I am not shy about using the saltshaker, and neither I nor anyone else in my family has any sort of problem with blood pressure. That’s because we mostly don’t eat things that come out of packages or from fast-food places (where someone else takes them out of packages), and the salt that is a problem in the North American diet doesn’t come from the saltshaker but from the extreme levels of sodium in packaged foods.
But you will never hear Michelle Obama say that.
There was a similar unutterability to everything having to do with AIDS back in the day. Even when scientists had a fairly clear understanding of the nature of the threat and how it was spread, most “official” speech tended toward a hedging: “we don’t know what causes it; we don’t want to say what’s causing it …” Even today people don’t get tested because they don’t want to know, even though getting tested obviously doesn’t give you the virus — it merely points out that it is there. It seems to point to so much more, though.
Human beings seem to come with certain built-in spiritual inclinations, and gratitude is chief among them.
Parents and teachers think we have to be taught to say thank you, but maybe it just comes naturally. Gratitude is both accessible and enlivening.
Accessible because it’s as easy as paying attention to that which we might otherwise take for granted.
With gratitude, when our lover holds our hand for the umpteenth time it feels like it’s the first time and we’re grateful for them all over again. Or when we sit down to a plate of something humble and home-cooked it suddenly transports us to all those other meals in all those other places where we felt loved, accepted, and welcomed.
Sounds familiar, huh? Those two words are at the heart of activism and social justice. I could have safely assumed that almost every young Christian activist at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia back in February was passionate about a particular purposeful cause. I’m surprised a Christian conference hasn’t already picked up on the whole passion and purpose thing for slogan or tag line.
Christian conferences aside, I never thought those two words would be the foundation of a cutting-edge music and food festival at Merriwewather Post Pavilion, and certainly not one where 18,000 people were jamming to some of their favorite artists and scurrying over to local food trucks for healthy, delicious food in between sets. Heck, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a festival that focuses on both music and food.
By definition, an anesthetic is a drug used to relieve pain (analgesia), relax (sedate), induce sleepiness (hypnosis), spark forgetfulness (amnesia), or to make one unconscious for general anesthesia. Anesthetics are generally administered to induce or maintain a state of anesthesia and facilitate a procedure. I believe that anesthetic can be employed as a striking image for particular deficiencies in faith-based responses to extreme poverty.
As one can cite many examples where faith is proclaimed and practiced solely as an escape from – rather than engagement with – the numerous struggles associated with impoverishment, we recognize that anesthesia is incomplete without corresponding acts of sustainable social surgery.
A practical way to serve within the tension of anesthetic and advocate is to experience a small portion of life below the poverty line. The World Bank sets extreme poverty as below $1.50 per day, and I plan to stand in solidarity by attempting to eat on less than $1.50 per day over the course of five days (Monday – Friday).
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ~ Arundhati Roy
Who could have imagined an economy in which gentle vegetables were subversive?
But this is our world. A world where a vegetable, whose growth is imperceptible to the naked eye, can spider a crack into the concrete of our industrial food system.
We find ourselves in a food economy that sickens us. Health is divided along race and class lines: the food economy particularly sickens those whose wages do not allow them to buy the foods that can cure us of the diseases industrial “foods” cause.
Corporations, which do not speak the language of human love and health, wrangle to profit from the stream of ill Americans falling from the industrial foods conveyor belt. But we know that type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and some cancers are fully preventable by replacing part of what we eat with fruits and vegetables.
Why, in a wealthy, fertile country are we wrecking the environment to produce foods that kill us?
I’m not making friends among my family members with this challenge.
Because it was my idea to do this for a week (living on the equivalent budget of food stamps for seven days), everyone ends up coming to me to “check on the rules.” Basically, this means they ask me about ways they might work around the limitations of the challenge, and then get mad at me when I don’t give them a way out.
Yesterday ended up being a mixed bag. My wife, Amy, and I had to go to the other side of town for some errands, and it didn’t occur to either of us that we’d be gone over lunch time. Fortunately, one of the errands was at an Ikea, a giant housewares store that’s known for it’s affordable cafeteria-style meals, so we made it work. But even with their reduced-rate prices, we spent more than $9 for both of us and little Zoe to eat.
“Man,” I said, looking at my empty bowl, previously filled with pasta and Swedish meatballs, “that was way less than we usually spend going out, but it was still almost double what we have in the budget for one meal.”
THE FARM BILL has a profound impact on farming and nutrition. Three key things the multi-faceted bill provides are: a safety net for farmers, incentives for conservation practices, and food assistance for low-income families. Congress writes the farm bill every five to six years; the most recent Farm Bill, approved in 2008, expires Oct. 1.
At present, nearly 80 percent of the bill’s roughly $100 billion a year in spending goes to the food-assistance category, most notably to food stamps—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now helps feed 46 million people in the U.S. Less than 10 percent of current Farm Bill funding supports water and soil conservation practices, such as no-till farming and preserving wetlands and grasslands.
In the past, a significant part of the bill has been commodity payments made under various programs to farmers of crops such as corn, wheat, rice, cotton, and soybeans (but not fruits or vegetables). As farmers are currently benefiting from high grain prices, while the government faces budget deficits, the next Farm Bill seems poised to recognize that the time has come to end commodity payments.
However, farmers, challenged by volatile swings in crop prices and by uncertain weather, still need a safety net. In lieu of commodity payments, the Senate version of the Farm Bill, passed in late June, moves toward subsidizing crop insurance, which covers farmers—including fruit and vegetable growers—against both poor yields and poor prices.
The Senate version of the bill includes cuts in conservation and food stamps—but not as severe as what the House has in mind. If present policies had continued, Farm Bill spending was projected to be nearly $1 trillion over the next decade. The Senate bill cuts approximately $23 billion from that 10-year total. In May, the House Agriculture Committee said it was aiming to cut approximately $33 billion.
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