Rick Altergott
The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook
by Don Colbert, MD

(Thomas Nelson, Inc.) $19.99

I'd always pegged Jesus as a falafel guy. It's ubiquitous in Jerusalem, and cheap--the perfect food for a guy with other stuff on his mind (How can I sell this peace-and-love thing? Do my friends really like me?). It turns out I was right, according to Don Colbert, author of the very earnest What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook. There, on page 88, is a recipe for falafel.

What else did I learn about Jesus' hankerings? There may not have been avocados around in those days--they came from the New World--but you have to admit that the he would have been crazy not to like avocados, had he tasted one. That's why Colbert includes a recipe for guacamole jazzed up (or should I say Jesus'd up) with some canned olives and basil.

And if there's one thing Jesus would love, it's brunch; dinner parties, like the wedding at Cana and the Last Supper, were always such a hassle for Him, what with everybody expecting Him to perform... but brunch is so much more relaxed. That's why the WWJE Cookbook gives us so many recipes for brunch-y goodies like cornmeal muffins, banana poppy seed muffins, and apple coffeecake muffins (all made with whole-wheat flour, because Jesus knew that bleached flour is a nutritional dud).

Colbert has made a mint off a strange interface of New Age and Christian self-help. Rather than giving us a historical, anthropological recipe collection--what Jesus might have actually eaten (like Kitty Morse's A Biblical Feast, Foods from the Holy Land)--Colbert cribs the best principles of the Mediterranean diet (whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fish; some red wine, lots of olive oil, and very infrequent encounters with red meat), mixes them up with a little Leviticus (the Jews may have killed Jesus, but they were right about pork!), and invokes Biblical passages whenever they corroborate his point. Two of Jesus' miracles involved fish, and so we should eat broiled salmon with lime and cilantro. Where there is no scriptural precedent, Colbert relies on Jesus-intuition: "I have no doubt at all that Jesus ate a diversity of garlic, onions, vegetables, beans, and lentils. He also ate incomplete proteins in combinations that resulted in complete protein supplied to His body."

The WWJE Cookbook is as lazy as can be, a hodgepodge of recipes pulled from recipe-sharing sites, with bad ideas like reusing a marinade that's been sitting on raw lamb over night (Jesus would know that this encourages food-borne pathogens). Despite Colbert's proscription against processed foods, his recipes consistently call for postindustrial ingredients like low-fat cream cheese, canned cream corn, and mandarin oranges (blended in a horrifying concoction of cabbage, walnuts, pineapple, and yogurt, called fruit coleslaw). The resulting recipes are a strange mixture of boilerplate Middle Eastern dishes (moussaka, roast lamb, tzatziki) and strange 1950s-style homemaker specials (peas and celery with olives and pimentos, blueberry potato salad).

Colbert's spiritually informed diet isn't new to America; he joins a long tradition of nutritional evangelists. Since the early 1800s diet proselytizers have used religious language and metaphor to push their agendas of health and holiness, and health as holiness. Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister, preached the revitalizing and sanctifying effect of whole-grain flour to huge crowds in the 1830s. At the turn of the 20th century, Horace Fletcher argued that chewing every bite of food to a liquid state would lead to temperance and wholesome living; J. H. Kellogg incorporated themes from his Seventh-day Adventist upbringing into nutritional teachings, which helped develop three key American obsessions: breakfast cereal, peanut butter, and compulsive tracking of bowel movements. Colbert, instead, asks his readers to intuit what Jesus' choices about food in today's world would be. (Sounds presumptuous, but I guess that's the difference between believers and me....)

But in this Easter season--despite what Colbert says about refined sugar--it's just impossible for me to imagine that Jesus would say no thanks! to jelly beans, Marshmallow Peeps, or those malted robins' eggs that turn your tongue blue. True divinity would reveal itself in the ability to eat just one piece.