My friend Jennifer made a conscious decision a few years back to only wear t-shirts with a positive message. She is a big believer in our power to impact social change by becoming “walking billboards.” Soon after she began doing this, I noticed that she had added a new t-shirt to her collection. It read, Think Vegan 4 Earth/Health/Hunger.
I was intrigued. As a vegetarian myself, I knew my food choices were connected with compassionate living, environmental justice and my own personal health. But hunger? I mean, someone’s hunger besides my own?
When I brought it up in conversation at my church, our parish nurse perked up; she just happened to be preparing a fall program called Just Eating? Practicing our Faith at the Table. Created by the Presbyterian Hunger Program in conjunction with Church World Service and Advocate Health Care, the curriculum draws on the teachings of Christ and the rituals of our faith to explore the ways our food choices impact our lives and the world around us. It addresses several dimensions of our relationship with food including: our health; hunger and access to food; the ways our food choices impact the environment; and the ways we use food to extend hospitality and deepen relationships.
About two dozen people signed up for the program, and we met an evening each week for six weeks. Just Eating was a perfect description. As the curriculum points out, “eating can be a mundane activity done with little thought or reflection; or it can be an opportunity to thoughtfully live out our faith and practice justice.”
For one evening program we each brought a potluck contribution. We were assigned a food budget and the ingredients we incorporated could cost no more than that amount. One person with a higher amount brought a delicious, large casserole. The person next to her, who had drawn only twenty five cents, sheepishly set down a few slices of apple. It prompted a meaningful conversation about the disparity of food prices and access around the world. On other occasions we talked about our own “issues” with food, which included overeating and poor dietary choices. We couldn’t help but recognize that these too were problems related to unequal food access. Each time we met was an opportunity to discover more about how our daily decisions about eating can worsen or alleviate many problems, including world hunger.
Just Eating was shared by Justice and Witness Ministries and the Let’s Move Task Force at General Synod 28 last summer in an educational intensive related to the Resolution for Mindful and Faithful Eating. The Let’s Move Task Force will be asking churches to use the Just Eating curriculum as a study guide for the Lenten season in 2012 as part of our faithful witness and our response to this resolution.
As we take actions during in the days of Mission: 1 to address the myriad of hunger-related issues, we are invited to also look ahead and make longer range plans, to help our congregations understand and connect our faith and our food habits in a way that can have a significant collective impact on global hunger. Just Eating is one resource that can help start those conversations.