs and their inhumane slaughtering in high-speed facilities is a cruel and unloving thing to do to the animals, workers, neighbors, communities, and waterways of any place. It is clear, too, that a Christian, and especially a church, could not in good faith knowingly choose to purchase and consume the meat of pigs produced from such a system.

That a church would do so is another example of human culture, economy, and convenience overwhelming a church’s commitment to not just believing but actually living as if God existed and that this is His world.

In a church’s life, more than in any other setting, the values of God should prevail.

For a whole faith church, that desire to have God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven will naturally prompt the church to think about food carefully. The idea is not to create a wide array of new rules and regulations. But the whole faith church will make it a habit to treat all of life as if it issued from God and as if it matters to God and as if our hearts should be engaged in all the ways we interact with life around us.

Creating and consuming common meals that are, at their source, in synch with the fruits of the spirit will ultimately be a life-giving habit and discipline for the whole faith church.

One literally life-givinging impact will be that the common meals will be better for the health of those who eat them.

The thoughtfulness that will go into the common meals will also make members of the whole faith church mindful of the value of God’s Creation to God.

The effort to create these meals will connect the church with farmers, like Steve and Marie Deibele of Golden Bear Farm, who are raisiing cows and pigs in ways consistent with the fruits of the spirit. This will be rewarding for everyone involved.

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Steve Deibele of Golden Bear Farm with his pigs that are raised with great care on pasture.

In following this discipline, members will be reminded, too, of their common hope for a new heaven and new earth where God’s shalom will prevail.

Creating and consuming these common meals will also, and perhaps most importantly, further inspire members to pursue their common mission of reconciling this challenging, complex world to God in every corner of their lives,

To paraphrase an insight from Stephen Webb in his book Good Eating, it will feel right in every way for a church to say grace over food that has some grace in it.