All across the world, people are transforming the food system. As we gain more insight into the industrial food complex, people are turning away from industrial agriculture toward sustainable and local alternatives. Why is this an issue that matters to progressive Christians? There are many reasons. First, treating our bodies as temples, as gifts we have been given by our mysterious life source means that we choose healthy and whole foods that nourish both our bodies and our spirits and that honor that gift. If a loved-one gave you a beautiful home as a gift made of the finest natural materials, would you trash and treat it poorly? Second, as progressive Christians we are active toward peace and justice. This means that we support local farmers whose livelihood depends on our endorsement. This also means that we are spending our dollars on companies that treat their employees fairly and have compassionate business practices. Third, food peace and justice means that we are honoring the earth that provides for us and are not supporting- through our endorsement, our consumption, or our money- companies that harm the environment.
“Local, natural food- and the benefits it brings to communities- isn’t some trend of the food elite. It’s driven by economic and environmental concerns, as well as the deep belief that good food, sustainable and humanely produced, should have a place at every table,” says Cheryl Long, Editor-in-Chief of Mother Earth News. “Driven by concerns about food safety and quality, as well as disgust with inhumane treatment of livestock, people are queuing up to join community-supported agriculture (CSA) ventures- or to start their own farms. They’re launching farmers markets as well as schoolyard and community gardens by the thousands. And they’re revitalizing communities as they do so, getting to know their neighbors and reinvesting in the places where they live.” It’s true! According to the USDA, there has been a 364 percent increase in the number of farmers markets in less than two decades. Equality is what is at hand here. We support a system where everybody wins- from the farmer, to the diner, and the bees that keep it all going.
Progressive Christians need to care about the food we are eating and the agricultural system we are creating, sustaining, and supporting. It is all too true that we are what we eat. And what we eat affects our health, our home, our communities and our earth. It transverses all layers of our lives. A flourishing of life is dependent on, and evolves within, a larger context: the web of life itself. Understood as the web of life, “the environment” is not simply an issue among issues but rather a context for many of the most important issues faced by human beings today. And if human beings are a divine expression of a higher order than perhaps we should make sure we are in alignment with the highest principles when it comes to tinkering with the fabric of nature.
Our early ancestors were given a beautiful planet that provides all that we need in order live healthy and whole lives. Every color of the rainbow is represented in the foods that the earth provides and every vitamin, mineral and nutrient is available to us in those colorful foods. Herbs grow freely that heal us. Barks, flowers, plants, water and sun are part of the web that sustain and nourish us. We could have gardens flowing into endless gardens. Instead, we have allowed an industrial agriculture system to thrive that segregates humans from the earth and from each other. This system is concerned with profit and monoculture. The same dominant mentality of command and control that Jesus faced in both the secular and religious dimensions has now blossomed to include not only domination of women by men, and domination of the poor and weak by the rich and powerful, but domination of nature disguised as “economic development” and energized by cheap fossil fuels and irrational assumptions about the feasibility of infinite material growth in a physically finite planet. What have we done with this Eden that we were given?
We need to ask ourselves if the industrial agriculture system is truly feeding us. I don’t believe it is. In fact it is over-feeding us with all the wrong ideas and fake foods. GMO foods are known to cause major health problems. It is morally and ethically suspect that the powers that be would allow GMO foods to take over the food industry. Not only are we unsure of the major health consequences on our bodies, but we know that these prevalent manufactures are harming local farmers sustenance. I believe it is very risky to assume that we can modify the basic building blocks of life without consequence.
More than a third of us are classified as overweight or obese. However, many of us still don’t get enough of some essential nutrients, including potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. This paradox, in which we are overfed and undernourished, is one of the most pressing health issues of our times. It is a widespread public health issue. We now eat way too much of the wrong kinds of food. This nutrient deficiency is leading to a vast array of health problems- osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Biochemist Bruce Ames– who has won numerous prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science– argues that widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies in modern diets result in chromosomal damage that leads to cancer and accelerated aging. We have been trained to prefer foods high in sugar and fat.
“After World War II, the food industry kicked into full gear, and high profit margins and convenience (including shelf life) took precedence over nutrition and flavor. The industry was unrelenting. Advertising and the media, along with the advent of supermarkets and advances in packaging, caused convenience foods to win over old-fashioned basics…. Our nation’s farm policies have helped the food industry addict us,” writes Lynn Keiley, of Mother Earth News. Thanks to Big Agriculture, we have an obese society, the near death of our family farms, and scary factory- farming practices. Ironically, the industrialization of our food industry means that we are actually getting less nutrition for each dollar we spend. And as a result of unhealthy eating and lifestyle practices, we are spending exponentially more on medical costs. Also, the use of pesticides and fungicides have decreased the nutrition of our soil and foods. According to Donald Davis, retired chemist from the University of Texas, we now have diluted protein, vitamins and minerals in many crops.
We have to agree the state on Earth is grim. Our industrial civilization is based upon growth, increasing consumption and the use of finite resources. These are clearly entering a critical phase.
In the Bible, we read: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” John 13:33-35. Love in reality is all that we need to bring peace and justice to our world. But what is love and how to find it? Following the teachings of Jesus, if we truly allowed them to pervade all levels of our lives, we would choose the highest form of energy in all things we do. We would turn the light of our love toward the abundant offerings of the earth, we would love our local farmers and support them in their work, we would love our neighbors and want for them to be their healthiest and happiest. We would offer love and gratitude for the material resources, energy resources and water that we have. We would shine love into the cities and workplaces that we build. We would love every person that comes our way and every child that is born. We would live with a sense of awe and wonder for this universe, this creation, this incredible planet and all that it provides. Then we would KNOW that all things are interconnected. We would know that how we treat our bodies matters as much as how we treat our minds, our spirits, and our land and that none of these are separate.
Amazingly, we still have the power to overcome the negative forces that wish to control and delude us. And it is quite simple. First, buy real food. It is that simple. Better yet, buy local, organic food. It may slightly increase your grocery bill, but your medical expenses will greatly decrease. Second, vote to have GMOs labeled. Third, buy heirloom seeds and store them. GMO foods threaten the integrity of our seed system. Fourth, grow your own food when ever possible. Not only will you experience the delight of this natural creative gift we have been given, but you will also re-establish your connection with the earth. Fifth, spend your money on companies that support local, natural products. Finally, take a look at all levels of this issue: how can you help protect the environment? How can you support your local farmers? Can you join a CSA farm share? Is there a farmer’s market near you? Can you walk through the grocery store and end up with a cart load of colorful whole foods? Can you eliminate packaged and processed foods little by little? Can you join a community garden? Take a look at the rights of farmers in your area. Are there any social justice opportunities for you there? And most importantly, teach the children in your life about healthy eating, nutrition, real food, and gardening. Help them stay integrated with the earth. Help them learn why the foods we grow nourish us and let them get dirty and explore the earth’s gifts. Thankfully, the solution is simple. Rather than choose fast, processed, fake foods- choose real, healthy whole foods. And in doing so you will be supporting the entire web of life. And your life will be much richer for it.