Culture Economics Ethics Globalization Poverty Solutions Sustainability Vegetarianism

Ethical Eating Part 2: Looking for Answers

20080505-001-askn-20080504-0203Before we get into some of the nitty gritty about how to make better choices with your food I wanted to spend a moment thinking about the way we look for solutions. (I’m sometimes more obsessed with the questions than the answers, the journey than the destination)

We, in the USA, live in an instant gratification culture. Life moves at the speed of broadband and we like it that way. So, when we realize something isn’t right with our lifestyle we want a quick easy solution to the problem. What we miss is that sometimes the culture that wants a fast fix is part of the problem. The answers might look more like dial-up, or to some morse code. One movement to address or growing national eating disorder is called “slow food.” It’s an apt name for a movement to counter what fast food and fast culture has done to us.

On the other hand, there may be ways we can harness the tendency toward the easy answer to be part of the solution. Although I would caution that we won’t ever get there if we don’t address the more fundamental problem. One example would be With the simple click of a button once a day you can donate a cup of rice to someone in need. This was a brilliant idea that I remember spreading like wildfire. It takes advantage of our attention span problem and says “Hey! All you have to do is click!” Email petitions and other online activism are good examples of ways we can make change with as little effort as possible. Like I said though… real change is going to take some hard work.

The other tendency we have when looking for solutions is the “magic bullet.” A faculty of the engineering department at Baylor has done some incredible research into ways that coconuts can be used to solve all kinds of problems for people in areas where coconuts are an abundant resource (which also happens to be where most of the world’s poor live). It’s a brilliant idea, but our temptation is to say, “Aha! Here’s the idea that will make poverty history!” Unfortunately, it’s never that simple. A wise man once told his followers that the poor would always be with them (Mt 26:11) and it turned out he was right. Poverty is a symptom of our broken world and something we are not very good at addressing.

When it comes to our food part of the problem is that the industrial food system is a monoculture. For acres and acres there is only corn. In another place there is soy as far as the eye can see. This is not the picture of diversity painted in Genesis. But when we try to come up with a “magic bullet” to solve the problem we end up with monoculture.

You hear this argument a lot. “If everybody in the US became vegetarian we could solve hunger and all the problems of the world.” Really? Let’s use our imaginations a little. Our food system would definitely change. We wouldn’t be drowning in animal waste from CAFOs and getting E Coli. But we would still be shipping vegetables from Argentina in the middle of winter. Well, then local food is the answer, right? What happens when the entire USA no longer imports food from other countries? Is that going to improve the plight of the farmers worldwide?

Moving towards a more just and sustainable future is complicated, messy and difficult. So, let’s all drop our prideful smirks because we shop at whole foods or farmer’s markets. Instead let’s keep asking questions and keep pressing towards something better. Because it’s not about easing my conscience. For me it’s about doing what God calls us to do, live out his kingdom in this world by participating in reconciling and redeeming all of creation, society and culture to God.

Whew…I almost started preaching there…Sorry.

2 comments on “Ethical Eating Part 2: Looking for Answers

  1. You say it well, Brother Land. May it be so.


  2. Spot on! Our tendency to look for magic bullets and instant answers only substitutes one problem for another. You’ve prompted me to final start a post series on this meta issue on my own blog (and look for a link back to you in my weekly earthlinks on Friday).


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