I thought I had exhausted just about every angle on my “occupy” message in previous posts when I was invited to give a sermon at the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Amherst, MA. My students often accuse me of being a bit preachy, and here was an opportunity to “preach the good news about local food and farming from a church pulpit”. I couldn’t pass it up!
So here it is (or at least an abbreviated version of the sermon)…
We live in a world that is profoundly unjust and fundamentally unsustainable. Food is grown, packaged, processed and distributed in a way that plays a role in global climate change, is dependent on non-renewable energy sources, and contributes to social inequality. For me, buying local is a means of uncoupling my household from an inherently unjust global food economy. A recent Huffington Post article states:
“…the rules and institutions governing our food system — Wall Street, the U.S. Farm Bill, the World Trade Organization and the USDA — all favor the global monopolies controlling the world’s seeds, food processing, distribution and retail.”
Industrial agriculture exploits people, undermines democracy, erodes community, and degrades the land and water to maximize profit. We can do better. It is unlikely either government or corporate leaders will cry out against a system that maximizes short term profit but ignores long term ecological and social degradation. Government officials run for election every 2, 4 or 6 years and corporate leaders must show increased profit every 3 months to be successful!
Government & corporate leaders can’t think in the long term
Only average citizens can make decisions that consider the 7th generation. We must all be leaders. We must “start a parade.” When we are all marching in a more sustainable direction, government and corporate leaders will jump right up front and carry our flag!
A leading international voice for food justice, la Via Campesina, represents peasants, indigenous peoples and family farmers. They have claimed that well-managed small farms can feed the world while reducing carbon emissions using principles of agricultural ecology. Many new small, family farmers in the U.S. are working to partner with Mother Nature rather than trying to dominate her.
Corporate agriculture is in the business of maximizing short term profit by manipulating the environment with fertilizers, pesticides, land levelers, mechanization, and irrigation. The result of these efforts to control Mother Nature is environmental degradation and an unsustainable dependency on non-renewable resources.
Domination of Mother Nature is not “natural”
About 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia something shifted in the human psyche, as people who had formally lived in partnership with Mother Nature as hunter/gatherers, learned to intervene into the management of complex ecosystems and began to manipulate the environment – to serve our own short-term benefit.
We called it an agricultural revolution and we moved from a partnership relationship with the Earth Mother – to a domineering relationship. We are the only species that fails to live “naturally” – that is in accordance with Mother Nature’s “rules” (or ecological principles). Thomas Merton wrote that an oak tree gives glory to God simply by being an oak tree. It can’t break Mother Nature’s rules. Humans can and do on a regular basis.
We learn Mother Nature’s rules by observing what has worked for billions of years. There are three “rules”:
- Use current solar income
- Cycle everything material
- Support biological diversity
Humans can “act naturally” once again by learning to play by the rules! And it matters little if you believe these rules were created by divine intervention or by an evolutionary process over the last 4.5 billion years. These are the rules that work in the long-term!
Industrial agriculture produces lots of cheap food by violating these rules. The global corporately controlled food system is not sustainable in the long run, but still presents significant short term economic competition to those small, local farms trying to do it right! If we want to support a more sustainable agriculture, individually and collectively, we need to:
- buy local food and grow our own,
- create tax incentives for small farms committed to selling within their own community,
- support changes in zoning regulations to support the “homegrown food revolution,”
- make public investments in infrastructure to provide communal food processing, packaging, cold storage and redistribution, perhaps a local butcher, a community kitchen for processing vegetables, a maple sugar boiler, a cider press, and a flour mill, and
- develop education programs encouraging family, neighborhood, community self-sufficiency, and local farming.
All this is possible…. if we start the parade….
We all can eat better by eating local. And in doing so we can support personal health, community health, and environmental health. Putting food in our bodies is the most intimate act we do on a regular basis. Eating food can either be a sterile, hurried act, offering little cause for joy – or a creative, spiritual act of connecting with other people, the earth – and thus with all of Creation.
Rediscovering the sacred through growing or purchasing and preparing good food can be an act of healing. Shopping in a supermarket with its artificial lighting and hurried atmosphere is not a sacred act. We seek and receive bargains, hurry home to microwave a pre-prepared package (or perhaps stop for ‘fast-food’ on the way) and thoughtlessly shovel too much food into our hungry bellies (maybe while watching television).
Perhaps we can experience a connection with the divine……..
- by collecting an egg from under a hen you have raised yourself…
- by pouring maple syrup on pancakes from a tree tapped by a neighbor…
- by knowing the baker of the bread (or better yet, baking it yourself)…
- by shaking the hand of the farmer who dug the carrots you bought…
- by saying thank you for the gifts of creation; the fruit, the vegetables, the meat, the eggs, the bread and the wine…..
I believe there is value in rediscovering ways to connect with the sacred by growing our own food, buying real food from people we know and trust, and sharing food with family and friends in a communion of the spirit
Barbara Kingsolver’s wrote in her lovely little book, Small Wonder, that people will join the sustainability movement (including supporting local farms) because;
“…our revolution will have dancing and excellent food.”
I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends. And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.