We honored Green Friday (isn’t that what it’s called?) with a rare trip off the farm.
One of the ways the federal government soaks up the grain surplus our industrial agricultural system generates nearly every year is to buy it and then ship it to food-insecure places in the world as “food aid.” Federal law requires that at least half of American food aid be purchased in the U.S. and then shipped on U.S. flagged vessels. Consequently it takes months for the food to reach the people who need it and over half of the food aid budget ends up in the pockets of middlemen. It’s a system designed to benefit special interests in the U.S., rather than starving people. If feeding the hungry were the objective, it would make better economic sense to buy the food as locally as possible, reducing transportation delay and expense. To the best of my knowledge the U.S. is the only country that gives its food aid in-kind.
But the worst fault of this system isn’t that it is inefficient. Just as subsidized U.S. grain depresses local prices, driving farmers out of business and destroying indigenous agriculture, “free” U.S. food aid is ruinous to the local farmers trying to stay alive. They just can’t compete with free. The end result is that people who were formerly food self-sufficient are transformed into wards of American agribusiness, utterly dependent upon it for food–the most basic of human necessities.
Charity that helps people through times of crisis is a good and noble thing. Charity that creates permanent states of dependency is not. That kind of charity does more harm than good.
Humans seem hard-wired to want to share and help each other out in times of need. Our compassion for the needy is one of things that makes us fully human. It’s a good thing and I applaud it. Anyone who’s been reading this blog a long time knows that charitable giving is an important part of our ethic.
But the truth of the matter is that I wish I could go back in time and redirect some of our past giving. I’ve come to realize that, although always well-intentioned, we were sometimes doing as much to create a future problem as we were to solve an immediate problem. We’ve come to realize that when assessing the merits of particular charitable giving, it is crucial to consider sustainability.
But how to help the needy without fostering dependency is a tricky matter. For example, Cherie volunteers at our local food bank and every year the number of families getting their food there increases. We live in an economically-depressed community and there are many people here who aren’t able to make ends meet without help. Some of the people who get food at the food bank were once volunteers there. Some show up wearing their fast food uniforms. They’re people who are trying, but coming up short. The idea that people receiving charity are lazy is a commonly-believed lie. But there are also people who are now multi-generational dependents upon the food pantry. They’re not coming because they’re going through hard times and unable to make ends meet. They can’t afford to buy food, but that economic situation is their norm and there doesn’t seem to be any expectation that it will change.
But there’s the rub. Everyone who gets the food is too poor to afford to buy it. But for some their need is temporary–and they’re being helped through a hard time in life. For others their need is seemingly permanent–they are resigned to (or even content with) a life of dependency, and reliance upon charity to meet their needs only encourages and perpetuates that ultimately unsustainable state. But there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable way to distinguish the two sets of people, and even if there were, fortunately our cultural values prevent us from allowing families to go hungry unnecessarily. We’re just not cold-hearted enough to allow suffering to make a point, especially when it is children who bear the brunt of the suffering.
I certainly don’t have the answers, but I think it’s time our culture at least acknowledge that the questions exist. If a crisis creates a need for food aid somewhere in the world, we ought to step up and help–but we don’t have to destroy local agriculture to do it. Our motive must not be clouded by ulterior desires to increase American agribusiness market-share. And likewise, when choosing how to direct charitable giving at home, we simply must factor in sustainability–looking for solutions that not only address the need but make it less likely to occur in the future, rather than creating a state of permanent dependency.
What a great reason for a holiday–gratitude.
It is fitting that a day devoted to being thankful should be centered on food. May we all enjoy meals today that are worthy of celebration.
Every item of food we’ll consume today has a story. Maybe it would be helpful to think for a few moments about those stories. Are they stories we’re pleased to be a part of?
I know it’s tempting to deliberately avoid thinking about that. We worry that thinking about the stories behind our food might reduce our pleasure in eating it (a pleasure many of us seek to preserve at all costs). I’m convinced that there are lots of people whose hearts are telling them to eat ethically, yet they’re resisting because they fear doing so would take away the joy of eating. Here’s how I respond to that in Organic Wesley:
Neither should we be discouraged by the fear that eating better will make us unhappy. Many people wrongly assume that eating well means self-deprivation, such as never again eating dessert, having to permanently give up favorite foods, or feeling hungry all the time. But in fact, as many who have begun this journey can attest, persons who replace unhealthy diets with diets of nutritious and ethically-sourced food tend not only be healthier, but also to feel better and to find that they appreciate and enjoy food more than they ever have before. The image of a healthy ethical eater as a sour monkish figure, subsisting on lentils and carrot sticks, simply does not match the reality of a life enriched by enjoying the pleasures and satisfaction that come from good food. Chances are you know someone who is cheerfully living a healthy lifestyle, and who enjoys a diet of good food. Look to that person for inspiration, rather than to food-snobs or some stereotype you may have in mind. Remember too that if you are persuaded that a diet of ethically-sourced nutritious food, eaten in moderation, is part of God’s desire for your life, then you should expect God’s favor and blessing as you sincerely, diligently and prayerfully seek to make the necessary changes in your life. If you ask for a fish, you will not be given a snake.
My hope is that we will all celebrate our day of thanksgiving with a delicious feast of good food.
For any who are interested, Jane Riecke has written a thoughtful review of Organic Wesley–read it HERE.
Happy Thanksgiving y’all!
So I got myself a new toy.
While I can come up with legitimate justifications for having it, the truth is that I thought it would be fun to see what might be roaming around the farm at night.
We have lots of wildlife here, of course. But often all we see of the critters are tracks and scat. They’re pretty good at staying out of sight. I’ve seen plenty of deer, possums, coons, skunks and the like, but I’ve yet to see a bear, a bobcat or a coyote. Quite a few people have reported seeing a cougar, but to the best of my knowledge no one has gotten a picture of one. And of course there is the mysterious creature I’ve glimpsed that I believe to be a fisher cat.
So I set out my new trail camera in hopes of capturing exciting photos of wildlife.
Guess what I’ve discovered so far?
No surprises yet.
I’ll keep looking.
It’s a dangerous time of year for the confused deer who has taken to living with our goats.
Goats are not nocturnal. They forage for food during the day then bed down somewhere safe at night.
Deer, on the other hand, tend to stay bedded down in the woods during the day, then come out into the open to graze at night.
The deer has adopted our goats’ practices, which puts him at risk during hunting season. Even though he lives in the pasture, which is clearly posted, he’s got to be tempting to the hunters who roam up and down our road in their pickup trucks this time of year. It’s not the folks who live around here that I worry about–the deer is a local celebrity now and they know he’s not fair game. But unfortunately we have to put up with a lot of folks who only come out here during hunting season and who prefer to hunt from the road.
We’re keeping an eye on him and of course I’m not going to tolerate anyone shooting into our pasture.
It’s a great time of year.
Let’s see. We’ve covered capital punishment, quantum mechanics and monetary theory. What else is there to blog about? Oh yeah… baby goats!
We have a bunch of cute kids cavorting around the pasture these days, with more on the way.
I’ll say it again. There are few things in the world cuter than baby goats.