Nourishing community with good food: An instrument of mercy

“When you eat a meal, thank the farmer who harvested it and think about their livelihood. Food is something that connects all of us as a community, wherever we live.” Oxfam Fact Sheet

This statement is from a farmer and my sister, Ellen Walsh-Rosmann. It helps me remember that something as basic as eating food and sharing it with community influences how I contribute to the reign of God.

I am from a food family. I grew up in a rural, agricultural, Christian community that taught me to understand that caring for Earth and neighbor is an issue of social justice. Our neighbor is the land as are all creatures large and small that also claim the land as home. As a child I would help…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Cabbage in the FSPA organic garden. (Photo by Jane Comeau)
Cabbage in the FSPA organic garden. (Photo by Jane Comeau)

this is HARD

Guest blogger Jerica Arents

This Lent has been, for me, a choir of resounding “no’s”.  As part of a Catholic Worker community, we try hard to live in more radical ways, attempting to fashion our internal dialogue in patterns that deliberately put first the poor and the planet.  And, along with my six housemates, I wanted to have a bold Lenten fast this year.  I wanted to challenge my preconceptions about fasting and discipline and prayer.

 

So we made communal commitments to fasting from sugar and high fructose corn syrup (and cane derivatives), to withhold our consent from the incredibly alarming human rights abuses of the sugar cane industry and the unsustainable and toxic nature of high fructose corn syrup.  We gave up plastic, to remind ourselves that every single piece of plastic we consume and discard will be on our Earth for at least the next million years. And we gave up electricity on Sundays, as a reminder of our culture’s dependence on fuel, to stand in solidarity with billions of people in the Global South, and (most importantly) to intentionally choose rest with others in community.

 

sugar spoon

I was excited about the communal fast until I recognized how hard it was going to be.  To be honest, three weeks into Lent feels like decades.  The sugar thing was fun until I grasped the reality that high fructose corn syrup is in essentially everything.  Nothing processed is fair game.  We can’t eat our cranberries, our dumpstered chocolate milk or our cereal.  All sweets are off the table, along with most baked things, frozen breakfast foods, or items that would have historically satisfied one’s sugary cravings.  The plastic thing has been downright hilarious (have you ever taken your own Tupperware into a restaurant, inquiring whether they would serve your meal in it?).  I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to go to a grocery store and find anything not wrapped, covered or sealed in plastic.

Outside of the inconvenient choices, the most integrated part of our Lenten fast commitment is our Sunday energy fasts.  Last week, I read for hours with a flashlight in the dark, leaving me feeling more like my insomniac 12-year-old self than a spiritually-disciplined adult.  Our house seems eerily quiet as we eat cold food all day and shake off our coffee-less mornings, ignoring the phone and unplugging our computers.  But the beauty of the energy fast is that the Sabbath has never before felt more like a Sabbath.  We seem to enjoy each other without the doldrums of daily distractions, getting lost in song-singing and music-playing well into the night.   We actually rest.

Perhaps the greatest gift of Lent is remembering – being reminded, constantly, the ways our individual choices crucify God’s people and Creation everyday.  I’m learning more concretely that standing up and saying “no” – for however long a time is helpful – is really a lesson in saying “yes”.  We vote instead for worker’s rights, an end to the wars, and a break for the replenishment of the planet.  We’re saying “yes” to the creative energy of community.  And in that, we end up choosing the life of the world we’re trying to build, over the death that otherwise seems to be all around us.

Read this week’s guest blogger’s first Messy post.


“Plastic” photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/690898 “Sugar” photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/76944


when eating bites

Bad news: people are starving to death; 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

Good news: God has mercy and God is helping us!  We are being preserved in spite of famine, scripture says.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
(Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

I am a great lover of food.  Much of my life has been centered around it.  I grew up in a farming community and family.   I knew how to pull weeds before I knew how to read.  I knew how to bake and cook before I knew how to drive.  I understood how to milk animals before I knew how to type.

Today my younger sister and her husband are organic farmers.   My parents and my brother now own and run a world famous restaurant, in the middle of nowhere. But I live in the city, away from the family food business.  I tend to go grocery shopping, read cookbooks and then invent and share new culinary creations for fun.  Plus, I love gardening; when work is really difficult at the high school I fantasize about giving it all up and becoming a gardener or a baker.

Food is such a big deal to me that I entered a Eucharistic-centered community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, before I was 25.  We’ve been adoring Jesus as Eucharist for over 133 years and it is very rad.

Obviously I am not unique because my life is centered around food. It is for all of us.  God designed it that way on purpose. It’s sacramental. It’s unifying. It’s life-giving. It’s essential.  I’m grateful.

Food is also oppressive.  The systems that control our consumption cause people to starve while others throw food away.  In the United States, we keep getting fatter while the rest of the world riots and dies because of food costs.  I wrote a bit about this for a Mexican food blog last week. The reasons why our food problems are so severe are complicated, economical and political.

As we gain awareness of the truth, we tend to be converted.  The freedom paradoxically requires us to be mindful and responsible.  It’s an act of solidarity and community.  Since food unites us, when any person in the body of Christ- in humanity- is suffering, we all are suffering.  For Lent this year I am working hard to simplify my diet, trying to fast, praying for those that are hungry and advocating for systemic justice.

This week at the high school I am leading two big events. Please pray for me and my students!  On Wednesday my seniors are hosting a Peace and Justice Fair. They’ve analyzed complex social problems and will now try to inform the community and inspire others to meaningful social action.   On Friday, we are hosting a Food Fast. The students will not eat for 24 hours, but still be very busy, as an act of solidarity and prayer for people who frequently go 24 hours without eating but keep working hard. I have games and activities planned to teach about global hunger and the students will engage in acts of service.

It’s really not that hard to make a difference.  Like my students, you can play games at FreeRice.com and donate rice to the UN WFP. You can click (and shop for Fair Trade goods) at The Hunger Site and donate 1.1 cups of food.  You can learn about the challenges of farming and survival in the developing countries by playing a game here. And, you can learn about living in poverty in the United States by playing a game here.

There are several other meaningful social actions that really make a difference.  You can literally buy an animal for a community in poverty through the Heifer Project. And, of course, you can pray, fast, give, advocate, and try out simple recipes through the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl campaign.

Together, we fast with hope and trust that our merciful God is leading us through the messy famines and injustices.  As I eat, I believe that the nourishment shall wake us all up to the heavy truth that we already have enough, we just need to learn how to share.  This sharing is the simple way that Jesus taught us, it is the way of freedom.

 

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.