Pope Francis: Throwing Away Food is Like Stealing from the Poor

In his weekly message at the beginning of June, Pope Francis urged all Catholics to think twice before wasting food. In his own words, “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and hungry” (quote found here). Compared to our grandparents, who lived through the scarcity of the Depression and the World Wars, Pope Francis noted that we are so accustomed to having plenty that we have become used to “wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value.” Like his predecessors, Pope Francis has urged Catholics worldwide to practice living simply, to be good stewards of our resources, and to consciously practice solidarity with the poor.

So, how can Catholics in developed countries like the United States do all of these things, and can we really make a difference in the lives of the 870 million people worldwide who live with hunger on a daily basis? Does it really make a difference to the people of Africa if I buy 10 tomatoes and throw away 3 of them because they have gone bad? Or if I go to a restaurant and only eat half of my meal because the portion was so large? At first glance, it might seem like the answer is no; after all, it’s not as if those 3 bananas or that half-meal would go directly to the table of the poor in Sudan, right? Do my personal habits with regards to food have any bearing on the situation of the poor and needy?

Despite all of the barriers when it comes to food distribution to the needy, I agree with Pope Francis and believe that my personal habits DO have a profound affect on my local community and even on the worldwide community. How? Well, if I am a person who is conscious of the waste that I create, and if I do my best to live simply and be grateful for the resources that are available to me, then I am also going to be a person that is concerned for those who do not have these resources available to them. In short, I am going to open myself up to a community that is larger than just my own family or neighborhood, and in some way I am going to feel a sense of solidarity with them. This sense of solidarity means that I truly feel as if they are a part of who I am. My attitude changes from “I want to do something out of the goodness of my heart to help those people over there who are suffering” to “I have an obligation to help my brothers and sisters who are suffering.” We realize that we have a duty to those in need, and that we are all a part of the same body, which as Catholics we call the body of Christ. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12: 26 

When I was growing up, my mother used to remind us that “the children in Africa would run for miles to have the scraps from the meal on our table.” My father had lived in Nigeria for a period of time and our family had lived in Turkey for a few years, so in our travels we had seen poverty and hunger first-hand. We bought only the food that we needed, and if we had leftover food we froze it or used it in a casserole. To this day, my mother cannot stand seeing food go to waste. She has been a great example for me, and I hope to be a good example to my children as well. Personally, we have noticed that local food distribution programs can work very well; for example, there is a local organization that makes and distributes lunches to young children every weekday. We have also participated in an organization that packages and distributes meals worldwide, and have been very impressed with the impact that they are able to have in communities. These organizations are doing great work, especially in countries where the government is corrupt or inefficient. They have seen a need and are doing their best to fulfill it. God bless them for their initiative and hard work!

May God bless you and your families this week. Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us!

  • Jennifer

    Katrina,

    Thanks so much for these thoughts and for this wonderful reminder that we must be good and conscientious stewards of the resources that we are so blessed to have. I love your differentiation between the attitudes of altruism and helping “those others over there,” and our responsibility “to help [our] brothers and sisters who are suffering.” It’s amazing how 2 statements that sound so similar, truly have such different meanings. Again, many thanks for this reflection; I really needed this reminder today.

  • Kathleen

    When I read that quote from the Pope a few weeks ago, I definitely started thinking about ways we can be more conscientious about our use of food. I don’t tend to over buy, but sometimes we just let the left-overs go to waste in the Fridge. I’ve tried to institute a regular left over night or insist that the kids eat the leftovers for lunch. This can be a challenge if the dinner was a struggle for the kids, but I think it’s one way to practice spiritual poverty.

    Great post!

  • Adele

    I struggle with this issue. We give to local charities like St. Vincent de Paul, which I can see are well-run and do a lot of good in the community. However, my husband, who is an economist, has given me strict instructions never to give to charities providing foreign food aid. These programs have all kinds of unintended consequences, preventing these countries from establishing their own food supply and creating a culture of dependency. We need to be careful that our charitable efforts are actually having good effects, instead of just making us feel good about ourselves.

    • Kat0427

      Adele, I struggle with this issue, too! Very interesting to hear your husband’s perspective. I wonder what he thinks about local/community aid programs, and the differences in impact between international and local aid. I do feel that there is a big difference between providing something concrete, like a meal or water, and giving money, which often doesn’t make it into the hands of those who it was intended for. What are your thoughts?

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    This is super convicting, Kat (in a good way). Thank you so much for posting it. I have been thinking about it all week as I have been trying to do a better job of not wasting. Managing stuff seems like such an issue I have, but it is such a created problem, rather than a true need that many around the world experience. I am trying to change the way I shop and cook and think about stuff right now, this was so well timed for me!


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