Loaves and Fishes: Occupy Wall Street and Feeding the Two-Thousand

By Leeann Culbreath 11-08-2011

Is there enough for everybody?

Any time a large group needs to be fed with uncertain resources, someone’s bound to say it.

I know I’ve cast anxious glances at one too many bags of tortilla chips on a potluck spread.

Yet, I’ve also seen it happen, for instance in a food tent in tornado-torn Hackleburg, Ala., this summer — food just kept rolling in, dishes complementing each other so well it must have been something the Holy Spirit cooked up.

Now we have large groups of strangers suddenly eating and living together not just one day, but for many weeks. And it wasn’t manna falling from the sky last weekend in Zuccotti Park.

Word is, though, the food at Occupy Wall Street in New York City — where volunteers feed as many as 2,000 people each day — has actually been quite good, but challenges abound with sourcing, cooking, and distribution. To complicate things a bit further, many at OWS are simultaneously protesting a corporate-controlled food system along with other corporate sins, yet some protesters  still are eating the factory food with a drive-thru attitude.

And ethics aren’t edible. Or are they? Is there a way that OWS can both feed the masses and do food differently? To eat what they preach, and make everyone else drool?

Maybe so, if they take some cues from Southern church ladies. As a Yankee transplant to the Deep South, I’ve learned that the church “covered dish” luncheon is a power to be reckoned with.

First, everyone brings something to the table. Perhaps OWS asks people with names ending A-D to bring legumes, E-H to bring grains, and so on, taking care to barter, buy, or glean from the most community-based sources available.

For every sign you bring, tote enough food to help feed 4-6.

To supplement the offerings, and to promote the kind of food production they support, OWS demonstrators could send out daily “crop mobs” to local farms to help farmers and to bring back some fresh vegetables and fruit.

The food must also be blessed in some way, with faith that it is enough and it is good. And then it must be shared and savored family-style.

No to-go boxes. No dine and dash. Folks stick around, preferably sitting, and visit.

Stomach and spirit both get filled. Leftovers are gathered up and shared beyond the group. You walk away from the table more family than not.

Those, like me, who can’t get ourselves physically to Zuccotti Park can still be part of this grand potluck. If we belong to a faith community near an occupation, we can help cook meals and deliver them, or share the kitchen. In our own communities and churches, we can “occupy” gardens, farms, kitchens, fishing ponds, and orchards to help us and others slowly—and deliciously—move off the food grid.

Whenever we harvest, prepare, and eat food in the context of community, we reenact that wondrous moment on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus took a few fish and two loves of bread and managed to feed 5,000.

But we can’t forget the whole story — Jesus fed everybody, surely even some folks who despised his message. After all, they were all God’s children, and they were hungry too. I can’t help but think that as they ingested the food, they took in his love too, and it changed them.

Still today, food is a great equalizer and bridge-builder. Who isn’t at least momentarily transformed by a perfect heirloom tomato or a slice of homemade pie?

Occupiers on the streets and at home would do well to share their best fruits with the business people,  political officials, and  police forces — anyone they see as “enemy” — as well as with each other.

Invite the mayor to lunch. Sit and visit. Ask about mama n’ them.

Let the goal of it all be not only to feed growling bellies and strengthen arms to hold up signs, but to set a powerful, irresistible example of how good and loving food can be. Work to bring everyone to the table that groans with goodness, where we can tell our stories. It may be the only place where opponents can digest the Occupy Wall Street message — where we can all savor abundance and justice.

leannLeeann Culbreath is a homemaker, community organizer and postulant for the permanent diaconate in the Episcopal Church in rural South Georgia, where she raises two boys, a bunch of veggies, a few chickens, and an occasional ruckus.

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