Food Stamps and the Environment?

I’ve been writing all week about the more obvious aspects of my experience this week as part of the Food Stamp Challenge. Yet, this, as you know, is the Eco-Justice Journey blog. In my corner of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, I work to connect, equip and inspire individual Presbyterians and congregations to ministry opportunities to care for all God’s creation (people, and the earth, and all in it).


In the Presbyterian Church, we have been passing General Assembly policies to care for God’s creation, to be mindful of our use of natural resources, and to urge the well-being of all humanity on a thriving planet since at least the 1950s.


If Eco-Justice is “the well-being of all people on a thriving earth” (coined decades ago by Presbyterian campus minister Bill Gibson), then how does the experience of Food Stamps relate to our care for the environment?


There is great danger when we disassociate immediate food relief from structural economic justice work. Or, when we separate hunger and poverty of humans from the suffering of the larger planet.


So, while operating on a Food Stamp budget this week, I have noticed a few things that relate to the environment:


1) Some strategies to care for the earth are going to appeal differently to different populations and there are correlations with social position. For instance, “fasting for the climate” was less tempting the other day, when I saw the social media advertisements, while licking (yes, licking) the remnants of peanut butter from my tiny tupperware container because I was still hungry from lunch.


On the other hand, cooking eggs (while making them stretch more than normal) from chickens raised on our Community Supported Agriculture, even though more pricey, was an expense I would and will continue to pay, for health, relational, family, and environmental reasons.


2) There are things we can learn from people who already know how to live within budgets. One thing climate change is about is: the reality that we humans (especially the more privileged ones) must learn to live within natural limits. What portion of the carbon “budget” we use is often a pretty strong correlation to our income level.  We could all learn a lot from those who are used to budgeting, rationing, and being mindful of how resources are spent.


Having fewer options, making hard choices, learning to live with less, and celebrating successes (all lessons from this week, for me) are all going to carry over when it comes to negotiating issues of energy, land use, water consumption, and more.


3) While it’s true that poverty and hunger may put difficult decisions about natural resource use in front of people who are economically poor, those of us living far above the poverty line actually have huge environmental responsibilities that we must tackle first, and we must be honest about what our social strata means for our level of carbon consumption.


The implications of this are not only on a personal level but international as well. Think about the negotiations in Warsaw, Poland right now. It’s the 19th Conference of the Parties, hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. While developing nations also must take significant action, it is industrialized nations that are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.  Whose responsibility is it to act first, hardest, longest?


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The thing is, a ruined earth is both an “equal opportunity” destroyer for humanity and it strikes the poor, hungry, and marginalized most heavily. Think of any natural or environmental disaster.


Climate change and its effects most impact the poor and vulnerable populations of the world. Also, toxic dumps, heavy mining, or heavily pesticide-laden areas are disproportionately located in the parts of town or country that are economically depressed, primarily African-American, inhabited by migrant workers, or on reservation land.


We cannot separate people from the rest of God’s creation. Caring for the poor means caring for the earth. Caring for the earth means caring for all people.


Being on a SNAP/Food Stamp budget this week, I see more need than ever to create food systems that are healthy and accessible to all people, and good for the earth. We all deserve that.


Healthy land, clean water, safe employment, fair wages, enough food, access to beauty—these are things all people need for their well-being. These are things the whole earth community needs to thrive.


May God who creates, redeems and sustains the cosmos guide us in our efforts.

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