02 November 2014

Food Policy and Giving Thanks

Food is near and dear to my heart.  It is a hobby of creativity for me, as well as one of the primary areas of service in my life.  I feed my family regularly, but I also have been blessed to be able to feed others.  Friends, church-members, strangers.

I read about food, food policy, cooking, growing, etc.  I (try to) keep up.  I've been aware, for a long time, that we have a problem here in America.  We are overfed and undernourished.  We have a growing population of hungry people. 

I've been becoming more and more aware of the reality of food for a good portion of our citizens.  Our family's experience - and that of our good friends - is not the experience of many Americans. 

Please read this article. 

People are hungry in our country.  A non-living wage very much contributes to this problem.  Another contributing factor is that our government subsidizes foods that are calorie-dense and nutrition-sparse.  This makes us not only hungry but fat.  

I know what our monthly food budget is compared to average family food budgets (quite small), but I also know what I'm able to do with it (fairly big).  The reason is not because I'm somehow awesome.  It is because my mother served me natural foods cooked at home, and it's because I've read many books and articles on food preparation, planning, etc.  I was both childhood-educated and self-educated.   

This is not an education that a government or an institution is going to be good at providing. I read an article recently about having a stay-at-home parent being a new sign of privilege.  I am privileged in a very real way; my family's food dollars go significantly further because my mother was at home cooking.  And now, basically, my middle-class-income family eats like an upper-class family because of the way I was raised. 

So, we educated people tend to look down upon the homeless-shelter mother buying fried fast food gizzards for her children (as in the above article).  The left will say that she needs more food money and that we need early childhood education. The right will say that she should know better and that it's her own damn fault.
They're both missing the mark. 

What we need is wholesome, grassroots, community-based, local education.  It is not something that can be institutionalized.  It's too slow.  It's too personal.  Learning to feed people takes years of calm, daily, regular ritual.  We need families. The reason that a stay at home parent is a privilege is because she (or he) provides an education not attainable in a classroom. 

Should we throw up our hands, then?  Say "Teach your own people to feed themselves and their future families - nothing we can do for anyone else." 


But, increased food stamp benefits are never going to solve the problem when the lobby of agribusiness has made sure that the cheapest calories in the grocery store are also the ones most likely to leave you fat and undernourished.  A living wage is a big step, but it won't solve the problem either because we are now operating on a paucity of knowledge, understanding, and ability.

Right now, the best thing I can do is to work with my four people - to bring them into the kitchen, to teach them what they're doing with food and what they're putting into their bodies.  Regularly, slowly, without ceremony, but with liturgy. 

Michael Pollan tells us to only eat food our great-grandparents would recognize as food, rather than the food-like substances on the shelves these days.  I think it's a great place to start. 

We can also take every opportunity to support service organizations that are locally minded and have long-term relationships as part of their strategy of support.   Find your local food pantry, and ask if they ever do cooking classes or seminars.  If you're capable of teaching one, offer. If not, offer to fund one.  As with all poverty assistance, relationships are exhausting and are time-intensive.  But, that's what it takes; relationships are key.  

Tell your Congresspeople that Food Policy in America must change.  Read Pollan and Joel Salatin for sane looks at food.  I have no idea what the solution is, but the USDA and the FDA and Michelle Obama are all failing us miserably.

Try to eat only whole foods for a month.  Try not to ingest anything that has any ingredient that isn't a whole food in it.  For a whole month.
Or just 3.5 weeks. 
From now until Thanksgiving. 
I dare you. 

Above all else, though, please give thanks.  Please don't make the mistake of being ungrateful for anything put in front of you. When you have control, do the best you can.  But don't let chicken nuggets steal your joy.  And certainly don't let powdered cheese make you ungrateful. Processed food is nutritionally of the devil, yes; but it is also of heaven in a very real sense, because it is food, and for it we should give thanks always. 

Wanting better - whether it be food, theology, or education -  for ourselves and our people should never make us feel like we are better people.  We are all dependent on our Creator for everything under the sun, and each of us is created imago dei, and we are each equally worthwhile and worthless.

And so, while bell peppers are better than canned condensed soup, you are not better for being able to choose them. 

Go, eat, and prepare for Thanksgiving, the ultimate food-and-gratitude holiday.  Receive your gifts with open arms, and give your gifts with glad hands.

And remember that Thanksgiving must (grammatically and logically) have an object to whom it is offered.

Give Thanks?  Give to whom?  

Thanks be to God. 

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