Hunger and Food Waste, Resurrection and Ugliness: an ongoing Easter story of rising from the dead
During Lent our congregation has been taking an offering at the Mid-Week services for the cause of alleviating hunger here and abroad. It is estimated 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger. Much closer to home in Skagit County, 15% of households deal with food insecurity, meaning they do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food on a regular basis. Suffice to say even the USA, one of the richest countries in the world, we have folks who go hungry, not as much other parts of world certainly, but we still know hunger. Our offering is a good start.
The March 2016 edition of National Geographic has an article on food waste. The article cites that in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined, individual households waste 19% of the food produced; that food, purchased by individual households, is uneaten and thrown out. I am reminded of this statistic when in my own household we buy a Costco sized plastic box of spinach baby greens and end up tossing half the container out onto the compost pile because we don’t eat it fast enough. It echoes the Exodus story from the Bible where folks hoarded the manna in the wilderness and it went bad the next day.
The article also states in the same nations, 20% of the fruits and vegetables are lost at harvest due to picking and sorting. Where farms use machines to harvest, some food gets left behind. But the most common reason foods are thrown out during harvest is that some foods don’t “look” right and are tossed away because the belief is no one would buy them. For example, any gardener knows sometimes a carrot will have multiple roots, a potato will look like two potatoes growing together, and apples will have spots on them and come in all kinds of sizes even from the same tree. But go to the grocery store and the produce is mostly uniform in size and shape. “Ugly” produce is believed to be unsellable. 20% of what is edible doesn’t make it to the grocery store let alone to anyone’s plate or mouth. Total lost or wasted food in the four nations named above amounts to a 53% lost/wasted food with only 47% actually being eaten. We can’t blame God for not providing a Creation to sustain us; we are the problem when we have so much waste, both what we might refuse to use -- funny looking carrots and potatoes -- and what we want to use but end up throwing out because it rots.
Easter tells us there is life after death. More than a silver lining in a dark cloud, the Resurrection tells us old weather patterns are finished. We can plan and live in a new weather pattern, live out a whole new story. On the topic of food waste, particularly “ugly” food, such as curling peppers or oranges with spots, there is a parallel to the gospel. Jesus Christ lived and ate with sinners and undesirables --- tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. He dies for all, including them. He lives and dies for those the world has called "ugly". He builds his kingdom on the ugly. It’s the ugly of society Jesus sees as having a central place in the kingdom of God. When we considers ugly fruits and vegetables, the ones never making it to market, we can see their precious place as part of the solution to hunger in the world.
Then there is the wasting of food, food thrown out by households, such my family’s Costco plastic bin of baby spinach greens. This shows us what each and everyone of us can have direct control over. Easter has a message; what is in the past can forgiven, what is rising from dead is what is important. When it comes to in household waste, we hear the invitation to stop beating ourselves up over over-buying and under-using and use the energy to figure out how to do things better. God calls us to be new creations, not guilty self-accusers. What becomes apparent for me is how the ethics of salvation, how we live out our salvation specifically in our eating and feeding is both personal and systemic. It is person in how we pick the food we buy and waste so much of it. It is systemic in how we live in a culture with some odd expectation that all our fruits and vegetables available for eating be uniform and beautiful. My observation in regards to hunger is its solutions are at all levels (personal, local, national, global) and ongoing. There is what our family consumes and wastes; the more efficient we are as a household, the less we have to buy, the more is available for someone else. There are also solutions too big for one family; how we encourage farmers, stores, and fellow consumers to honor the ugly food. These remain questions and challenge to live into as people of faith.
May he who ate with the ugly and fed those who were spiritually and physically hungry give us new vision for how we eat and share our tables. Amen.
Photo credit: National Geographic "FUTURE OF FOOD: How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger" March 2016