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Feeding the Hungry in a Land of Dieters:
Hunger and Social Justice
By: Jim and Susan Vogt
A man holds a sign at an interstate exit: “Will work for food.” You feel moved with compassion but have just seconds to act before the traffic moves again.
What might a conscientious Christian do? Do you drive him to your home and pay him to weed the garden? Probably not. Do you hand him $5 and wish him well? Most likely you drive by, saddened and conflicted. After all, Jesus clearly tells us to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty (Matthew 25:31-46). One family we know stores a bag of nonperishable food in the car to hand out the window—a good idea, but few of us are this prepared. What’s a Christian to do?
It’s one thing to meet a hungry person on the street and another to read about children dying of hunger in an impoverished country or suffering from malnutrition in poor areas of your community. Conscientious people can’t help being disturbed knowing that many Americans are concerned about losing weight while many others would welcome the leftovers we put down the disposal. Susan remembers being told to clean her plate because children were starving in China, and asking how her lima beans were going to get to China. Still, the message was clear: Don’t waste food! Some people don’t have enough.
Let’s say you grow vegetables in your garden, have cut down on the amount of red meat you eat—to help your heart, of course—and don’t overeat. Are you home free in the feeding-the-hungry department? Well, as many moral issues go, yes and no. It’s virtuous to use food wisely. Consider, however, the connection between what we eat and the reality that some people in the world are hungry.
For example, Colombian farmers grow coffee for export, yet their own families go hungry because the income is insufficient. One can’t survive just on coffee, although some college students may dispute this. The reverse is also troubling. Despite the free trade promised under NAFTA, many U.S. farmers are subsidized to grow corn that’s sold more cheaply in Mexico than farmers there can grow it. This threatens their livelihood.
Globalization shows us that our planet is interconnected. Overconsumption of resources, pollution and economic irresponsibility in one part of the world will eventually impact us all. Jesus’ command to be like the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:36-37) rings in our ears. Our neighbor is anyone who needs us to be a neighbor, since anyone in need presents a claim on us. It can sound overwhelming and intimidating, for how could any one human being—even a well-intentioned Christian—respond to the masses of humanity suffering in the Sudan or malnourished in Mali?
Of course no one person can do this. That’s why, impelled by faith, we partner with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and our next-door neighbors to take steps to eradicate hunger. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2002), the world produces enough food to feed everyone. The challenges are 1) poverty, lack of money to buy the food, and 2) distribution, getting the food to those who need it. These are matters of political will.
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What can I do about hunger?
You can make a difference—both through simple lifestyle changes and by leveraging your influence in collaboration with others.
• Eat responsibly. Don’t overeat. Don’t waste food. Do reduce or eliminate meat from your diet. Do eat nutritiously. Eat organic when possible.
• Eat locally as much as possible. Food grown in your own locale supports local farmers and reduces transportation costs and use of preservatives. Will you really die if you don’t have strawberries in December?
• Eat humanely. When we watched Eating Mercifully, a DVD from The Humane Society, it disturbed us to learn about “factory farms” and how cows, pigs, chickens and other animals are often raised in inhumane conditions.
If you’re not ready to become a vegan, at least look to buy meat and eggs from cage-free animals, not those raised on factory farms.
• Consider fasting so that others may simply eat. It’s not practical to send your leftovers to the slums of Calcutta, but consider fasting from a meal, dessert or luxury food. Donate the money saved to a hunger cause. It’s not just about the money, however. Fasting is a form of prayer and puts us in solidarity with those who don’t have a choice.
• Plant a vegetable garden. Not only do you get fresh vegetables and the joy of watching your labor turn into food, but you’ll usually have enough zucchini to feed the neighborhood. Better yet, plant twice as much as needed and donate half your produce to a food bank or soup kitchen.
• Support organizations that feed the hungry. Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services are two reputable organizations that turn your money into food.
• Educate yourself about food and hunger issues. Organizations like Bread for the World and books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food bring light to a confusing and sometimes overwhelming topic.
• Use the power of the pen. Once educated, use your power to influence public policy. Write to legislators about changes in farm and food policies that will promote better production and distribution of food so that no one goes to bed hungry.
• Work for systemic change. Once you have your own diet under control, look at the food systems around you to see if they need improvement. Do your local schools provide vending machines with junk food and soft drinks?
• Don’t be gullible. The main purpose of advertising is to separate you from your money—not to make you healthy. Eating or drinking certain foods will not make you more powerful or attract the love of your life. Be smart. Read labels and know what they mean.
The bottom line? Eat responsibly, share, learn and advocate. Keep some food in your car and don’t let it go to waste—or waist.
Permission to Publish for this article, “Feeding the Hungry in a Land of Dieters—Hunger and Social Justice,” by Jim and Susan Vogt, received from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 5-14-2009.
By: Frank Frost
The image of a man or woman holding a sign asking for help at an intersection brings to mind the scene in the recent Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, in which Jamal, his brother and other children are sent out begging in the streets of Mumbai.
■ Have you ever been truly hungry? What was the situation? How did that experience change you?
■ What is your personal responsibility to the hungry of the world? How well are you meeting that responsibility?
■ What more will you do to work toward the end of hunger in our world?
Even people who haven’t seen the film know by now that the main character was born a “slumdog” and seems destined to become a millionaire. The big questions are How? and At what price? In the opening scene, words appear on the screen that say, “Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it? A. He cheated; B. He’s lucky; C. He’s a genius; D. It is written.”
Slumdog Millionaire explores how a boy born in the shantytown slums of Mumbai can know enough to answer the increasingly difficult questions of a television quiz show. In the process, we are introduced to a large population living in utter poverty and having few options, and the impact this has on the children. Because of the extraordinary commercial success of the movie one would hope that perhaps the public is being awakened to the intolerable conditions of economic inequality that exist not just in India, but in two thirds of the world.
But perhaps this is too much to ask of a fairy tale, which is the genre of this film. In a fairy tale, good things happen magically. Destiny rules, as we are told repeatedly. Will Jamal win the money? Destiny provides the answers. Will Jamal get the girl? The last words on the screen tell us, “D. It is written.” The hard socio-political work and moral choices that can actually help bring countless slumdogs of Mumbai, and our own homeless and hungry in America, to lives of dignity and hope are not the subjects of fairy tales.
Next time you watch Slumdog Millionaire, ASK YOURSELF:
By: Joan McKamey
“As farmers, we’re raisers of food. This is a way to help show others how to be raisers of food,” says Dennis Byrnes of his involvement with Corner of Hope, a Foods Resource Bank local growing project in Allamakee County, Iowa. His wife, Judy, adds, “When harvests are good, Dennis has felt obliged to give to a local needy family to share our good fortune.” Now, Corner of Hope helps them to make a dent in hunger around the world.
■ What conditions of extreme poverty for slum children of Mumbai are depicted? Are causes for this economic destitution indicated in any way? What about solutions?
■ Is economic hardship a matter of fate in the real world we experience? If it has causes and solutions, what action do they require from me?
Foods Resource Bank (FRB) is a Christian response to world hunger. It engages the grassroots farming community in the U.S., along with individuals, businesses, churches and communities, to alleviate hunger in our world. Money raised in a local community—through donations of farm acreage, seed, chemicals, labor, equipment, fuel and money—is sent to Foods Resource Bank for distribution to its 15 member organizations.
Each local growing project group chooses to give their donation to one or more of these mainline Christian denominations or their agencies. The member organizations use the money to supply seeds, tools, drip irrigation, animals and instruction to local villagers who work to create community gardens, wells and herds that will sustain food security long-term.
Dennis and Judy learned about Corner of Hope and got involved in it after the first harvest. Since that first local project in 2005, over $86,000 has been contributed from Allamakee County. Each year the funds are shared equally with Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service. Dennis tells Every Day Catholic, “For years, organizations have shipped food to different countries. We could keep doing that and never get on top of it. With Corner of Hope, we show the people how to do it themselves, how to feed themselves. That’s the secret of it, I think.”
Dennis and Judy are both from farming families and have farmed their entire married life of 45 years. They raised their seven children on the farm. Dennis says, “We’re not big farmers by any stretch. But that might give you time to reflect on what’s important.” Two of their sons farm now as well. Judy says, “We hope we’ve set a good example for them to continue the work we’ve started with Corner of Hope.”
Judy is quick to point out that it’s not just farmers who contribute to their local growing project. Agribusinesses donate seed, chemicals, fuel and equipment. Townspeople and churches help with money toward expenses. Dennis adds, “Another neat aspect is that it’s ecumenical. We’re all in this together. We all work together.” St. Mary’s in Hanover and St. Patrick’s in Waukon are two of the Catholic parishes represented.
Dennis and Judy have 20 grandchildren who provide additional motivation for their involvement with Corner of Hope. Dennis says, “When the grandkids come over, they like to eat. There’s no difference between my grandchild and some child in some far-off country. They all need to eat. Children shouldn’t go hungry.”
Learn more at (www.foodsresourcebank.org).
By: Jeanne Hunt
Sam is a 32-year-old man who struggles with his weight. One evening, as he visits his mother, Helen, the conversation turns to his weight problem. He tells her, “Mom, you taught me to eat for the wrong reasons. Every time I was sad, happy or hurt, you offered me food. I’m an emotional eater.” She knows he’s right; she’s fighting the same battle.
One out of three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. We’re subtly but surely breaking the Fifth Commandment—You shall not kill. The future for these children is a lifelong struggle with weight, diabetes, heart disease and more. Obese children have bone and joint problems, shortness of breath, asthma, sleep disorders and depression.
We’re destroying the God-given gift of a healthy body by using food as a source of consolation. For many adults and children, food is something they’ve come to worship.
A parent’s task in this land of plenty is to prevent obesity by changing how our families eat and exercise. We need to make stronger efforts to spend time together instead of leaving our children to graze in front of electronic games and the television. Physicians recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily for children over the age of two.
Families should choose healthy homemade meals over less healthy, quick-and-easy options. Most of all, parents need to lead by example by clearing the cupboards of unhealthy foods, planning healthy meals and exercising with their children. Resist rewarding children with sweet treats for good behavior. Offer the child a sleepover with a friend or a visit to a park as a reward for modifying his behavior.
Forget that clean-plate policy of the past. When a child is satisfied, don’t force her to finish. Reinforce that we should eat only when we’re hungry. Finally, don’t suggest that certain foods are off-limits. Teach that even treats are O.K. in moderation. Most of all, let your children know that your love is unconditional no matter what they weigh. Just like God, parents want their children to be healthy and happy.
Sam shifts the conversation to an announcement: He is to be a father! He has a lot to think about as he prepares for fatherhood. He’s determined to protect his child’s body through healthy food and exercise. Helen expresses joy over Sam’s news; she suggests they skip a celebration treat and go for a walk instead!
By: Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Place a bowl of uncooked rice, small plastic bags in which to take some rice home, a picture of a third-world child, an open Bible and a lighted candle on a prayer table.
Good and Gracious God, most of us don’t understand real hunger. We have plenty to eat and can get more to fill our cupboards. But it’s not really our cupboard, it’s yours, and all food is a gift from you. Create in us the desire to share what we have in the spirit of Christ. Amen.
“Whatsoever You Do” (or similar song)
Can I walk with those who suffer? Am I the hands and feet of Jesus? I can bring food, water, light and truth to the darkest spaces where human needs remain unfulfilled. Maybe I could offer a fast and give some of my money to feed the poor. Let my spirit be courageous and strong. Let my voice join those who cry out for relief. Too many children have died of starvation; too many people struggle to survive while I am satisfied. It is not an abstract statistic, words on a page about hunger. These are real, malnourished and hungry souls, each with a passion for life, a story to tell, a gift to give. God invites me to take a small important step to feed his hungry and live his love.
Please come forward and remove some rice from the bowl. Take the rice home and place it on your table as a reminder of those who have only a little rice to eat each day. May this rice symbolize your pledge to fast, pray and perform acts of justice.
(As people come forward, sing or listen again to the opening song.)
May God bless us with fortitude, courage and wisdom as we find ways to feed the hungry. Amen.