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.

corn syrup, oil and pizza: commercials for the socially conscious

Jesus asks us to pray a lot and build the kingdom of God by connecting with poverty in ourselves and others.  It’s a messy challenge, especially in our technology-centric culture. To really follow Jesus freely, then we need to shift away from the internet clouds and webs and connect in reality.  But what are we to do when our participation in technology promotes the Kingdom?

Many of my regular heroes are “contemplatives” and activists who have intentionally chosen to not have a television. I find it refreshing to be in homes not oriented around a machine. If I am paying attention when I visit such communities I am initially jarred by the unfamiliar difference in the way the space- and the people- feel but then I realize it is healthier, more natural and very freeing.

Certainly, people may intentionally opt out of television nowadays not because they are opposed to the way it can consume space and community, but instead because it’s cheaper or easier to just use a computer- or cell phone- as the main source of entertainment.

But then there are radicals about computer use, too.  Some of the most radical peacemakers, I believe, include my friends who are so intentional about simplicity that they are very careful how much time they spend on the computer, emailing, playing, and checking on their Facebook friends. Believe it or not these radicals are under age 30 and recognize how technology clutters lives and consumes time that can be spent praying and developing relationships in person.  They choose to write letters to friends and create things by hand as acts of non-violent resistance. What a statement!

I deeply admire radicals who unplug and turn off technology in order to pray and pay attention to God. I want to be like them, but am not.  Instead, I clumsily turn on my television and spend time on the computer.  I wonder why these habits are so real in my life, but I think it’s really because I care about justice very much.

Technology helps me be socially conscious.  I learn most of what I know from the computer and TV, plus the radio, which I frequently listen to through the computer. I am torn. I need to connect with God and people, yet the computer is a tool for witness and connection. And the television is an interesting way to relax and connect with people.

As I gain awareness through technology  I am fascinated by what I observe.  Recently, a few commercials made me laugh aloud with amazement.  Each commercial was directed toward the socially conscious, in one way or another.

The first one was in response to the agriculture policies that cause corn to be the cheapest resource for the food industry (and beyond) in our society.  Perhaps you’ve noticed how many products now say “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” on the labels. That’s not just because people are learning the sweetener is bad for their health, but also bad for the environment and numerous other justice situations.  Here’s the reactionary commercial:

I sighed, knowing that the propaganda would confuse many of the truth-seekers who are overwhelmed with information and aren’t sure who to believe.

I couldn’t find the next commercial that I saw to share with you, but you can probably imagine it.  It was another PR play to make it seem like an oil company, I think it was BP, really cares about the environment more than profit.  You could click here to see a few similar videos.  I was also reminded of how McDonald’s made a video about their values that is so good that it might make you want to snuggle up to them with gratitude for their goodness.  Again, propaganda can spin the truth to help people feel okay about the way they spend their money and time.

The last commercial in the break gave me some hope, and it’s not just because I love pizza.  It was by Domino’s Pizza and about the sources of their pizza ingredients.  This company is trying out a very interesting PR and Ad campaign which admits their food has been awful and needed a re-do.   Part of the campaign includes an on-line game with videos so we can learn about the farms where they get their pizza parts.  This seems good; not enough people know the process of how their food comes to the table.  Plus, I love honesty. But, I am not behind it completely.  Even though it gives me hope that a food company wants to educate its customers about the food industry, I don’t think the success of a fast-food company is a solution to any social problem.

Brothers and Sisters, I seek your input and your advice.   How do you simplify your lives yet remain socially conscious?  Can we be gospel people without commercials, computers and TV in this era?  How do you connect with others in community in prayer, around tables and creatively resist oppression?  How do you do all this gospel work, this messy Jesus business, and remain rooted in the Truth of why we act?