Lent 4 – Food Abuse
Any prolonged walk in the wilderness is going to burn calories and cause the trekker to reach into their backpack for the Power Bar or some other source of nutrition and energy. An experienced wilderness walker would also recognize what fruit and berry found along the way is safe for consumption. It is only when the provisions run out that we become aware of the luxury of food.
Our Lenten journey has taken us into the wilderness and our provisions are getting dangerously low. Before we entered this path we were comfortable enough with the availability of food that some of us decided to “sacrifice” eating something – chocolate is a favorite. Traditionally, in the church, the consumption of meat is the Lenten discipline.
During this year’s Lenten journey in the wilderness we have been encountering those attitudes and conditions that traditionally have been classified as “seven deadly sins”. Those are, in the language of the tradition, sins that carry the most weight, are the most serious, and have the most ramifications. We have discovered during our journey that these are not only acts (sins) of individuals, but they are also indicative the ways evil manifests itself within our society as a whole. We have become aware that the message of Jesus (those exorcism experiences we find in the Gospel) is that he confronted the powers of evil and lifted that power off of the men and women he met. We also read in the Gospel that part of our call to discipleship is to continue that work.
This week the deadly sin is named Gluttony. Many people convict themselves of some form of this every January 1st when the gym memberships expand and the new diets begin. There is no doubt a feeling that yes gluttony has serious repercussions, sometimes even deadly, because of the effect of weight on certain health situations.
So every year we join in the battle of bulge, hoping not to be judged too harshly by our doctor. I daresay few people consider our attitude to consumption and food security has spiritual dimensions.
According to feedamerica.org in a report dated September 17 these are statistics on hunger in the United States:
1. FOOD INSECURITY IN THE U.S.
· As of 2016, 41.2 million Americans live in food-insecure households, including 28.3 million adults and 12.9 million children.
· The majority of people who are food insecure do not live in poverty, and the majority of people who live in poverty are not food insecure. An estimated 58% of food-insecure individuals reside in households that earn more than 100% of the poverty line, and 61% of people living in poor households are in fact food secure.13
· An estimated 27% of individuals who are considered food insecure live in households that earn incomes above 185% of the poverty line, making them likely ineligible for most federal nutrition assistance programs.
· 12 percent of households (15.6 million households) are estimated to be food insecure.
· 5 percent of households (6.1 million households) experience very low food security.
· Households with children report food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 17% compared to 11%.
· Households that have higher rates of food insecurity than the national average include households with children (17%), especially households with children headed by single women (32%) or single men (22%), Black non-Hispanic households (23%) and Hispanic households (19%).
· As of 2015, 5.4 million seniors (over age 60), or 8% of all seniors, are estimated to be food insecure.6
· Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 3% in Grant County, KS to a high of 38% in Jefferson County, MS.7
Statistics about world hunger suggest 1 in 7 people globally are hungry and about 1/3 of the food available globally goes to waste.
This is staggering. The reality of these figures is right in our own communities. The implications of these statistics are huge.
Hunger literally eats away at people – their bodies and their minds and their souls. No one can do their best work (or be their best in school) when hunger gnaws away their energy. Hunger makes a difference when it comes to decision-making and learning. Hunger encourages quick resolution, including cheap alcohol to numb the pain. Hunger takes away a person’s self-confidence. Hungry, humiliated, discouraged, the oppression of hunger enhanced by the over-consumption of others destroys lives.
The definition of gluttony in Wikipdia is consistent with tradition. Gluttony (L. gula, derived from the Latin gluttire meaning to gulp down or swallow) means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items. In Christianity, it is considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from the needy.
As we have been discovering each of these individual sins can be magnified to a much larger and dangerous societal evil. Whereas we can each “go on a diet” and give a box or two to a food pantry and feel absolved from our behavior, if we don’t address the societal inclination we are complicit in the pain and suffering incurred.
We have voices though those we choose to elect to legislative positions. That makes policies that seek to reduce or eliminate WIC or SNAP programs important decisions when we seek ways to lift the oppression away from people. These are not budget reconciling programs. There are implications in the quality of food available to people when policies around insecticides and GMOs are being debated. The arbitrary designation of where the poverty line is drawn also has real life implications. Policies around health care and education and taxes, and yes, even student debt, have food security implications because sometimes people have to make choices whether they pay the bills or eat.
As long as we operate only out of our own food luxury and give little or no consideration of those who are not so fortunate, we perpetuate the oppression. Is there any reason that anyone should be hungry in the United States should go to bed hungry when there is so obviously an abundance of food? We say in our faith that God as Creator gifted our planet with all it needs to sustain life. Yet 1 in 7 people globally know hunger as their reality. This Lenten journey, may we examine our attitude to food and may we recommit ourselves to finding just ways to share our abundance.
Grace and Peace