Our food system’s unsung heroes

Whom are you thanking for your meal?

by Derrick Weston | Presbyterians Today

Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

In his book “The Spirit of Soul Food: Race, Faith and Food Justice,” the Rev. Dr. Christopher Carter states that those working to keep others fed — farmworkers, grocery cashiers, baggers, packers, even fast-food employees — “are supposed to be invisible for most of us who live in the United States.”

“The conditions [workers endure] just to make ends meet should help us understand why it is so crucial for us to develop ways of purchasing food that delink us from these dehumanizing institutions,” said Carter.

Throughout this country’s history, working closest to our food has been left to those on the margins of society. It seems to me that if Christ were to be found anywhere within our culture, he would be out in the fields with immigrants picking tomatoes or befriending a fry cook, covered in grease from his shift. Maybe he’d be lifting boxes with the packers moving food from farm to a truck or riding shotgun with the trucker who brought those boxes to the store. It wouldn’t be out of character for Jesus to be spending time with the people who were trying to make a livelihood by putting food on other people’s plates. If Jesus would see these hardworking people, then we must as well.

Gary Paul Nabhan, author of “Jesus for Farmers and Fishers: Justice for All Those Marginalized by Our Food System,” invites us to connect the dots between the issues of the farmers and fishers of Jesus’ time and those of ours, asking: Are you beginning to sense that what was happening then, in Galilee, is happening again right now, in the heart of America? Can you imagine a time when farmers and fishers of marginalized races, cultures and creeds realized that the resources they required to make a living were in steep decline? Can you feel how this dilemma was propelling them into fiscal bankruptcy, political disempowerment, emotional despair and spiritual disillusionment?

“When it comes to farmers and fishers in crisis, every old struggle inevitably comes around once more, even if they wear different boots or sit on a new tractor seat,” said Nabhan.

One of the many things that the Covid pandemic exposed was the vulnerability of our food system and those working within that system. A church committed to the way of Jesus would be one that lived in solidarity with those responsible for bringing food to our tables. That might mean adding our voices to cries for equal pay and better working conditions. It may mean advocating for protections for land to graze and from overfishing. It may mean changing the ways we eat so that we are in closer relationship with the people who feed us. Whatever it means, we must listen to the call to become a church that is as much for the people who bring the food to our table as it is for the people sitting around it.

Derrick Weston is the co-host of the “Food and Faith” podcast at foodandfaithpodcast.org. He is a member of Ashland Presbyterian Church in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

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