Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Winning the Food Fight

Steve Willis is probably best known for his appearance on "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution", but Willis is a pastor in Kenova, West Virginia who saw what effect obesity was having on the people around him.  The church he was pastoring in shuffled staff, and he went from working with youth to being a pastor for adults.  Willis recounts that nearly every week he was visiting someone in the hospital -- or burying someone -- due to an obesity related illness.

I live in the same state as Rev. Willis, although not near him.  I could relate as he talked about the health of our state in general.  As I read this book, I wished more churches would get on board with the idea that healthy eating brings glory to God.  To me it often seems that the last taboo in Christianity is to discuss obesity.  In fact, I once had a pastor who used to joke he was someday going to preach on gluttony before a church dinner.  That may not be the time to introduce to a congregation the need for healthier lifestyles, but this book outlines how this church started encouraging people to eat better food.  In fact, Willis claims that many people bring salads to their church fellowship dinners.

No stranger to being overweight, the author lost about twenty pounds himself.  He talks about how those in his church even questioned if he was sick because being a normal weight is not the norm in his community.  He discusses trips out of state where he realized that the average person in Texas or California weighs less than the average person in his community.  Being from the same state, I have to agree this observation holds true for me as well.  Obesity is many times an outcome of low income.  He discusses why this is true, and I never realized before this book WHY the government will often give vouchers for high(er) calorie foods and not things like fruits and vegetables.  (Although this is changing.  I know in my area a program started a few years ago where those on food assistance would get vouchers they could take to the local farmer's market, and those vendors could turn them in for cash.)

This book also talks about community gardens and exercise programs.  Rev. Willis says that one thing that is very needed if you want to get healthy is a community supporting you, and he recommends you tell some people in your church as you decide to start your journey into healthy living.

One of my favorite parts of the book were where he says instead of visiting folks in the hospital so much these days, he stops by the exercise center that his church was able to build with some money received from being on the "Food Revolution" -- it is in that center that he is able to visit with people who may otherwise be in the hospital had it not been for their lifestyle changes! 

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to pastors who would like to develop a vision for their church to get healthy.  What Pastor Steve did in Kenova could be replicated to some degree anywhere even if you don't have the help of Jamie Oliver.  There are ideas on how to approach the congregation with the first sermon about health, as well as a number of other ideas that could be used in helping your parishioners shed pounds as well through education and healthier eating.

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