Thumbing through the new Eat This, Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide, I was stopped cold by this statistic: The average piece of chicken has 266 percent more fat than it did in 1971, while its protein content has dropped by a third. Accordingly, the book suggests that this is because chickens are raised cramped in cages, getting less exercise and being fed antibiotic-laced soy and corn instead of the grass available on the farm.

I had thought chicken was one of the better things to eat. Turns out it is a perfect complement to the coach potato culture I inhabit. We sit too much, eat too much and obsess too much about how obese we are becoming.

Who knew part of our problem is hidden in the supposed healthier alternatives for our diets? But a further review of Eat This, Not That reveals that our bodies are starving for vital nutrients and vitamins hard to discover in the maze of attractive packaging and misleading slogans surrounding most of our food choices.

We eat more and more to satisfy a hunger making us heavier and heavier. It is a vicious cycle, and it is probably making us all very sick.

At a deeper level, it is also a frightening metaphor of a society starving on plenty. We Americans possess more stuff and take more anti-depressants than any other country on earth. We have the most individuals who are billionaires and the largest number of children and elderly people living in poverty. While per capita we have the most homeless, we also boast 70 percent who live in homes with five or more rooms.

The paradox is staggering. Our homes are spacious, but may be empty of peace and love. Our days are jammed with activities that produce little joy. We have more clothes than we could ever wear (if they all fit), but struggle to clothe ourselves with mercy and kindness.

Living in this great land of opportunity might make the temptations more attractive, but it also provides great possibilities for incredible transformations. We can make healthier choices for our lives, more loving choices for our communities and more caring and serving choices for our neighbors.

But first we have to grow out of our infantile addictions and remember the wisdom of things like eating our vegetables ”or better yet, being committed to our faith traditions, seeking to do the right thing and nurturing a soul more than sculpting a perfect body.

Anybody who doesn’t is just plain ol’ chicken.

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky

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