Tag Archives: Poverty

Food in the Bible: Exodus 23:10-13

Exodus 23:10-13 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

For six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your home-born slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. 13Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

This is the commandment for the Sabbatical Year. It is followed by a list of the annual festivals to be observed and then a promise that if the Israelites followed the commandments that YHWH would conquer Canaan for them, the Promised Land. It’s important to recognize that this covenant is conditional, “But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes” (Ex 23:22). So the giving of the land to the Israelites is contingent on them following particular agricultural practices.

I don’t know what the agricultural practices of their neighbors in the Ancient Near East were (Philistines, Egyptians, Assyrians or Babylonians). It would be interesting to study that and compare it to the biblical commands. We do know that the recommendation to let fields lie fallow for one year out of seven is better for the land than the intensive production schedules of industrial agriculture today.

As I mentioned in my sermon, the Sabbath commands often combine the ecological and the economic. Let the land lie fallow (good agricultural practice) so that the poor will be taken care of (just economic practice). We have done everything we can to create a division between the economic and the ecological. No matter how hard we try, it appears that this is impossible. Since economics is the way that we order our lives together, it follows that it must involve the ecological. Our lives cannot be ordered together without affecting and connecting to the earth. If we choose to order our lives in such a way that we ignore the ecological, it follows that there will be consequences in both the economic and ecological realm. And that seems to be the case today.

I included the last verse of this passage on purpose, because this is another area that we tried to make into a separate sphere of life. The last verse connects the ecological and economic to idolatry. Augustine talked about the right ordering of love. The problem was not that material things were evil. The problem was that we put them in the place of God. All love properly ordered finds its ultimate place in love for God. Idolatry is not about choosing the wrong religion or worshipping too many gods (though that might be part of it). Ultimately idolatry is about misplacing our allegiances and putting things out of order.

So this command, which tells the Israelites how they need to rightly order their agricultural practices and their social relationships, puts both things under the umbrella of rightly ordering their allegiances. I often hear people say that you should, “Put God first.” This notion puts God somehow in a category that is abstracted and detached from the reality of the world we live in. Here we see that putting God first clearly involves ecological and economic action and right relationships. God does not simply appear at the top of our checklist. Our allegiance to God orders the way we eat, the way we shop, the way we talk, the way we answer the phone, the way we do our job, the way we live our lives and the way treat others.


Farm and Food Session 9

The last session of the day was on Community Food Access. I would have left early if I wasn’t so interested in hearing this session. Here are the panelists and their topics:

WIC and Food stamps at Farmer’s Markets by Andrew Smiley from Sustainable Food Center
Farm-to School Programs by Texas Department of Agriculture
Raising Food at Home by Sari Albornoz from Sustainable Food Center

Andrew gave some basics about the WIC, WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), and SNAP (food stamps) programs. When the food stamp program switched from actual stamps to a swipe card it meant that people were no longer able to use their food stamp income to purchase fruits and vegetables from Farmer’s Markets. Sustainable Food Center has found a way for farmer’s markets to accept the swipe cards without it being a burden for each individual vendor. There’s also the WIC FMNP program that gives supplemental income for people to spend during the peak summer season on fresh fruits and vegetables.

I feel like this is an area where a lot of farmer’s don’t make the leap. Many have a conservative understanding of poverty and got into organic and sustainable farming for environmental reasons or better farming practices. For many of them they see their farming primarily as a business and I wonder how many make the connection with food access, poverty, hunger and obesity.

As the speaker from Texas Department of Agriculture shared about the connection between hunger and obesity, someone at my table said, “That’s why they’re hungry!” It seems their is a gap in understanding between the farmers that produce the kinds of food we want people in poverty to have access to and the reality on the ground. The reality is that hunger and obesity can exist in the same household and within the same person. This is because people who are food insecure are forced to get the most possible calories per dollar when they do have money. I mentioned previously at the USDA listening session someone from the Texas Food Banks Network pointed out that an organic apple costs $1.75 while a bag of cheese puffs costs $1.50. If you are food insecure and only have $2 in your pocket which one would you buy?

Sari from SFC shared about issues concerning community gardening, how to start them and legal issues and city ordinances. There were helpful ideas about securing land and working with cities to include community gardening in their long-range plans for the city.

I have mixed feelings about having to navigate bureaucracies to get things done. On the one hand, I say you should just put seeds in the ground and grow your own food as a way to subvert the system and stick it to the man. I also recognize that the man can help make it possible to stick your seeds in the same place all the time and build a community within a city that is supportive of gardening and farming programs in neighborhoods and schools. Hopefully someday guerrilla gardening will be nothing more than a hobby, because the Powers that be will come around to the dark side (that is the side with the darkest soil… Booyah!)

And I’m spent…

Breakout Session on Food Policy Councils

Marla Camp of Edible Austin talked about forming a Sustainable Food Policy Board in Austin. There was a lot of helpful thoughts and ideas, things to keep in mind. The thing that continues to bother me about this conversation is the lack of inclusion of what someone in the session called “disadvantaged consumers.” There are members of the Food Policy Board from Edible Austin, The Sustainable Food Center and others that claim to represent “disadvantaged consumers” on the board. However, they themselves are not disadvantaged and from what I can tell are not people of color.

Marla mentioned that the communities of need are often not communities of interest in her experience. I can imagine that is certainly true, but not a good reason not to pursue better diversity and inclusion of the people that policies affect directly and deal with hunger daily. This gap seems to me one of the biggest barriers in making food and sustainability more than an issue of the privileged elites.

Any ideas? How do we educate those most disadvantaged by our food system to advocate for themselves and see this as an important issue in their community?

Synergistic Motivational Speaking at USDA Listening Session

chris farley motivational speaker

Well, I survived my first listening session with the USDA today. Some may understand the headline from my tweets from the session. For those who missed it the word synergy was used way too often and in too many forms: synergy, synergism, synergistic. Unfortunately no one used the form a friend of mine invented on facebook… synergistic-expialidocious. Brilliant.

To top it all off a man who did NOT make it into the NBA who works for/is a motivational speaking group came down the aisle wearing a santa hat and carrying a smiley-faced basketball. He proceeded to treat all of us to what kids in gyms across America can barely sit still for… a motivational speaker.

I found many things interesting after listening to 20 people from a wide variety of organizations speak. The most interesting fact of all to me was that farmers were not represented at all. By all appearances farmers are not interested in ending childhood hunger or obesity (this was the main thrust of the session). I know this is not in fact the case. Real farmers were probably to busy doing real farming. So where were the groups that represent farmers? So, in my comments I pointed this out and shared some of my thoughts about the Farm Bill and what we do at World Hunger Relief. Here’s the highlight reel:

  • Jeremy Everett of the Texas Hunger Initiative (and WHRI alum) gave a good big picture overview of their vision for bringing together existing federal, state and local resources and people to help them communicate, coordinate and organize their efforts for maximum impact. Basically the resources are already there to end hunger. We just need to get organized. Good thinking!
  • A representative from Dairy Max a part of the National Dairy Council went on at length about the virtues of flavored milk in school cafeterias. Best moment of the day was when another lady said that there was as much sugar in a bottle of flavored milk as a soda.
  • Best moment #2 was when someone from Texas Food Bank Network walked up with a grocery bag from the HEB down the street. He pulled out an organic apple and said this cost $1.75. Then he pulled out a bag of cheese puffs and said he paid $1.50. If I have $2 in my pocket and hungry kids in the back seat, which one am I going to buy?
  • At least two people really wanted USDA to mount expensive media campaigns to deal with obesity. That is not a solution and does not work.
  • One speaker suggested creating or at least discussing the possibility of a national school lunch menu. Interesting idea.

It was a good experience to see how something like this works. Though I am skeptical of government and bureaucracies ability to do good and make change, I also recognize that governments and bureaucracies consist of people who do not have hearts of stone. Listening sessions and town halls is what we need more of, not less. There should be room for disagreement over flavored milk (and other things) without resorting to hateful mischaracterizations and threatening speech. We’ve reached a fever pitch in our political discourse and I’m not sure what will bring us back to reality. I’m happy to report that at least one government listening session in these times was respectful. What it accomplishes has yet to be seen.

Food in the Bible: Exodus 22

There is a lot of material in this passage, but I would like to look overall at the connections between the disparate topics. Here is a sampling of the variety of commands in this chapter.

When someone steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, the thief shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. The thief shall make restitution, but if unable to do so, shall be sold for the theft. (22:1)

When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. (22:16)

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. (22:25)

This chapter combines rules about agriculture, sex and economics, three things we usually don’t talk about in the same sentence. For us these are distinct areas of life that we keep very separate. In the world of the Ancient Near East these things were understood to be inextricably linked, bound together.

Wendell Berry has also made the connection between our misuse and misunderstanding of sexuality and our similar misuse of the land.

Sexual love is the force that in our bodily life connects us most intimately to the Creation, to the fertility of the world, to farming and the care of animals. It brings us into the dance that holds the community together and joins it to its place (Sex, Economy, Community and Freedom, 133).

There is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the earth. Between our relation to our own sexuality and our relation to the reproductivity of the earth, for instance, the resemblance is plain and strong and apparently inescapable. By some connection that we do not recognize, the willingness to exploit one becomes the willingness to exploit the other. The conditions and the means of exploitation are likewise similar (Unsettling of America, 120).

(both quotes taken from Scripture, Culture and And Agriculture)

In other words, sexuality is not something separate and apart from the natural world. Rightly understood it is part of the continuing creation. Our relationship to each other is connected to our understanding of our connection to creation. If our view of others makes it possible for us to exploit them sexually or view them as objects, we will naturally objectify creation as something to be used and exploited. This passage also makes the connection between abuse of sex, abuse of the land and abuse of the poor. As said above, a willingness to exploit the land is connected to a willingness to exploit people. These things are inextricably linked.

Each of these areas involve breaches in relationships. The first area is a breach in relationship between neighbors and the animals and fields that constitute their livelihood and survival. The second area is a breach in appropriate sexual relationships in which one party is being exploited by another. The last are is a breach between those who have opportunity and means of sustenance and those who live on the margins of society. It is easy to see in the Ancient Near East how these areas overlap and interrelate. Social constructs gave women, aliens and the poor precarious positions in society. Their fate rested in the hands of others. These social constructs were connected to the agrarian “land-as-life” culture.

It is difficult for us in the modern world to see that these areas continue to be interrelated. There is no other way for us to survive than to live off the land. We have outsourced this task to foreign lands and foreign people in our own land. Therefore our relationship to the poor and to the land continues to be interconnected. We have most succeeded in divorcing sexuality from a “land-as-life” worldview.

Pornography, as one example, commodifies sexuality and turns it into a pleasure-producing product with no emotional or relational attachments. The lie is that pornography is not exploitative and does not hurt anyone. I think Berry delineates the way that misuse of sexuality creates the possibility for exploitation by objectifying others. It is not enough to simply be against exploitative forms of sexuality. In order to deal with the damaged relationship that this produces we must regain a positive understanding of sexuality that incorporates it into a holistic understanding of creation.