Food: A Justice Issue
The CDC tells us that obesity is now the number one health threat facing Americans. And instead of leading the way to change, the church in America is leading the path to ruin.
Five years ago a Purdue University scholar found that church members tended to be more overweight than the population at large (no pun intended). And Southern Baptists, of which I was one at the time, were the heaviest of all.
Where is our theology of food? And of stewardship? Are sins against the body limited only to sexuality and smoking in our theological system? Or do we just not even think about it?
Recently I watched "Food, Inc."—a documentary that looks at our food supply. It included information about genetically altered food, and how demand for heavily processed (inexpensive) food has a connection with many questionable practices, including illegal immigration. Think about it: most people won't work in a nasty slaughterhouse unless they're desperate.
I knew watching this film would disturb me, so I put off seeing it. Who wants to look at chickens with breasts so big they can’t walk (thanks to artificial manipulation), or cattle being slaughtered in ways that fail to minimize their suffering, or little-guy farmers weeping because the government and big business have pushed them off the family farm?
But I buckled down and took my medicine—I watched this Oscar-nominated film to get informed. And I appreciated that the producers ended the show with some steps that viewers can take which sounded a lot like, interestingly enough, living biblically—including a request that those of us who say grace over our meals would pray for change.
The film explained how shifts in how we "farm" food have been more drastic in the past sixty years than in the several thousand years that preceded them, thanks to the invention of fast food, genetically altered food, and economies of scale that allow a handful of big-boy multinational corporations to control global food production.
Now, do you think these huge businesses concern themselves with how healthful a product is if there's less demand for it than the unhealthful cheaper product? (It's often less expensive to purchase a McBurger than to buy one head of broccoli.) Evidence suggests that the just treatment of animals and employees falls low on the priority scale compared with turning a profit in these ginormous companies. Is that any surprise in a secular capitalistic system? And on top of that, we have ammonia-washed meat, antibiotic-filled grain that is lowering our resistance to very bad stuff, and hormones in our milk. The effects of many such practices have not even been studied. We have simply assumed they are safe.
Yet these practices can stop if consumers demand change. And that's good news, because we are the demanders. Three times a day we make choices about how we will interact with the food system. Shifts in consumer demand are already helping to move practices toward more accountability. Remember how the tobacco industry changed when consumers demanded better information and repeal of unjust laws protecting big business? The same is happening and can continue to happen with our food supply.
The big companies provide what the market will bear, and we're part of that market. So we can help by eating reasonable portions, buying local, going with in-season food, reading labels, planting even small gardens, resisting genetically altered foods, and by making sure the farmer's market takes food stamps so that eating right isn't just a luxury of the upper classes—for starters. Planning menus and cooking instead of going through the drive-thru also shifts demand from starch-heavy, corn-rich products to food that's better for us and for the food chain. And when we say grace, we can ask for the strength to make better choices and for justice, which involves better work and living conditions for people and animals.
The first temptation had to do with food, and issues relating to food continue to plague humanity. Every day we make choices about it that affect how we handle the stewardship of our bodies. How we think about and interact with our food, others’ food, and others’ lack of food matters to God. Isn’t it time to lead the way instead of following the path of least resistance?