I can clearly remember my thoughts as a young child when I discovered that not all the world lived the middle-class American lifestyle that I did. My life was the normal one. It was reality to me. Therefore, to discover that others lived far more deprived lives was a shock, but one more in the category of discovering a zoo exhibit. It was "over there," not something that was part of my day-to-day life.
I had a flashback about this as I watched the reaction that my five-year-old nephew had as he looked at some of the footage from my trip to Africa this past fall. As he processed the fact that some children "over there" were sick and didn't have enough food, he began to cry. Then he ran to tell his sister and brother about it. I was moved by his compassion at a young age.
At five, however, all my nephew can really do is share his discovery. But as we grow older, I believe compassion requires action. And sometimes action gets right at the core of our assumptions about what "normal life" should be.
Therefore, I'm kicking off a series this week about food and consumption that straddles the perspectives of several communities. For example, I've used the term "global citizen" in the title because I'm intentionally getting at the insulated idea that how we live here, now, is unrelated to the rest of the world and our global witness as believers. Yet, some of these phrases carry the freight of ideologies with which I disagree as a Bible-believing Christian. (Kevin DeYoung's post on the term "social justice," unpacks a bit of this verbal confusion.) Therefore, I am asking for your charitable response as I wander into intersections of nomenclature, ideology, and practice in my attempt to process my initial thinking on these matters.
So, back to "what's normal." Here's my normal: I don't grow any food. I live in a suburban area overrun by deer and anything I plant in the ground is simply opening a deer salad bar. That's true, but what is also true is that I don't have to grow my own food. Ever since I can remember, my food was delivered to me shrink-wrapped or boxed and sitting on a grocery shelf. As I've gotten older, food has only become more convenient. I have no other reference to food except as a consumer.
And I've never given it any thought. Nor have I made a connection between my consumption habits and how it affects the very people that I am feeling compassion for. I support several charities that provide food and water to needy people in other parts of the world, but have no idea how my "normal" might affect them or how my consumption habits might undermine my Christian witness or even undermine my giving. It's just how I live.
However, over the weekend, I watched an acclaimed documentary called "Food, Inc." It is about the agribusiness industry that has exploded in our lifetimes. Like most good documentaries, it has a very clear point-of-view--which means it is examining an issue in-depth but not necessarily from all sides. (To the filmmakers' credit, they do state they tried to get interviews from all sides.) I highly recommend that you watch it (you can stream it for free from Netflix) and then do your own research . Certainly, it is important to watch because it explains the reason for the growing number of food-borne illnesses and fatalities from bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli--information that affects the health of your family. I will caution you, however, don't watch it before you eat. Some of the images of the beef and chicken industries are quite repulsive. Below is a section of the film (not with the repulsive images) that explains why these contaminations are happening.
If you watch the whole film, you may note one inconsistency that made me laugh out loud: when author Michael Pollan states that cows were designed by evolution to eat grass (not the corn they are force-fed now to make them fatter). Designed ... by evolution?! Designed is right, but the source is wrong. Nevertheless, his point is right. Cows were designed to eat grass (by a wise and loving God, not random, impersonal evolution) and the practice of feeding them grain has many negative by-products. Even so, Pollan makes some good points throughout the film.
So how do we process such information through a biblical grid? Food itself is a major theme in the Scriptures, including how the ways we eat can help or stumble others (I Cor. 8). Obviously, we need to be wary of a selfish entitlement that can arise because of our nation's overall prosperity. Humility should cause us to consider the interests of others as important as our own (Phil. 2:3-4). Toward the end of the documentary, the point is made that our subsidized agribusiness artificially lowers the price of some commodities, which hurts regional growers in other nations and contributes to food scarcity. As women, we need to consider that in a mechanized world, looking well to the way of our household (Prov. 31:27) may include becoming informed about such complicated issues. Equally as important is the biblical principle that what is honest is done in the light and that evil deeds are hidden in the dark. It is clearly evident from the legal chokehold that many leading companies in the agribusiness industry are not operating in the light.
At the end of the documentary, the filmmakers remind viewers that as consumers we carry a big stick. We can demand changes and affect corporate actions by what we do or do not purchase. This is highlighted in the dramatic movie trailer (which is a lot more hyped up than the actual film, and my apologies that the one I could embed is low quality).
I look forward to your feedback on both this topic and the film itself.