Part 4 in the ongoing series What Would Jesus Eat? turns to why food matters. I’ve decided to have another series dedicated specifically to exploring the nature and cost of our current food system called Cheap Food Isn’t. Feel free to ask questions about this stuff in the comments anyway, but also know that more is coming specifically about the problems with our food system.
Everybody eats and we all talk about food when making small talk at some point. “Have you tried that new restaurant?” “Did you see this new flavor?” “What’s that you’re eating?” Food probably enters our conversation more often than we realize.
But there are some lines we don’t cross. Some people have destructive relationships with food whether it’s anorexia, bulimia, food addiction or any other eating disorders. These are personal problems that express themselves in how people relate to the necessary act of consuming calories. You don’t ask an overly skinny woman how her anorexia is going or if she threw up her lunch today. Those things are personal.
We also don’t cross the line to ask questions about where our food comes from or what’s in it. We take the restaurant or the grocery store’s word for it. You can trust them right? You don’t ask your grocer, “Do you know where this meat came from?” or “What exactly is in the milk?” or “What conditions were the chickens in that these eggs came from?” or “Why do you have asparagus in December?” That’s kind of personal too. I mean, I can imagine someone being put off or offended. “Do you want the hamburger patties or not, Lady?” or “Look, mister, I just work here all right.”
So, why cross the line? Why talk about where our food comes from and what’s in it? The system works and everybody’s happy right? Well, not quite. When you stop to ask questions about your food, you quickly find out that with every bite of McDonald’s or organic produce you participate in a complex global system that brings your meal to your plate. Everything you eat is connected to issues like globalization, human rights, poverty, hunger, environmentalism, bioethics and economics to name a few.
Later we’ll try and trace the path from farm to plate of some crops. As an example consider coffee. It is the second most traded commodity in the world next to oil. The economy of many third world nations is based primarily on the coffee trade. Different coffee companies have a wide range of practices from the very disturbing and detrimental to farmers to the very encouraging and uplifting of poor communities. So, your Tall-Non-Fat-Double-Caramel-Latte is connected in a very real way to farmers in far away countries with names most of us can’t pronounce.
This is where our relationship to our food starts to take on more meaning than just sustenance or the latest diet craze. What we eat and the questions about where it comes from and what’s in it begin to pose very difficult and vexing ethical questions. This is where Jesus comes in. The great social gospel book In His Steps first posed the question “What Would Jesus Do?” and told the story about how that simple question changed a congregation.
I think asking the question “What Would Jesus Eat?” could have the same impact in a world that is increasingly globalized and complex. This simple question will lead us down a path that raises a lot of questions that are not easily answered, but it will help us to see the world as it really is today. No matter who you are or what you eat… Iit turns out that it is never your own business.
Next…The Culture of Food
Just wanted to say I love the new digs. Very nice! I’m really glad you’re doing this, both as your former pastor (who still feels a little responsible for your spiritual nurture) and as one who is benefiting from your work.
Good stuff, Lucas. I just found this from Joe B’s blog. I’m currently reading the chapter about food in Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy. You’re right on, man!