Y’all know I love food. I was at home in New Orleans where the primary lunch conversation was what we would have for dinner. Our conversation on Sunday was a little different. It was largely about restriction, what we won’t eat and why. That’s a good conversation to have, especially when the environment is our focus. We talked about the damage done by factory farms, the transition from agriculture to agri-business, from rural to urban. We didn’t talk much about love of food.
Of course, not everyone at Church in the Cliff loves food. For some, it is something they have to do in order to do the other things they want to do. In spite of a contrary attitude now, I understand that position. When I was 15 years younger and 60 pounds lighter, I ran marathons. Food was just fuel for a 70-mile week. I counted every calorie, every gram of macro-nutrients, every milligram of micro-nutrients. I monitored every half-pound gained or lost. I had spreadsheets. I was a finely tuned machine. But I wasn’t a very happy machine. It was always on my mind: What should I eat? When should I eat it? What are the consequences for tomorrow’s run? Eating was at least as exhausting as the training.
But I also remember those who first taught me to love food. They were immigrants; an Indian woman named Shanta and an Egyptian woman named Soad. They were joyful about cooking and joyful about feeding people. The flavors from their kitchens were unlike anything I had ever experienced growing up in a home where salt and pepper were the only seasonings. I worked in a Middle Eastern kitchen alongside a rotating cast of wanderers in a strange land. I noticed the difference in the tabbouleh when made by a Syrian and a Jordanian. I served hungry Muslims ending their Ramadan fast. I helped prepare the cardamom-spiced rice-stuffed lamb marinated in yogurt to celebrate the birth of the owner’s son. And I noticed how much the Palestinian staff hated the Jewish customers in spite of the fact that their mothers shared the same recipes. I began to realize that food was so much more than just food. Food is art, culture, and community.
But this series is driving home the fact that food is also justice. As Patricia K. Tull says, every time we eat, we are choosing whether we prefer a food system that sustains all or one that enriches the few.
The food system we have is broken. 89% of the kids in DISD qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Most of South Dallas is a nutrition desert where the only food options are fast food or junk food from a convenience store. It is simply not worth it, not profitable, for a grocery store to locate there. I want everyone to experience the joy of great food shared in community, but first we need to make sure people have food at all. I don’t think the current system can achieve that.
One place trying to bring food to an underserved area is Bonton Farms. They are reclaiming vacant land to turn into an urban farm. Their goal is to provide healthy, local food and jobs in a neighborhood that has been left out of the seemingly eternal prosperity of Dallas. In support, we are going to give 10% of our donations during this series to Bonton Farms.
We live in a land of milk and honey. We really do. We can get almost any food almost any time we want. There is great joy in that. But, as we learned on Sunday, that abundance has to be managed to make sure that everyone has access to it. We are not in the desert, living off of manna, having just enough for our needs and nothing more. We have more than we need and usually more than we even want. Our conversations this week have made me think deeply about what that means for me, what systems my choices support. I love food; I truly find joy in making it and eating it. I know many of you do, too. But how might our joy increase if the food were shared equally, produced without economic exploitation, and sustained a healthy planet? That would be a true feast.