Just Good Food
Rev. Sarah Moore-Nokes
In college, my roommates and I were known for (what we thought were) epic meals. Let me set the scene for you. Most often we were a haphazard group of 10 or 12 squeezed around a table that could only legitimately seat 6. Some of us were old friends but there were also always a few new faces who gathered with us to share a meal of bread and cheese, fresh farmers market salad, cheap wine and at either end of the table a boiling fondue pot. The specifics of our hours-long conversations are mostly forgotten but what I do remember was that table was filled with much laughter, occasional tears, funny stories, celebrations and heart aches as we worked our way through student teaching gigs, chemistry labs, marriage proposals, breakups, job offers, final exams and eventually graduation. The sustenance of those meals was so much more than physical – magic happened as community formed for an evening and then dispersed and formed again.
I’ve found myself in some pretty soul-less conversations lately. I serve the church as a mid-council leader (part of the church bureaucracy). I spend a lot of hours and days every month talking, at length, about the demise of the institutional church. I know these conversations need to be had. I know we need to grieve what was. I know this is the only way through to the new thing that God is calling us to but for the love all that is holy, those conversations can suck the very marrow from your bones.
The church is struggling mightily. Overwhelmed by the sheer greatness of need in this world we are bound – held tight by traditions that no longer serve us well and suffocating under decaying buildings trying to serve a world that looks utterly and completely different than it did even a generation ago.
There’s another place I find soul-less. The grocery store where “food” is often a plastic, chemical, dye-laden product that doesn’t nurture anyone and causes a great deal of harm to both people and the earth we live on.
When I think about food justice these days, I almost always think about access. Who has access to the products, services and systems that people need to be whole, healthy human beings? And who controls those products, services and systems. Increasingly the answer to both questions is fewer and fewer of us.
Access has at least two components. 1. The product, service or system has to be available. 2. People have to have the means to purchase it. In the United States, there is a perfect storm brewing.
- Where I live in the Midwest, the number of people living at or below the poverty line is on the rise. It’s been on the rise for a decade and shows no signs of decreasing. (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr12-01.pdf)
- At the same time, the number of corporations that own our food supply is decreasing as well putting massive control of our “food” into the hands of just a few (http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/campaigns/behind-brands).
- As corporations take over the food system, food deserts (places where access to food is limited) are increasing. (http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas.aspx#.Uwd6oIVnh5c)
When I look at those statistics, I find myself wanting to DO something but feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude.
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Two years ago, in part inspired by those very words, I stopped being paralyzed and started doing something. I started convincing churches to grow gardens and give the food (real food – not the plastic, chemical, dye-laden food product) away. It seemed like a win-win. A purpose and focus for struggling churches and a means by which access to real food could be granted to those who need it most.
Gardens are a wonderful place to grow food and relationships. There is nothing so intimate as working your way down a row of peas with a friend who has lost a spouse. Nothing so joyous as finding slugs with a six year old. Nothing so sweet as the smell of a tomato seedling in June. This is the kind of sustenance that is good for the body and the soul.
Some churches already had gardens. Some need a little nudge and some are still fighting with the building and grounds committee to find a place suitable for planting! But 50 churches in 7 states started just.good.food. gardens. Just.good.food is a project of the Synods of Lincoln Trails, Mid-America and Lakes and Prairies in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) It’s whole purpose is to put our land to use growing food and getting it to people who need it. It’s about creating access for and by the people who need it. And at its core, it’s about fighting for food justice.
Food is at the center of our life and faith because of another epic meal. I imagine that when the crowds gathered to hear Jesus preach the scene wasn’t all that different. It’s easy to imagine that there were haphazard groups of 10 or 12 scattered on the hillside; some old friends and some new acquaintances gathered to share a meal of bread and fish; to laugh and cry; to tell stories; to share celebrations and heartaches; to be changed by the experience of community and to be fed by a meal that provided much more than physical sustenance.
I’m going to keep working for a world where the food that feeds the body and soul is accessible to everyone ~ one garden at a time.