Theory: Nutrition Facts

“Well, my answer to that is probably a little more esoteric than you usually get.” Says me, with strained breath as I lay, planking, on the gym floor.

This, in answer to a question from scruffy trainer man who tells me I have 30 seconds to go before switching to my right side. Talking, to distract myself from new-found awareness of muscles near my ribcage that I hadn’t known existed, I continue: “Well, I’m a theologian, and I think that to ask questions about how we understand ourselves and God and how the world works, we have to start with our bodies as our primary means of knowing–so, I’m here because I want to be more grounded in my body.”

Let’s back up: We are in the season of Lent. I’m not very motivated to run in the rain. I got a $10 groupon for 6 weeks at a gym–with a personal trainer.

So far, Mr. Scruffy and I are having some interesting conversations.


“What time do you get up in the morning?”

Without hesitation, “6:32 am.”

Startled chuckle.

“On weekends, I usually try to go back to sleep after that.”


“What do you do for fun? A girlfriend?”

“Well, no. Actually, I’m gay. But no boyfriend right now either.”

“Well no offense or anything, but I could tell when I first met you. Do one more set of that and then you can take a break.”


Pointing to frighteningly muscled dude doing some sort of shruggy shoulder lift of about a kazillion pounds, he says, “That could be you.”

“No–I have other things to do with my life.”


I hope Mr. Scruffy is as wryly amused by me as I am by him in these conversations.

And then we start talking nutrition. Fitting, given he’s a personal trainer, I’m at a gym, and my church’s liturgical emphasis during Lent is nourishment.

“How many calories do you eat for breakfast?. . . How much protein?. . . What time do you eat dinner? . . . You should take some supplements; antioxidants, amino acids, a multivitamin.”

And I start to wonder–those old, nagging questions:

How many antioxidants are in the no-sugar-added Oregon grape and blackberry jam that I put up this summer and ate some of this morning on my local, unpasteurized yogurt?

Do I need more amino acids when I’m eating whole grain rye, quinoa, wheat berry, and lentil curry 3 days this week? What is the difference in vitamins between the orange carrots and the purple carrots I just got from my CSA?

Where do pill supplements come from? If they’re, like, extracted from massive quantities of vegetables, I’m not sure I’m entitled to that much earth, and if they’re from chemicals in a lab–eww, no thanks.

How come the cheap organic eggs from Trader Joe’s and the expensive pastured eggs from the farmers’ market or PCC show the exact same nutrition facts for eggs that look and taste qualitatively different?

Does Mr. Scruffy know that I cook almost all my food at home, rarely eat anything that’s been more processed than being dried, and that when I said I eat out about once a week I was referring to roasted root vegetables at the co-op deli counter?


Sometimes I annoy myself.

It’s true.


I tune back in to hear Mr. Scruffy is telling me in the most non-coercive way what I should be doing, “Decide for yourself, but what I do is have a protein shake in the morning. . . amino acids supplement . . . soy powder. . . multivitamin. . .”

I do not doubt that this regime would give me nutrients. I have noticed that it seems to be working out alright for Mr. Scruffy, if I do say so myself. I’m just not entirely sure that this is the same thing as nourishment.


I talk with my sister on the phone and we discuss the pleasure of standing over the pan stirring while clarifying butter.

Clarity; what is opaque, becoming clear.

I am going to the gym to avoid running in the rain learn to listen more closely to my body–yes you, ribcage muscles, who wake me with aching when I roll over two nights later.

What is it I am telling me?


A friend, at church, points out that nourish comes from nursing. I think of attachment; the relationally grounding trust that can be established when one body feeds another; the gradual learning that we can rupture and repair; the growing identity that leads toward interdependence and differentiated relationship.

And I grow sad.

Supplementing nutrients for nourishment seems so native to me. So intrinsic to our culture, our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, our souls. My body does not lie. It aches for nutrients–an ache that unveils the vacuum of nourishment needed for healthy repair. And I wonder if instead of supplements, what I need are nutrient appetizers, to whet my desire for what is truly needed.

I am talking about food: Vitamins. Amino acids. Protein powder.

Nutrition Facts: Except that I am talking about more than food.


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