I Think Pope Francis is Channeling My Grandmother


I think Pope Francis is channeling my grandmother. 

“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry,” he said yesterday.

“Clean your plate,” my grandmother told me, “think of those that do without.”

I am not, as some people do, blaming these injunctions to eat what I put on my plate for my weight problem. I know what causes that, and cleaning my plate has nothing to do with it. However, I did get a wee bit of the giggles when I first read Pope Francis’ comments.

Then I sobered up.

He’s right, you know.

We buy too much stuff. Not just food, but all sorts of stuff. I know perfectly healthy people who spend their days shopping. They are using the precious hours and minutes of their time in this life wandering up and down store aisles, looking at things they don’t need in order to buy and then not use them.

I have a relative who used to show up at my house with sacks of uneaten food every time she cleaned out her refrigerator. It was, most of it, half-spoiled, but she would bring it to me and expect me to take it. The question of why she bought it in the first place was never asked, much less answered.

How do we turn this useless excess that burdens our lives with too much weight, too many things and an awful, aching hunger for more stuff we don’t need into something that is useful and productive in this world? What is the mechanism for channeling our excess to those who are wracked by hunger and illness; who live without the adequate shelter or sanitary conditions?

Where is the connection between my garbage disposal and their empty bellies?

According to an article in NewsMaxWorld, “about 1.3 billion metric tons of food, or one third of what is produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted very year.”

The article goes on with the usual guilt statistics about the enormous portions served in restaurants, etc. But making people feel guilty doesn’t help. What we need is a means and a method for distributing food so that no one goes hungry. According to the United Nations, 870 million people suffer from hunger, while 2 billion suffer from at least some nutritional deficiency.

That’s about one third of the human race, which, if all these statistics are accurate, is roughly equivalent to the portion of food that is wasted.

I can not scrape the food off my plate and into the hungry mouths of the world. I have to put it down the garbage disposal. I can — and should, for my own sake — buy less. But even that would not get the food to those who need it.

It takes more than a curb on wastefulness among the well-fed to fix this problem. It requires a will and a determination to do it. 

We’ve got plenty of food. We’re just not getting it to the people who don’t have any.

What would you do to end world hunger, if you were, say, a delegate to the United Nations?

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  • Carlos X.

    I heard a report on Radio Vaticana which made a great point: this imbalance between the haves and have-nots does not only hurt the marginalized. In fact, there is a pandemic of obesity-related disease in many Northern Hemisphere countries, with the attendant spikes in diabetes, heart disease and similar health problems. It made me think: if this is what this does to our bodies, think of the damage this is doing to our souls!

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    It’s an Italian thing. Pope Francis, like the majority of Argentinians, is of Italian descent, and in Italy we are all taught to eat up as children. First because it is rude to the cook not to do so, but there is also the consideration that food matters. “Think of all those hungry children in Africa”, we were told. And I gather that there are places in the South where it’s bad manners to put the bread back on the table upside down, because bread must be treated with respect.

    • hamiltonr

      Fabio, it sounds like the Italians are channeling my Scotch-Irish-Cherokee-American grandmother, too! :-)

  • Bill S

    I’ve always been impressed by the corporal acts of mercy. Especially feeding the hungry. I must admit that since becoming an atheist, I hardly ever think about them.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that its not that believing makes one good and not believing makes one bad. It is that good people tend to trust and believe and can be easily duped while bad people trust less and are more skeptical. Therefore, more good people are attracted to the Catholic faith and more bad people are repulsed by it.

    That is why Catholics are so charitable. Because charitable people are attracted to the faith.

    • tedseeber

      Bill, you may have hit upon something there. I’m currently working on, for my Knights Council, a series of membership drives based on Matthew Kelly’s _Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic_- and one of the signs he stresses for the best Catholics is a “spirit of generosity”. I know I’ve been working on that in my own life.

  • Art Chartier

    I cannot begin to fathom the complexities and inequities of world food distribution. However, I do have three observations / suggestions: 1 Personal, 2 Practical, and 3 Spiritual.

    1. Personally: Feeding the World begins with me. In January, my wife and I decided we needed to lose weight and began a new “Healthy Eating” weight loss program (a modified Atkins plan). In five months, my wife lost 19 lbs and I lost 47 lbs. We have learned a new way of eating and food preparation and there is no wasted food.

    2. Practically: Feed the World with your left-overs. I have been dong the grocery shopping and was amazed to discover that I purchase items on less than 10% of the shelf space in the supermarket. Further, we have dramatically reduced eating out in restaurants. Consequently, we have reduced our food consumption bills by approximately 30%. The savings (left-overs) can be sent to a charity that feeds the hungry. Samaritan’s Purse and Heifer International both feed the hungry and provide the poor with the means to feed themselves.

    3. Spiritually: Feed the World with your prayers. In many parts of the world, food is a political weapon and/or opportunity for illegal gain. Food waste by corrupt government agencies and regimes is legion. Nothing will change unless hearts are changed… and only God can change the human heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to place a particular hungry people, tribe or nation on your mind and pray for them… daily, consistently over a period of 40 days. Pray for God to change the hearts of the people responsible for food distribution. Remember, nothing is impossible with God.

    Hope this helps.

    • tedseeber

      I love #1 and #2, as I switch to eating more vegetables and using a local CSA instead of the grocery store.

  • EMS

    One solution would be to use food waste for animals (there were an article about a Las Vegas farmer who uses food waste from Vegas buffets to feed his animals) and leftover food for humans. The problem to using food for humans is health laws, which isn’t necessarily bad. But think of the food wasted in restaurants, buffets, etc. What do they do with all the leftover food? Given how many Americans are hungry, if not starving, that should be one place to start.

  • Stefanie

    Fasting is…should be…a way of life for Catholics. We are meant to fast at least an hour before we receive Holy Communion. In that fast, we can imagine uniting ourselves to those who are poor in knowledge of Jesus or to those who really don’t know where their daily bread will come from. During Lent, our children are encouraged to ‘fast’ from food/things-that-cost-money and give money to Catholic Relief Services via a small cardboard box that you keep by your front door as a reminder of those who hunger and thirst.
    I am guilty of buying too much perishable food with every intent to prepare meals for my family. then I get busy and the meals don’t get made. This year I have made a conscious effort to learn to make good soups in which everything ‘about to go into the garbage’ can be salvaged. During the summer, I’ll be making lots of mini tacos with basically the same soup ingredients — except for added cheese (which never goes to waste in this house) and deleting water/broth/stock, of course.
    Isn’t it odd that we don’t go to confession with these sins in mind?

  • tedseeber

    There are two twin problems related to this, and I have thought out two solutions:

    1. Distribution of food already produced. We have the technology now (as one of my favorite too-expensive-to-use-for-anything-other-than-emergency-supplies businesses shows, http://cafr1.myefoods.com/company/why-store-gofoods/ ) to take excess food and process it into a form that is shelf stable for up to 27 years. We need to do that and then start using the third world to store it in unlocked warehouses, shipping them more than they can ever eat.

    2. Distribution of the production of food. It has become clear in the first world that we need to remove food from the free market; and in the first world, we do with subsidies. What if we choose six or seven edible native invasives per climate type, and carpet bomb the third world from high altitude with a seed mix, thus making the very WEEDS edible? Choose light enough seeds, do it for ten or twelve years on a yearly basis, and whammo, no more dictator control of people through control of food anywhere. THEN use the step 1 stores for years when locally even the weeds don’t grow.

  • Andrew Kosmowski

    For me, it becomes distribution. Perhaps the UN should pay farm subsidies and then take the excess food grown for distribution. I understand the USDA does this, but I am uncertain how this is done in different nations.

  • kcthomas

    I do not know whether I am correct. I find food is wasted on a large scale in advanced countries such as the U S A. Apart from that, imagine the quantum of waste while using tissue paper, cups, plates etc. etc. I am told ( even U N Reports testify) that an average household in America has lot of unwanted items stored hoping they would be used or just bought to satisfy the urge to buy. These people who unknowingly waste food must see the pitiable condition of the poor in developing countries, to believe.

  • pagansister

    One would think that with all the so called process that this world has made, someone could come up with a way to handle food distribution from wealthy countries to those that need help. As a child I never understood how my eating all my food helped a Chinese child! (in my time it was starving Chinese children). Is part of the problem in distribution in some of those countries due to the governments that run some of the countries that need help? It gets taken by the government, and never reaches those that need it.