John LaFarge was a Jesuit priest and a leader in the fight against racism in America in the 1930’s and 40’s. Segregation and racial injustice were so deeply embedded in the culture then, that he cautioned those working with him that they would be like missionaries dealing with foreign people “bound by tribal customs and taboos.”
Racism and racial injustice, he wrote, were like beloved idols in the culture. “The idols will bow out only when people have become sufficiently enlightened to wish to remove them themselves.”
That’s still a good message for activists I think.
Although in our advocacy for food ethics we certainly don’t face the kinds of obstacles and threats that John LaFarge faced in his day, sometimes it does feel a little like we too are missionaries in a foreign land, trying to spread our message in a culture deeply devoted to resisting it. But I like how Fr. LaFarge put it. It’s not our place to compel people to behave differently. Our goal should be to educate and inform. Then, if people become sufficiently enlightened, they will abandon their idols themselves. That’s our hope at least.