In the past month that I have been here, I feel as though the theme of food justice has come up in a few different ways. There is evidence in the village and in my life, and implications for both.
The evidence in the village revolves around one central theme of having no options. In listening to the people, I have been hearing a lot about knowledge of health and nutrition, but with the caveat of "I have no option." Part of the reason for this is the cost of food and accessibility for the foods that they don’t grow. Variety, although prized for health, is not a real option as they expressed. I’m not even talking about eating Chinese food tonight and Italian tomorrow, but rather no options–sometimes even for vegetables– beyond beans and a choice starch.
In the village, we have talked about a lack of variety. We’ve talked about it from a health standpoint. We’ve talked about it as a symptom to larger problems of low income and low crop yields. We’ve talked about solutions from many different angles. It’s a great start to a process that will take many seasons to come to fruition, but solutions are being unveiled.
Through all of this, God has been showing me what He thinks about food justice issues and its evidence and implications for my life, too. Proverbs 21:3 says, "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." In my context this says a lot. I can’t expect to feel good–or excused– from doing what is right because of a sacrifice I have made elsewhere. That is to say, God desires for my food actions to be just and right at home more so than He wants 2 months in Uganda.
There is a lot going on in our deeply broken food system. It is marred by slavery and unfair wages, environmental destruction and homogeneity, and living off excesses of food at the expense of hunger of others. All of these I can easily contribute to with my choices of food.
As I traveled through rural Uganda on a boda-boda (a motorcycle used as a private taxi) I passed many small coffee farms. Farmers and their children waved to me as I passed, either to say hello or goodbye. I wondered how much profit they really see from a 99 cent coffee– or a $5 coffee for that matter. With money necessary for paying distributors, roasters, packers, shippers, tariffs, employee wages at the coffee stand, manager and owner wages, and overhead costs of running a stand, what fraction of a penny represents the payment received by the source of it all, the farmer? The Bible says, "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen in your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of The Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter" (James 5:4-5, NIV).
Furthermore, the Bible says, "Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies….You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments" (Proverbs 23:6,8, NIV). The food of these stingy men– those who cheat farmers of a decent crop price– is not worth the indulgence.
Israel’s problem in the time of exile was their lavishness for themselves but abandonment of the vulnerable (Isaiah 3:16-23; Isaiah 58; Isaiah 3:14). The faithful city had become a harlot for the world, indulging its pleasures and exploiting the poor!
How are we in the North any different? We are parading around, adorned in our excesses, being gluttons of the hard labor of the underpaid and enslaved who work hard hours only to not be able to afford even the basics of a healthy diet for their family. And we are fattening ourselves on such things, as James spoke of!
We have excess and we have an excess of excess. We purchase, consume, and waste more food than humanity has ever encountered before. And while we have an excess of choice and quantity, the farmers are saying, "I have no option."
"Do what is right and just, for this is more acceptable to The Lord than sacrifice." To me this means thanking God for revealing my wrongs of mindless excess. It means making changes in the home and the way we view food– not as an infinite commodity at our disposal, but as a God-given resource of sustenance both as food and as income. We already know how God feels about injustice– let’s act on His will to "stop doing wrong, learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed" (Isaiah 1:16-17, NIV).