Food and Empire

Written by beyondwords : October 26, 2007

I’m a journalist, and sometimes I draft my best pieces in my head while engaged in physical work. Usually the process adds to my sense of contentment and satisfaction. But recently, while preparing a birthday meal for my daughter, I kept rehashing a feature that had already gone to press.

It was a story about three of my local legislators who’d spent a month restricting their food budget to the amount allotted to a family of four for Food Assistance (formerly called Food Stamps).

The legislators all said they had to cut back on fresh, healthy food and purchase more cheap, processed food than usual to make their food dollars stretch to the end of the month.

That’s right. They said they resorted to buying bags of chips and ramen noodles when the food dollars started to run low.The more I thought about it, the more steamed I got. And the meal I was preparing made the whole issue stand out in stark relief. How had my fresh ingredients and slow cooking techniques become luxuries only the middle and upper class can afford?

I often hear Christians say comparing global capitalism to Empire is taking things too far. But, I ask you, borrowing a line from Jesus– whose image is on the packages of the food offering cheap, filling empty calories? In contrast, whose image is on the fresh, simple, humble, wholesome foods I buy locally?

Corporations stamp their icons all over the processed stuff—made as cheaply as possible to protect profit margins for stockholders. The hand of God who’s imprinted us with his image is all that’s visible on the fresh food.

Not by accident, but by the Spirit, I believe, I got a phone call today from a young man in my community who’s working on his PhD in rural sociology. He leads the local Slow Foods Convivium and has done substantial research on the economy of fast versus slow food.

He told me there’s more to the issue than cash flow. Cooking from scratch with fresh, healthy foods requires access to the foods—transportation is one concern—as well as time to prepare them and knowledge of how to do it.

Where I live, people struggling at the margins of poverty work long hours for low wages and may not have the time, energy or skills to make healthy meals consistently.

What, then, is the challenge for the Body of Christ? How can we make fresh, whole food affordable, accessible and feasible for people struggling at life’s most basic levels?

Food is such an incarnational issue. I believe how we deal with it reveals a lot about our understanding of God’s purposes for human relationships and creation.

I don’t know the answers, but I do know it won’t be a “top down” solution and it’s not up to those legislators I mentioned. To start looking for answers, I’m joining my local Slow Foods Convivium, which includes participation in a “Farmers to Folks” buying coop. I’m also involved with two agencies that work with low-income people using participatory methods instead of just handing out money. I’ll be praying for wisdom in how to tie it all together and I’ll keep you posted along the way.

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6 Responses to “Food and Empire”

  1. geoff holsclaw on October 26th, 2007 2:48 pm

    this is certain food for thought (sorry…couldn’t resist). I want to comment more, but by 2 year old is on my lap demanding a snack (should it be healthy carrots or m&ms?)

  2. beyondwords on October 26th, 2007 3:02 pm

    You did a great job typing with a toddler on your lap. :) When my youngest was a baby, I worked from home and typed with one hand sometimes, or stretched my arms around the baby sling to reach the keyboard. Made for interesting copy editing. Thanks for the comment.

  3. geoff holsclaw on October 26th, 2007 4:57 pm

    interesting that food is now becoming a central concern. Didn’t Jesus get in trouble about who he ate with, and Peter about who and what he ate.

    Anyway, this food issue is almost too big a topic to comment about. Really, it’s that important!!

    First, it is incarnational…we are “who” we eat in the Eucharist, and it’s no different the rest of the week. Nutritionally, are we eating synthetic, over-produced, genetically modified, hormone enriched food (at a very low cost subsidized by the Government to Agro-Business). Or are we trying to return the the food that the Maker made for us to eat, which in it original state provided us with the nutrients needed (this goes along with homeopathic medicine). Environementally, are we eating food that is produced in a violent manner in regard to the environment, creating waste instead of renewal? Or are we eating sustainable food? Transportationally, are we eating food that is produced so far away that its transportation involves our food in petroleum economy both in a) its environmental effects and b) its political effects (middle east [in]stability)? Or are we eat food locally grown?

    but on a brighter side: i heard of an urban ministry (i think it was hear in chicago) that understood itself solely as providing good meals to the inner city but helping communities have good local groceries and by helping families how to cook at home (a forgotten art lost in only a generation). This type of ministry would help poor families not eat out (which is both bad physically and finacially) and reclaims a communal practice.

  4. wilsonian on October 26th, 2007 5:22 pm

    I’d love to hear more when your thoughts have played out a little farther.

    On a tangent… earlier this year I spent some time with an urban ministry, spending time with homeless and marginalized women. We ate at the soup kitchens with them. Not to critisize the good that they do (because I know without them many would starve), but the food was usually way overcooked, and nearly nutritionally void. I’m guessing that those with no teeth gained even less nutrition from the food. Their stomachs were full, but their bodies were still terribly hungry…

  5. Beyond Words on October 26th, 2007 5:38 pm

    Geoff, can you find the name of that ministry for me? I’d like to contact them. You bring up some sobering points about what’s at stake with our food system.

    It’s such such a subtle deception, isn’t it? As Christians we can rail against some forms of immorality and be completely oblivious to others whose consequences are catastrophic in terms of lives harmed and resources squandered.

  6. Beyond Words on October 26th, 2007 5:48 pm

    Wilsonian, this is the beginning of the journey for me. I will keep you posted, but I’d love to hear from people who are further along–I’m sure such people are out there somewhere.

    I think a lot of soup kitchens and relief organizations serve cheap, easily accessible food because that’s all they can afford. And you’re right, it’s not enough to simply feed the hungry–we need to feed them as well as we feed ourselves.

    I’m on the board of directors for a relief organization that recently held a fundraiser at a gourmet restaurant. The tragic irony of this has been causing me to lose sleep. I’m getting together with the board president on Monday to make some suggestions. Why do we have to gorge ourselves with the cream of the crop to raise money to feed crumbs to the hungry?

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