Chanelle Robinson

Eating no longer a neutral act

By  Chanelle Robinson, Youth Speak News
  • January 23, 2015

I was thrilled to hear that my university’s office of campus ministry was hosting a “100-mile meal” potluck, preparing a meal made with ingredients found within 160 kilometres of my home. By eating locally we become proactive agents of change. We support our local farmers and our economy.

“This can’t be too difficult,” I mistakenly thought as I set out to bake my “local” apple crisp. I slowly realized that some of the ingredients I needed were not grown as close to home as I assumed. Cane sugar and certain spices are not indigenous to Canada.

I began to realize how easily I forget to recognize the means of production involved in bringing food from its original source to my plate. What did common meals look like before globalization?

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has a new campaign entitled “Sow much Love” that challenges Catholics to value the protection of heritage seeds, which are organic, premium seeds gleaned from the harvest and passed down through generations of farmers. This natural process has maintained biodiversity for centuries and is the primary source of food and income for family farmers. Contrary to this practice, some corporations manufacture genetically modified seeds that are patented and can only be planted once. Farmers who purchase corporate seeds must sacrifice their heritage seeds in the process.

Catholic social teaching stipulates that we must care for the environment and this includes eating food like a steward of the Earth and appropriately valuing crops. When we support corporate farms at the expense of local farming we risk disenfranchising our brothers and sisters in the Global South, who may no longer be ablt to afford to make a living through their traditional practices if farming becomes increasingly privatized. We are not different from what we consume. If we consent to eating unfairly traded products or genetically modified products, we consent to the economic process that brought them to our table. We need to seek solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Global South who also want to revere their local foods. If eating certain foods can cause others to go hungry, then eating is no longer a neutral act.

A special component of our “100-mile meal” potluck was the fellowship that followed: card games, laughter and moments of sharing. Early Christians had a special Greek word for this: koinōnia. In fact, the entire Eucharist is fellowship in thanksgiving.

Think of the words the priest says during Mass: “fruit of the vine and work of human hands.” These natural foods, harvested through human labour, are transformed and given dignity. We need to view our food through a eucharistic lens. The eucharistic table invites us into radical solidarity and love: we can love our neighbour by how we eat. We can give thanks for all farmers who labour to protect biodiversity. We can give thanks for their fortitude needed to preserve natural resources. The “amen” we say before receiving the Eucharist should echo in how we agree to purchase food.

Once we give food sovereignty, it can no longer be understood simply as a commodity. We need to change the way we think about food. This change must be individual before it becomes structural and requires a conversion of both heart and stomach toward that which sustains us and gives us life. Koinōnia reverberates throughout the Earth when we, along with those in the Global South, cherish local food.

(Robinson, 21, is a fourth-year Catholic Studies for Teachers student at the University of King’s College, London, Ont.)

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