Responsively Yours: Food and Faith
- Food and Faith: Audio version (MP3, 4.9MB)
- Cover of Response, February 2009 (PDF, 99K)
- Content of Response, February 2009 (PDF, 109K)
- Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
In our lives together as Christians we have many rituals and practices that involve food. Christmas cookies, hot cross buns, Sunday dinner, pot lucks, coffee hour, even pretzels’ origins are found in our faith traditions. We enjoy these familiar foods, we extend them to family and friends and we create a sense of home and security.
Other rituals, what John Wesley called “means of grace,” also involve food. The love feast is an example less familiar to many of us than it was to the early Methodists. Amore familiar example is Holy Communion, Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. That sacrament, which we experience together, reminds us of the bread of life — broken for us in Christ Jesus. It also reminds us that we are secure — not in that we love God, but that God first loved us.
However, there are many communities in the United States and around the world where food is not equated with security in any way. In fact, food is a driving need and a reminder of their insecurity. The current crisis of world food prices has sent 100 million people into poverty. One child dies every six seconds from hunger-related causes. In the United States the current economic crisis has brought hunger and food access back to the national conversation and has advocates calling for smart, pragmatic food programs and policies, as food pantries across the country lay bare and families resort to low-cost, low-nutrition food to make ends meet. The problem is not that there is a lack of food, but that it’s too expensive. The price of rice and wheat more than doubled in the last year, and corn went up by two-thirds.
As we step forward as advocates in this area we have a lot to learn. Some of the best-intended efforts of persons working on food aid issues are having unintended consequences. The export of food stuffs and farming techniques from one region to another that is not really suited to it becomes unsustainable, but is a condition of foreign aid. We also have many questions about genetically modified seed that is disease resistant, but that cannot generate seed for the next year’s crop. Does this enhance food security by feeding populations in the current growing cycle or promote instability by making next year’s crop dependant on receiving enough cash to buy new seed, or both?
The reality that these issues are complicated must not make us hesitant to raise questions and to speak out about what we know. We are warned, again, that it behooves us to listen for local wisdom. It is often noted that coal miners took canaries with them as they went further and further into the mine works. The birds were sensitive to noxious gases in concentrations too small for the miners to smell — gases that would sicken and perhaps kill those boys and men if they did not move back to better ventilated tunnels.
Perhaps the hungry populations in the United States are the “canaries in the mine” with respect to our systems of education, support for families and our culture of more rather than enough. Perhaps the overfarmed lands, drained aquifers and polluted run-off of U.S. agribusiness are similar canaries alerting us to poisonous fumes in our system of food production and our use of material resources. Or perhaps the migration of the desert across previously fruitful parts of Africa is a canary- like warning that the environment itself is vulnerable to our lack of attention or lack of foresight.
Solutions to this crisis are many fold. Policies need to be created that encourage cooperatives and ensure fair wages; national and global food reserves need to buffer price swings. We need to end the agrofuel program (where one-third of U.S. corn production goes to ethanol each year); reduce money spent by U.S. agribusiness in lobbying our government for policies that often undermine poor people’s capacity to feed themselves; and end export subsidies that undercut small farmers abroad. We need to call on world leaders from the United Nations to support more emergency food aid as much as talking about cutting in half the number of hungry people by the year 2015.
Food security is still a dream for too many people. Perhaps we have no more to share with these multitudes than five small loaves and two fish, but we also have in mind a miracle that started with just that little and ended with 12 basketfuls left over. Remember: Jesus is the one who challenged the disciples saying, “You give them something to eat.” Well, disciples, how shall we feed them?
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : April. 6, 2009