This is a special post in my continuing series on a Christian ethic of eating. In light of the beginning of Lent tomorrow on Ash Wednesday, I wanted to take the opportunity to explore the theme “What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?” that Christine Sine of Mustard Seed Associates is contemplating this year.
When Christ tells us to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” or to pray that God “give us our daily bread” our full, first world bellies automatically think in spiritual terms. Most of us know nothing of hunger accept when we choose hunger for spiritual reasons, like fasting during Lent.
For better or worse, we are intertwined in an agriculture system that has distorted our relationship with food. We live divorced from food. Our food comes to us in saran wrap and cans, comfortably packaged so that we have as little mess, fuss or contact with the dirty world of food and food preparation.
We do not know where the tuna in a can or the burger on a bed of foam comes from, and we are happy with that. It is what our mothers and grandmothers worked so hard to obtain after the Great Depression. Time spent doing such laborious and revolting chores like baking and cooking have been minimized or gotten rid of altogether, and we can live in a wonderful world of pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals, fast food and take out. We have conquered the evil specter of reliance on the seasons and freshness. We have taught ourselves to believe that we have conquered rotting and death.
We have, in a way, but that has come at a great cost of justice. When we are hungry or thirsty, we now live in a world where our hunger and thirst are actual ethical choices. When we hunger and thirst after righteousness it is more than spiritual, it is literal. It is the choice between fair trade coffee or coffee grown at great cost to the land and to workers. It is a choice between organic vegetables or the heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that pollute and destroy the earth and our own bodies. It is a choice between buying food from a local farmer and supporting a local economy or by buying from large, multi-national businesses that seek to destroy local farmers through lawsuits and business practices that are unfair and unethical. It is a choice to eat meat that is from ethically treated animals or to buy meat that comes from animals that have been treated in horrendous, inhumane ways that are not right for any person to participate in, directly or not.
We cannot accept the lie from marketers, advertisers and politicians that food can be compartmentalized and treated like a sterile science. Food is the fruit of an intricate web of cycles in creation that affect every aspect of our daily lives and touches every aspect of creation. We are all in this together. Our food choices are ethical choices. We can no longer afford to interpret hunger and thirst for righteousness as a spiritual choice. That is to buy into our society’s lie that we can divorce body and soul. Our spirituality is embodied. We live in the light of Christ’s physical resurrection, and our remembrance of his death and resurrection during Lent is a constant reminder that food is a means of grace and righteousness in our world. Christ’s presence is there whenever we break bread.
So, when we hunger and thirst for the bread and the cup, let us in the same way hunger and thirst for a great breakfast of coffee, toast, eggs and bacon that are products of integrity, righteousness and justice, and not the empty food of a world focused on greed, ill-treatment and consumption.