Food and Faith Initiatives

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.

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16 comments on “Food and Faith Initiatives

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I’ve mentioned here before that many of the community gardens in my city are on church properties. Now, I’m not sure what the pastors say about food to their congregations but it’s at least putting some action to what ever goes on in the church. One of my neighbors that lives two houses away had an allotment in one of these church community gardens that was about 2 miles away. She said the only requirement that was put on growing food there was that it wouldn’t be wasted. Either use it, give it to friends, or donate it to the homeless food kitchens. As I said, there are several of these community gardens by this same denomination through out the city.

    I’ve been watching a British TV series that’s on YouTube called “The Allotment”. It’s what they call community gardens in the British culture. They are the master’s of community gardening. I’m not sure if they actually own the garden spot or just rent it but many times they start with a greatly over grown mess. I can certainly identify with cleaning up a neglected wild vacant piece of land and the work it takes to make it into a garden. Watching this series has been very inspiring to me.

    Even though the Temps are still below freezing outside and there’s a goodly amount of snow on the ground, the gardening season officially started in my basement yesterday. Fifty onion seeds were planted, watered in, covered with a lid, and put on the heat mat. The instructions on the package says it may take upward to a week for them to germinate. Using this same method last year, the seeds were up and growing in about three days. It was very surprising to me but nice.

    Have a great food and faith initiative day.

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    • Bill says:

      Glad you’re starting seeds already. It’s on my to-do list, but I haven’t gotten going on it yet.

      It’s exciting to see so many churches around the country turning their “green space” into community gardens. I hoping to see that done with more public spaces too. How foolish to tend grass when that space could be used to produce healthy food. The Christian community of friends that I mentioned a few days ago will be allowing people in the neighborhood to tend plots in the garden they’re putting in as well. It’s a great model.

      When I went out this morning it was 12 degrees and everything was frozen solid. For the next five days the forecast is for highs ranging from 54-64. It’s going to feel like spring.

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  2. bobraxton says:

    Thank you. Saturday and Sunday, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church “Scholar in Residence” program on the book Food and Faith: http://www.nyapc.org/

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    • Bill says:

      Excellent. It’s great to see churches recognizing the spiritual and moral significance of how we eat. And it resonates with congregations. The dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School (which now offers an M.Div. with a food emphasis) told me that for young people, “food is the gateway drug to social justice.” The Methodist Theological Seminary of Ohio has its own student-run organic farm on campus, which supplies all the cafeteria’s produce. Good things are happening.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. avwalters says:

    Whatever drives the bus in the right direction works for me. It could be an environmental passion, it could be faith, it could be flavor. As long as it’s headed on the right road, I welcome all passengers.

    Perhaps one reason that faith has been slow in the food world is because it requires reflection and a change in behaviors. Many find solace in their faith because the values in the denomination of their choice reflect their own values. It leads to an armchair view of faith and life as a spectator sport. Addressing the connection between food and faith means you have to think about it. We live in a country that is unable to support a minimum wage–what makes us think they’ll care about how livestock is treated, or how the planet suffers under our stewardship?

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    • Bill says:

      I’m encouraged by the awakening that is occurring broadly throughout our society. At first the movement was largely secular (the customers at least, lots of producers have been inspired at least in part by faith). But now faith-based groups are getting on board at an increasing rate. It is an especially important issue to younger people it seems to me. They generally seem much more inclined to want to roll up their sleeves and change things. I find it all very encouraging.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. farmerkhaiti says:

    It only makes sense to care for the earth and the animals on it if God gave it to us. I grew up in a Christian family and my parents were of the “God gave us dominion over all the creatures” camp, also they believed that earth is not our true home, so heaven is all that matters, not worrying about the earth we live on. It made no sense to me at all, this is why I went vegan as a angry teen to protest all the hypocritical things I saw in that faith system I grew up in. I am very happy to hear about this initiative, and thanks for the good feelings spread around through your writing about it!

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    • Bill says:

      For those who acknowledge a Creator, good stewardship of creation does make perfect sense. The fact that it is so obvious is one of the principal reasons, I think, for the ever-growing numbers of Christians in the movement.

      There are still a few who think the way your parents did. I’ve heard the “Why should we care? God’s going to burn it all up anyway” argument, but very few people take it seriously these days it seems to me.

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      • farmerkhaiti says:

        I don’t know— there sure seem to be a lot of people who don’t care, somedays it really weighs on me. Whether it is because of their believe in God or over all apathy, very sad. But I appreciate your hopeful findings and attitude!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A voice in the wilderness. Keep talking Bill.

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  6. EllaDee says:

    Anyone who wants to sing in the food movement choir is fine by me ! 😉

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