Globalization

Obesity in a World of Hunger

IT’S EASY to make the assumption that obesity is an individual problem, having more to do with personal health than with social justice. After all, people make their own decisions about what they put on their plates and how much they put in their mouths.

But many people—and many churches—are starting to see not only the public health consequences of the obesity epidemic, but also the broader forces that contribute to it.

And “epidemic” isn’t too strong a word for the growing problem of obesity. The numbers in the U.S. are unsettling, with startling increases over the past few decades. But the worst may be yet to come, as billions of people in formerly developing countries are gradually globalized into “fast-food nation” lifestyles.

The transition has already begun. According to a recent U.N. report, more than 1 billion people around the world are overweight. Each year excess weight and obesity cause 2.8 million deaths—65 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries where being overweight kills more people than being underweight. And it’s only going to get worse: According to Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, by 2030 as many as 5.1 million people in poor countries will die each year before the age of 60 from unhealthy diets and diet-related diseases such as diabetes, 1.3 million more than today.

The definitions of hunger and malnutrition are changing, and as a result so are the responses—but perhaps not quickly enough.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the cause of hunger was diagnosed by most officials as primarily a lack of adequate calories, and thus the response was a singular focus on increased outputs. But the diagnosis was at best simplistic—even decades ago, in a time of extensive famine, hunger was rooted as much in poverty and powerlessness as in a literal shortage of food.

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Groaning for Justice

If we look at what is happening this week – elections in Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo, an aid effectiveness conference in South Korea, the continuing Arab Spring in Syria and beyond, World Aids Day Thursday – and in the coming weeks -- the U.N. climate change conference, COP17 -- we cannot pretend that these events have no impact on our lives here and now.

Every one of these events is a matter of justice. The citizens of Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo deserve the opportunity to express freely, without fear of intimidation or violence, how they believe their country should be governed. Having spent some time in the region, I believe that the people of the DRC deserve more than any other to live in a country where they are safe and secure.

How we assist other countries in their development is an issue of justice.

Commemorating 9/11 by Desegregating Theological Education

I just returned from a very moving convocation at the Claremont School of Theology where I am on the faculty. We were celebrating the historic founding of a new interreligious theological university that brings together institutions representing the three Abrahamic faiths, along with our newest partner, the Jains. The Jains are an eastern religion founded in India over 2,500 years ago who are perhaps best known for their deep commitment to the concept of no-harm or ahimsa.

While each partner institution will continue to train religious leaders in their own traditions, the Claremont Lincoln University will be a space where future religious leaders and scholars can learn from each other and collaboratively seek solutions to major global issues that no one single religion can solve alone. The CLU's founding vision of desegregating religion was reflected in the extraordinary religious diversity present at the convocation held in a standing room-only auditorium. I sat next to a Jewish cantor and a Muslim woman who had tears flowing down her face as we listened to the prayers offered in all four religions along with a reflection from a Humanist speaker.

Bringing the Church Together for Justice

After having spoken at the Greenbelt Festival in England a number of times now, we at the Center for Action and Contemplation always hoped and planned that we create a similar festival for spirituality and the arts in the United States. We had nothing comparable, and it was a niche waiting and needing to be filled. Therefore, we were honored to be a part of the first Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last June, and hope that we can convene a truly ecumenical, radical, and socially engaged crowd of people living at the intersection of justice, spirituality, and creativity -- and those who want to be!

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