My mother-in-law once wondered aloud what life would be like if “we didn’t have to eat.” She was up to her elbows in dishwater, with beans baked into the stovetop, and the dining table yet uncleared, but it still seemed an odd way to put it: have to eat? Most people enjoy eating. So did my mother-in-law, but raising seven kids for more than 25 years meant a lot of hours logged over a hot stove.
I think of her whenever I read a headline like this: “Woman trying to live on water, sunlight.” Early in May, Navenna Shine of Seattle began an experiment to be recorded on webcams and posted on YouTube where she would consume no food for at least four months. The webcams apparently didn’t work out, but 22 YouTube videos posted from May 3 to June 6 show Shine growing progressively thinner and spaceier. She’s motivated by deep spiritual conviction: If we humans didn’t have to prey on animals and plants for our sustenance, our weary old earth could heal from all our depredations and regain its former beauty and peace.
“So this is a huge moment in history,” Shine said. “This is the beginning of a new future, possibly even a new evolution of humanity. The ‘Living On Light’ paradigm has now been born into our world.”
Unfortunately, the lady has not been seen or heard from since June 6, when she reported “a rough weekend” but claimed to be restored to a radiant frame of mind.
Rob Rhinehart has a similar goal, but approaches it as a materialist engineer, not a spiritual “breatharian.” Early this year he set out to “solve” food by developing an efficient means of nutrition without the constant imperative of hunting, gathering, preparing, and washing up afterward. His solution is a liquid compound of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fats, which can be washed down in a jiffy with a chaser of pure water. Rather infelicitously, he calls it Soylent. His website is mainly devoted to defending his idea against skeptics and scoffers: “At this point my body is largely made of Soylent, and I couldn’t be happier with it.”
Nice for him, but, meanwhile, Navenna Shine is earnestly starving herself to death, barring the intervention of good friends or good sense. Both she and Rhinehart display a contemptuous attitude toward God’s provision. Food, and the digestive system it was made for, probably has a purpose beyond mere sustenance. It creates an intricate web of mutual obligation, inspires endless creativity, keeps us in touch with the good earth, promotes thanksgiving and celebration, and provides a wealth of biblical metaphor (see John 6:35; Matthew 26:26, Hosea 11:4; etc.).
Food is too often over-indulged and fetishized, like all of God’s good gifts, but better to gorge occasionally than to reject entirely. “Some were fools through their sinful ways … they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17-18).
Tonight at dinner, it might not be amiss to say a prayer for them.