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!