Diet and Agency
by Nick Galieti
I have two stories that I wish to share as illustration of the effect diet has on the principle of agency. After sharing the two stories I hope to correlate them to this precept.
I live along the Wasatch Front/Salt Lake County, UT area. While this area is stereotypically considered a “mormon” heavy population, there has been enough of a shift in the population over the last 7 years or so that many of the stereotypes are becoming far less prevalent. One sign of that shift is the rise in restaurants that serve alcohol, and the number of coffee shops and smoke shops that have opened.
I travel a good bit with my job and I have been able to measure this change up against other cities in the world. In many cities and areas of the world the morning ritual of the majority of the population is to drink coffee. Riding in mass transit trains, driving on the freeway to work, walking the streets doing some shopping, most people have an insulated hot beverage cup topped with the token spill proof lid.
Some will walk around zombie-like until they get at least one cup of coffee before they start their day. I have observed an increase in the Salt Lake City population that is starting to follow this lifestyle choice in hot or cold weather. While I don’t know what would possess someone to drink a boiling hot beverage when it is 90 degrees or even over 100 degrees outside, one could easily observe that drinking coffee is a habit, and to some, perhaps an addiction that surpasses need or logic.
I am over weight, not grotesquely so, but I am 30 lbs over what the government considers a healthy body weight. Even if the government didn’t set that standard, my knee pain act as a reminder that change is needed. While I am only 5′ 8”, there was a time in my life when I used to be able to jump high enough to grab hold on a basketball rim 10 feet off the ground. I also used to be able to run a 6 minute mile and could walk up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. Those days are gone.
After being mistaken as the father of a 19 year old girl (I am only 34 at the time of this post), I realized that not only do I not feel young, but I feel unhealthy enough that my energy level is giving the perception that I am older than I really am. I started to look at my diet and realized that it wasn’t that I was eating all that unhealthy as far as food choice. I just eat far more than I need to make it through the day and I am not exercising anywhere near what I am capable.
Now, how do these two stories relate diet and agency? In both of these experiences I realized that WHO I was becoming and the characteristics I saw in others weighed a great deal on what was consumed.
Let us consider this thought from Elder D. Todd Christofferson who quoted Elder Richard L. Evans:
Life offers you two precious gifts-one is time, the other freedom of choice, the freedom to buy with your time what you will. You are free to exchange your allotment of time for thrills. You may trade it for base desires. You may invest it in greed… yours is the freedom to choose. But these are no bargains, for in them you find no lasting satisfaction. Every day, every hour, every minute of your span of mortal years must sometime be accounted for. And it is in this life that you walk by faith and prove yourself able to choose good over evil, right over wrong, enduring happiness over mere amusement. And your eternal reward will be according to your choosing.
In the case of those that drink coffee religiously I see an individual who has surrendered a portion of their life’s energy to an external chemical. They have chosen to buy with their time and their money something that will actually curtail their ability to chose. That individual will become a slave to the caffeine. While coffee is not the only substance that can have this affect on an individual, I simply use it as an example of anything that can have such a claim on our attitudes, and our finances.
What of the money that is spent on coffee? With the average cost of a cup of coffee being around $4.50, multiply that by the number of days in the year that people drink coffee (let’s assume that the average coffee drinker will miss some days due to sickness or circumstances, we can round to 300 days a year) the average individual spends $1,350 a year on coffee. Most studies show that this figure is the average, and doesn’t include the amount of money that individuals spend on coffee at home. (For more on how America’s coffee habit impacts the society and workplace, you can read this article from ABC News.) Considering the amount of money an individual spends on a completely elective product, something that is unnecessary to achieving good health, up against the good that could be done in helping others, their family members, or even on a gym membership to be healthier, drinking coffee is a choice that has moral implications. Drinking coffee is, as Elder Evans puts it, “are no bargains, for in them you find no lasting satisfaction.”
When I consider how poor diet can impact one’s energy level alone it is not a stretch to realize that those who are healthy are open to more of life’s opportunities. This is not a social commentary or criticism of economic opportunities, this is not an attack on age. This is as simple as considering the lack of motivation and lack of ability that an unhealthy person will choose not to engage in.
Back when I was first married I was in good shape. I wanted to go swimming, hiking, bike riding, I was able to provide more acts of service and could be a better employee. As I have gained weight I have noticed a decrease in my abilities, but even more poignant, I have noticed a decrease in my desire to all the good that I am capable of doing.
In both scenarios I see the wisdom in the Word of Wisdom. In keeping a healthy diet I not only will open up the possibilities of my agency, but I will also demonstrate that I will, “walk by faith and prove [myself] able to choose good over evil, right over wrong, enduring happiness over mere amusement. And [my] eternal reward will be according to [my] choosing.” Unhealthy habits are a surrender of control, of our ability to choose. If I choose to be unhealthy, I will submit my choices and my resources to feeding an addiction with temporary pleasure instead of helping those in need; or in indulging in self-medicating some emotional need with food, instead of being healthy enough to fulfill the measure of my creation. Diet changes not only what we can do with our time and energies, but it may also change the length of time that we have on this earth to use the agency with which we have been blessed. This also gives greater relevance to the practice of the Sacrament being something that we consume. What we take into our bodies can act as a token of our commitment to keep God’s commandments, and to use our agency for the work of the Lord.