Food and faith: ‘Eating is a moral act’
By Kati Garrison, Dominican Volunteer
The NGO Working Group on Food and Hunger represents one of the many committees at the United Nations in which the Dominican Leadership Conference actively participates. As with any working group, it remains essential for the DLC to keep informed in terms of current events and issues as they pertain to the corresponding subject matter. Consequently, this past weekend, I traveled to Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) in Washington, DC, to pursue the acquisition of further knowledge surrounding prevalent concerns regarding food and hunger as well as strategies for advocacy. Quite fittingly, this year, “At God’s Table: Food Justice for a Healthy World” served as the theme of the EAD.
I attended meetings covering topics ranging from genetically engineered crops and climate justice to the connection between food and conflict, and throughout each of these workshops and plenary sessions, the message that “eating is a moral act” repeatedly emerged. As articulated by Jim Ennis, the executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, (drawing upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church), “Eating is a moral act because it is a human act, and human acts can be morally evaluated.” Therefore, as Catholics, we need to ask the vital questions:
- Where does our food come from?
- How can we create a sustainable food supply?
- What measures can we take to ensure that farmers and farm workers are able to provide for themselves and their families while also guaranteeing they will be treated with the dignity?
- In what ways does our consumption of food affect the environment, and how can we work toward the preservation of God’s Creation?
- How can we effectively eliminate hunger and achieve food security for all?
Furthermore, in 2003 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops composed a letter to challenge us to increase our awareness about food and its relation to Church doctrine. This document (“For I was Hungry and You Gave Me Food; Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers”) comments upon the inextricable link between food and agriculture the need to examine our interaction with matters pertaining to food and agriculture.
However, I remain acutely cognizant of the fact that when beginning to pick apart our food habits, one can very quickly become overwhelmed due to the tremendous number of factors to take into consideration. Just a few of these aspects include:
- Is this food a genetically modified organism (GMO) or organic?
- Was the meat grass or corn fed? Free range? Hormone and/or antibiotic free?
- Did the person who grew/picked this food earn a living wage?
- What is the carbon footprint of this product? How far did it have to travel to arrive on my table?
- Was this crop cultivated on land that had been “grabbed” from its indigenous stewards?
- Is this a fair trade product or the result of community supported agriculture (CSA)?
- How much water was required to bring this product to fruition?
- Is this fruit/vegetable in season?
- What are the effects of the pesticide and fertilizer that were utilized in the process of growing this food?
- Is this meal nutritionally dense and good for my health?
Quite rapidly, the task of eating morally and advocating for food justice transforms into a truly daunting challenge. Thankfully, one particular meeting at the EAD provided me with the inspiration and hope to continue to aspire to achieve a more just food system that will empower individuals to eat morally. A workshop entitled “An Ecology of Liberation” featured guest speakers from successful sustainable food systems in Haiti and northern Nicaragua (Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and FEDICAMP). They described grassroots movements to overcome massive obstacles of deforestation, land grabbing, climate change, and food insecurity. Both success stories have established communities that grow their own food (in a sustainable fashion without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides), save their own seed, raise their own livestock, conserve the biodiversity of their own lands, and conduct their own educational courses on topics ranging from crop cultivation to family nutrition and eco-friendly cooking techniques.
For me, these inspirational examples served as a reminder of the types of grassroots movements that need to have a voice at the United Nations. Even though the UN emphasizes the imperative to support grassroots initiatives, too often the political voices in the room are louder than those which will be more directly impacted by the implementation of its resolutions. Both of these communities (Gros Morne and FEDICAMP) serve as exemplars that the United Nations, and its partner entities, should strive to support while simultaneously empowering other citizens of the world to emulate and adapt to their own regions and contexts. In other words, individuals across the globe should be able to learn from these triumphs and endeavor to transform our food systems into morally just operations. This is the type of world that the DLC will continue to advocate to create.
For more information on UN policies and initiatives regarding food security, visit the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) web site
For more information on the Catholic perspective on ethical eating and what you can do to practice mindful eating in your life, read “Ethics of Eating” (National Catholic Rural Life Conference)
Margaret Mayce, OP (DLC/Amityville)
NGO in Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
Dominican Leadership Conference
211 East 43 St. Rm 704
New York, NY 10017