Ethical Eating

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I first learned about Lisa Graham McMinn’s book from Mary E. McGann, whose book I discussed in previous posts. McMinn’s book is To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community (Brazos Press, 2015). Rather than try to summarize the book – because I recommend that you read it for yourself – I will focus on how the book is changing the way I think about food globally, and how I am planning to buy and consume food locally.

In her book, Lisa Graham McMinn shares her experiences with growing, cooking, harvesting, and preserving food with her husband and their neighbors in the community. For McMinn, eating is about communion; it is about acknowledging that we belong to God and are members of the human race. It is also about recognizing that we share the earth with animals, plants, pollinators, and microbes. All of earth’s members depend on being able to eat from a global table that offers good water, clean air, and fertile soil that is full of life.

Although we won’t all grow our own food (flowering plants on my lanai struggle to stay alive!), any and all of us can accept the invitation to eat at a common table by being more intentional about what we are eating, more attentive to those who share our table, and more grateful for God, others, and God’s creation that sustains us. Now that we spend more time at home, maybe we can take steps in that direction. We can learn about the true cost of food – to farmers, to the environment, to the plants and animals we consume – and choose compassion and justice over convenience or thrift. We can give more attention to our family meals, eating at a common table without digital devices, adding candles and pretty place mats, or packing creative lunches and snacks for our outdoor activities. We can thank God and acknowledge all those who have contributed to feeding us.

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After reading To the Table, I am making plans to implement some changes in the way I buy, cook, and consume food, and share a common table with others. Some of the local sources may not yet be available, and it is too soon for me to invite guests for dinner, but when I can, I will try to choose justice over convenience and frugality. I am planning to:

  • Eat more locally and seasonally. I will make weekly trips to local farmers’ markets and farm stands, where I can find everything from fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, and bread. Reducing the distance from farm to table lessens the impact on the environment of fossil fuels needed to transport food from one coast to the other, or from other countries.
  • Preserve seasonal food when it is abundant. My mother used to can tomatoes, and freeze corn and strawberries. In won’t be canning anytime soon, but I may try freezing corn and strawberries. I have to adjust to seasons of plenty in Florida. I am used to strawberries in June and corn in late July. Harvest time is much earlier in Florida.

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  • Eat foods that are raised using organic methods. I have been buying many organic products for a while now, and they are getting easier to find in supermarkets. I started with eggs and apples. Now, I can find organic foods even in the frozen section. The extra cost is my way of contributing to a fair wage for growers, and saving seeds and soil for the future. An online search revealed several farm stands in my home town that have organic products.
  • Buy coffee and chocolate from fair trade groups. I have been buying coffee and olive oil from SERRV (serrv.org) for a number of years. I recently added chocolate. I want to be more intentional about buying these products from fair-trade sources only, or going without.
  • Eat at restaurants that source food locally and justly. These eating places may be harder to identify. When I search online for “farm to table”, every restaurant in town, including large national chains, came up in the listing! Farmers’ markets may be helpful in identifying restaurants for which local farmers are sources.
  • Experiment with foods lower on the food chain. Or, at least reduce my consumption of meat. When I do buy meat or poultry, I will try to buy from sources that treat animals humanely. Eating without meat is compassionate and opens the door to a world of alternatives that are good for our bodies, our neighbors, and our planet.

Eating ethically requires mindfulness. Ethically raised food may be less convenient and not always available. In addition, one pays more for naturally grown produce and compassionately raised and slaughtered meat because harvesting responsibly involves intensive work that can’t be done quickly.

Lisa Graham McMinn describes ethical eating this way:

A food ethic that includes knowing something about the harvesting process adds an important element. The more we know, the more ethically we can choose to eat. . . When harvesting practices are defined by compassion, justice, and good stewardship, we heal broken parts of the world, coaxing out a healthier land, healthier animals, healthier laborers, and, it turns out, healthier selves. (p. 142)

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I leave you with a few questions to consider:

Q. How do the food choices you make daily impact your inner life, your outward expressions of faith, and your relationship with God?

Q. What would it take to learn the hidden cost of a food you eat regularly, and then to make a commitment (small or large) to eating that food more ethically this month?

 Q. Might looking at food labor and sacrifice incline us to become humbly grateful in a way that draws us toward food raised and harvested in ethical ways?

 


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