You may recall the recent headlines out of Kansas City.
In early November, KC Health Department officials and police interrupted an event hosted by Free Hot Soup KC (a decentralized, direct action organization that distributes free hot food and clothing to the homeless), collected the food meant for the homeless, and disposed of it by soaking it in bleach.
The Health Department defended their actions by claiming they were concerned with safety of the food, as well as the fact that FHS was not “properly permitted.” But these excuses didn’t quite appease those outraged by the department’s actions – myself included.
This was not the first headline to highlight the strange friction between homeless advocates and the law. For example, earlier in 2018, dozens were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for feeding the homeless in Southern California (among those charged was a 14 year old). The same thing happened in Tampa in 2017, and Ft. Lauderdale in 2014 (in which a 90 year old man was arrested).
With each of these events, the powers that be issued similar defenses: regulations, red tape, permits, ordinances, and other convenient excuses that discourage mutual aid and direct action.
Now, for the sake of fairness, it wouldn’t be right to say that all those involved with enforcing these laws do so with malicious intent. It is the job of any local government to concern itself with the health and wellness of its administrative area. But that’s *exactly* what makes these events so frustrating.
Every day, thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children wander our streets homeless and hungry – a problem that is not being addressed as a priority or with enough urgency. Yet when citizens step up to tackle the issue themselves, the government shuts them down. Resources, manpower, and revenue that could be used cut down on waste and help those in need are instead diverted to suppression.
It’s an awful cycle. Governments fail to act, authorities clamp down on direct action, the hungry remain hungry, and the food, rather than being eaten, is wasted.
And for what?
That’s the question I want any Christian reading this blog to really meditate on. What’s this all for? What’s the ultimate good? Legality aside, how you respond to these stories? As you think on this, I challenge you to consider the broader implications of, not just the events described above, but America’s food waste problem as a whole.
In June of 2016, The Atlantic reported that 50% of American produce – that’s an entire half – is thrown away. That comes down to 60 million tons of food – food that was grown with the purpose of feeding people – being tossed in a landfill. The article cited two reasons to explain our monstrous waste problem. First is the fact that, due to massive subsides, food is extremely cheap to produce in America. The second boils down to aesthetics. American’s don’t like bruised, lumpy, or oddly shaped vegetables. So we leave it to rot in the fields or on the shelves. Adding to that travesty, a 2014 study showed that 84% of unused food in restaurants is disposed of. Not recycled, not donated, but disposed. That’s billions of dollars of food per year being wasted.
Christians, I submit to you that America’s food waste problem isn’t some inconvenient fact of modern life. It’s not an unfortunate, yet unavoidable, occurrence that we can safely ignore. It’s certainly not some minor side-effect of our capitalist mode of food production with which we should be content to live. It is a sin, a moral stain on our nation for which we will be judged.
Furthermore, our Christian duty obligates us to repent from this sin and to address it – not as an act of charity, but one of justice. In the section on the 7th commandment, the Catechism recalls the words of St. John Chrysostom, quoting: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity.”
In simpler terms, our problem with food waste is a violation of the 7th commandment – we are stealing from the poor and wasting what is theirs. The Universal Destination of Goods tells us that this world and its fruits were given to us by our creator and were meant to be shared with everyone – not just a few. Therefore, we cannot lay claim to excess. If we find ourselves with more than we need, or more than we know what to do with, then we are in possession of something that does not belong to us.
So where is the outcry from Christian leaders denouncing our food waste as one of our nation’s most tremendous moral sins? Where are the marches? The protests? The public demonstrations of prayer?
Did Christ not command us to feed the hungry? How then will we stand in front of God on the last day and defend the fact that, using the very gifts that He gave us, we produced more than enough food to feed everyone, but decided to waste it instead? Will our excuses of permits and ordinances provide an adequate defense for arresting and charging those who sought to fulfill Christ’s command?
Christians, the lack of action on part of our governments and Church leaders to address this issue, and the subsequent clamp down on groups that attempt to do it themselves, is, ultimately, a grave injustice that is contrary to the Gospel. For the sake of our souls, something must be done.