Feast and Famine

I’m looking at the calendar and realize it’s time to start planning my Thanksgiving Dinner menu.  Since moving back to the northeast, we’ve been able to host the family dinner at our home on Thanksgiving Friday.  It’s a nice tradition.  Like most of you, too, we always have an over-abundance of food.  My brother says it’s just not Thanksgiving without a half-dozen pies … definitely a feast day … that is, if feast is somewhat synonymous with over-consumption.  Thanksgiving, as most fall festivals, is a time of celebration … a time to prepare for a long winter and give thanks for the abundance of the harvest.  Of course, now we have the over-indulgence in shopping to add to the vices of the day, but that’s for another post.

At a time of great feasting, it is also appropriate to recognize that there are those who are living a time of great famine.  Part of our prayer of thanks on Thanksgiving includes a prayer of supplication for those who are hungry.  We reach out in our churches by creating “thanksgiving baskets” to bring to the poor, or we serve Thanksgiving dinners in our fellowship halls, or take groups to serve in soup kitchens.  While these are nice acts of charity, some churches go further and work for sustainability in our global food production and distribution.

Unlike extreme poverty which is as issue we may be able to nearly eliminate in a few decades, hunger and malnutrition is a continuing problem as we move into the future.  As our population grows, most likely to 9 billion people by 2030, it becomes more and more difficult to produce the crops that can feed us well.  Add to that the environmental challenges of climate change on agriculture.  Just last Sunday there was a report on 60 Minutes about the drought in California and the consequences on the farms and the land.  There is a water shortage.  Large farms are digging deeper and deeper wells for irrigation.  The more shallow wells are running dry; and the deeper wells will take decades or more to refill.  In the meantime, the empty aquifers lead to subsidence … the land is sinking.

Meanwhile, as the global economy is increasing, more and more people are demanding crops and foods that require more to produce … almonds require a great deal of water, beef requires a great deal of grain … this adds more strain to the environmental concerns.  So, it’s not always a lack of food which is a problem, but sometimes the overabundance of foods which leads to over-consumption.  Overly processed foods often fail to provide the proper nutrients.  These foods can be produced cheaply, but those cheap foods often have very high sugar and/or salt content, or the wrong kinds of fats and oils.  Other foods are designed specifically to taste good but never satisfy … creating an addictive craving for them.  Obesity is increasing in North American and other developed countries.   Interestingly, it’s not necessarily a problem with the “have’s” but with the “have nots.”  One of the complex causes of obesity among the poor is that these high calorie, low nutrient foods are often prevalent in urban “food deserts” places where convenience stores with snack foods are prevalent, but the nearest grocery store with fresh food is miles away requiring a car or a bus fare to get there.  See the documentary A Place At The Table for more information on food insecurity in the USA.

In the church, food is central to our community, our sacraments, and often our mission.  We share our comfort foods at potluck dinners. We gather at the table and share in bread and cup at communion. We collect and distribute food to those who suffer from a lack of food or food insecurity.  More and more congregations are creating community gardens … this can be a great asset especially to those in food deserts.  Food justice and faithful eating are natural causes for the church to focus on.  The Presbyterian Hunger Program gives many resources and ideas of ways the church can participate and even lead in food insecurity.  Organizations like Bread for the World take a global and political perspective on food insecurity.

Food justice and faithfulness can begin in the home.  The seven unit curriculum Just Eating: Practicing our Faith at the Table takes on hunger from an individual, community and world perspective.  Beginning with the sacramental nature of gathering at the table, moving to the stewardship of eating and our own physical well-being, and leading to issues of hunger and then the environment, this is a holistic approach to food issues in the church.  What are some of the things your church is doing to help people understand the justice issues of food and food insecurity?  How will you and your family be praying for the hungry and working for the elimination of hunger even as you feast this Thanksgiving?

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