When I began writing my thesis I intended to note that even though faith communities are now broadly participating in the environmental movement, those communities are relatively absent from the food movement. Ultimately, however, I didn’t make that claim as emphatically as I had expected.
While it is true that there seems to be a lot more faith-based environmental activism than faith-based activism on food issues, faith-based participation in the food movement is growing daily, across the theological and doctrinal spectrum. Congregations, pastors, theologians, denominational leaders, and faith-based activists are increasingly discovering that how and what to eat is not a morally neutral decision. They’re coming to appreciate the significance of sustainable living to healthy bodies, healthy communities and a healthy planet.
There’s still much work to be done and a long ways to go, of course. Unfortunately eating badly is still the norm in both the secular and religious world. There has been no widespread outcry from religious people against animal abuse on factory farms. There are studies concluding that people who attend church regularly are more likely to suffer from chronic obesity than those who do not. Pastors are more likely to be obese than persons in nearly any other occupation. By and large churches are not leading the way to a better food system. At least not yet.
But the seeds of change have been planted in religious communities as they have elsewhere in society, and now they’re beginning to sprout and show the promise of a great harvest.
Just yesterday I learned of another initiative of which I’d been unaware. I’ve long been familiar with the good work being done by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Yesterday I discovered their Baltimore Food and Faith Initiative, which is doing great work in the Baltimore area–educating hundreds of congregations and helping establish over 40 community gardens. Among other things, they offer congregations a “Good Food Toolkit” which sounds like just the kind of thing so clearly needed these days. Here’s how they explain the reason for it:
Eating is an environmental and a moral act. Whether we live in big cities or rural towns, on a farm or in an apartment, our most profound and intimate connection to the earth – and frequently to each other – is through the food we eat. We don’t often think of our meals in environmental terms or as having much to do with peace and justice, but every time we put food into our mouths, we connect ourselves to other people and other species, and most importantly, to the Creator.
Congregations have an important role to play in promoting “good food” – food that is sustainably produced and humanely raised; that is grown and harvested by people who receive fair wages; and that is healthy, affordable, and available to all. By examining how they use, donate, and teach about food, faith communities have an enormous opportunity to support a better food system.
The Good Food Toolkit will assist congregations of all traditions in adopting policies and practices that better promote “good food.”
These are the kinds of things that keep me encouraged. I see them as evidence that the tide is turning on industrial food.