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A "Wholy Meal"

Friday, September 25, 2015  by tday

by The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor
McIlhany Parish
Charlottesville, Virginia

On Sunday mornings in the middle of a gritty Northeast city, I was part of a congregation that ate its way into the purity and joy of God’s reign. As the parish priest, at the high point in the celebration of the Eucharist, I elevated a loaf of freshly baked bread and proclaimed, “This is my body broken for you.” When I broke the bread, a wisp of steam rose from the fractured body of the still warm loaf.

For the congregation, eating the consecrated bread was more than a ritual act, it was a taste sensation – molasses and anise mixed with nutty whole wheat flour – of Swedish Limpa bread. A fellow church member mixed the bread dough at night, let it rise, and baked it in the church kitchen oven, fresh for the Eucharist.

On the laden food table at the coffee hour that followed worship, the uneaten, consecrated loaf was offered alongside other loaves baked. People devoured the hearty and delicious loaves. As folks ate and talked and laughed, there seemed to be something more, something deeper at work than eating post-event refreshments. Perhaps, the Eucharist extends its consecration of bread and wine to the other food the congregation shared. Perhaps the holy table became the fellowship hall table. And, perhaps, the parish ate its way into God’s joyful reign through the food offered to us and made sacred by the one we were gathered to worship.

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A Feast for the Heart

Tuesday, September 22, 2015  by tday

by Samantha Taggart
Memorial Episcopal Church
Charlottesville, Virginia

Eating is one act that connects us daily to a vast number of other beings living on this beautiful Earth. Particularly in this modern age of industrialized, large-scale, commercial agriculture where food travels thousands of miles – literally across continents and back again – the food on our plate carries with it a whole lineage of origin, invisible to the naked eye – or mouth, as it is in this case. Much of industrial agriculture puts this lineage – this network of people, animals, and practices that bring us our food – in the darkness and out of sight. But a choice lies in each one of these connections, for when illuminated, these ties to our food – and to those who plant, tend to, and provide us with our food – are opportunities for us to live out our most fundamental values. They are opportunities to connect to others, near and far, through the way in which we eat. Will we choose to support practices that perpetuate harm - practices that treat living, sentient beings as mere commodities and grossly undervalue the very creatures (humans and animals included) as well as lands that make it possible for us to eat? Or will we choose to be responsible eaters – eaters who think critically and morally about how their food choices affect the rest of their global community?

In this way, food is a medium through which we can live out our faith. Our faith teaches us to love our neighbor as our self and carry with us, each and every day, the values of compassion and empathy towards others. Food gives us many neighbors – each of whom requires our attention and moral consideration. When we eat blindly, ignorant of those affected by our food choices, we more often than not do harm unto others. When we reconnect ourselves to our food, either by growing it ourselves or by paying more attention to who is growing it, where it’s coming from, and how it was raised, we experience the very stuff that makes life so rich – we experience community and develop a deep sense of humility and interdependence. Our mouths and our stomachs should not be the only parts of our body connected to our food – we must eat with our hearts and minds as well.


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Thinking Ecologically (and Spiritually) about Food

Wednesday, July 15, 2015  by tday

By The Rev. W. Terry Miller

Food is an environmental Issue.

When we think of the biggest threats to the environment, agriculture is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, species extinction, sure…but farming? As a matter of fact, how we grow and harvest and ship our food ought to be of great concern to us, as the way in which we produce food—modern, industrial agriculture—is one of the biggest contributors to our present environmental crisis.

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy—19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air, but the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude. Chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. As author and activist Michael Pollan has put it, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.

Modern, industrial agriculture threatens environmental health in other ways as well.  When forests are cleared to create pasture or fields for monoculture crops, wildlife habitat is destroyed and biodiversity reduced. The addition of new land for food production is a short-lived gain, however, as the fertile soil becomes degraded by erosion with the loss of groundcover, salinization as a result of over-irrigation, and sterilization though the use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers. Often pesticides and fertilizers are applied in quantities beyond the ability of the land to absorb, with the excess running off fields to pollute waterways. This has led, among other things, to the creation of “deadzones,” such as in the Gulf of Mexico where there is an area the size of New Jersey where no aquatic life can survive.

If we include fishing, the “farming of the seas,” the picture is even worse. Over-fishing of large predator species like tuna and cod decreases the number and size of the fish, altering food chains and species composition. Chemical run-off, discarded nets and plastics (often from food production) pollute the oceans and ensnare and entrap sea life. Exotic species of plants and animals, often brought on trade vessels, out-compete and supplant native species. Perhaps most destructive of all, however, are the bottom trawls and scallop dredges which destroy underwater habitats, altering important habitat features.

As this account suggests, the way we currently grow, process and eat food is of major ecological concern, contributing as it does to just about every major environmental issue today, from carbon emission and climate change to reduced biodiversity and  polluted oceans.

Food is also a spiritual issue.

Underwriting the modern food system is a view of food as a commodity, something to be produced and purchased as cheaply as possible. Food is fuel, goes the thinking, and the goal is to get the most bang for our buck, the most calories for our cash. Besides the ecological (not to mention health) costs of this view, it also ignores the deep cultural, social, and religious significance of food.

Throughout Scripture, food is the chief way that God relates to the people of God. From the story of the Garden of Eden to the settlement of the Promised Land, a “land of milk and honey,”  God’s most fundamental blessings include the grace of food and the promise that agricultural cycles will yield their fruit in due season. Food is also the way we are intended to relate to God and each other. It is through food that the people of Israel remember and celebrate God’s acts of deliverance (Passover seder), as well as the medium through which they express gratitude, show hospitality, ratify covenants, and define ethnic and religious identity. It is not surprising then that the misuse of food should be the cause of a breakdown in our relationship with God and others— the most obvious instance being the eating of the primordial “forbidden fruit,” but also important is the exploitation of the land and the poor in the time of the Prophets, which led to Israel’s exile in Babylon.

It is fitting then that when Jesus came to reconcile us with God, that restoration is signified in a meal. Gathered with his disciples around the table, sharing the Passover meal, Jesus takes the simple bread and wine and transforms them into a sacrament, a means of grace, the means of communion with God. In this, Jesus not only transformed the matter of the bread and wine, but changed all food, restoring it as a sign of God’s goodness and providence.

Redeeming God’s Gift of Food These two approaches—food as an environmental issue and food as spiritual issue—seem to be not only irreconcilable but also incommensurable, having nothing to do with each other. And yet, in the one, the spiritual, is the promise, the solution, for the other, the environmental. How this is so may not be immediately apparent. Yet the restoration of our appreciation of food as a gift from God and a sign of God’s goodness and providence offers a new framework for addressing our food system as a whole, prompting new questions and hinting at more wholesome and holy ways of producing and consuming food.

 Our relationship with food, God, and the environment is the focus of our Stewardship of Creation Conference this fall, which is entitled “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.” With the help of our keynote speaker, Rachel Marie Stone (Eat with Joy), together with the panelists and workshop leaders, participants will be invited to discover a new relationship with food, one which honors both God and the world as God’s gift.

As we seek to respond out of faith to the destruction of God’s creation, we hope this conference will offer a deeper understanding of our calling as stewards of God’s creation and a vision for we might work more closely with God to realize God’s good purposes on earth.


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Wednesday, February 29, 2012  by tday

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in
the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing
at all during those days … Luke 4:1-2

The Church’s observance of Lent is a particularly appropriate time to consider the ancient spiritual discipline of fasting. The spiritual benefits are abundantly documented in scripture. More recently, the physical benefits of fasting have been confirmed as well. Recent research by Mark Matson, of Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Aging, has concluded that fasting with little intake of food one or two days a week confers more benefit than generally following a low calorie diet.

The specific concern of the research was the effect of fasting on brain health. Fasting, Matson concludes, confers protection against the worst effects of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments, including strokes. Even sufferers of asthma have shown benefits.

Matson’s research explored the specific mechanisms by which growth of neurons in the brain could be affected by reduced energy intakes. The amounts of two messaging chemicals that play an important role in stimulating growth of neurons in the brain are boosted when energy intake is sharply reduced. As a result, fasting directly counteracts the impact of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Matson explains, “The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells. … The overall effect is beneficial.”

The link between cell growth in the brain and fasting is one that Matson admits seems odd, but is supported by sound evolutionary reasons. For most of human existence, food scarcity has been a common experience. Those of our ancestors who survived were those whose brains worked best, to recall sources of food and how to evade predators.  “Thus a mechanism linking periods of starvation to neural growth would have evolved.”

Whether fasting may offer any benefit in countering the global obesity pandemic in developed countries is a more complex issue. Matson’s research calls attention to the deep roots of the practice and shows specifically that the greatest benefits are to be obtained not simply by “eating less,” but by fasting periodically – for physical as well as spiritual reasons.

Additional detail: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/18/fasting-protect-brain-diseases-scientists?CMP=twt_gu

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012  by tday

In Animals Make Us Human, Temple Grandin draws on her remarkable personal background and years of experience as an animal science researcher and industry consultant to describe the emotional needs of pets, cats, dogs, horses, and also the emotional needs of livestock raised for food. One of the most troubling chapters documents the terrible conditions suffered by hens kept in poultry plants to produce eggs.

The conditions of laying hens that she observed as a consultant to McDonalds on animal welfare were so bad that she chose not to limit the book’s discussion to the hens’ emotional needs inherited from their jungle fowl ancestors. She felt she needed also to discuss the harm to laying hens’ physical welfare. She writes:

“The worst abuses happen to laying hens during their productive lives and at the end of their lives when they are spent and too old to produce eggs. During their lives they’re kept inside tiny battery cages, where the problem isn’t just the crowding, but the birds having been so overbred for egg production that their bones are fragile and break easily. .... Spent laying hens suffer at the end of their lives too, mostly because they are not worth anything on the market. … The hens are worth so little that many farms do not bother to send them to a slaughter plant.”

These terrible conditions have spawned litigation in state courts to ban the worst practices and, most recently, a promising lobbying coalition to bring about change through national legislation. After many years as adversaries, the chief lobbyist for United Egg Producers and the President of the Humane Society of the United States are jointly lobbying Congress for changes in the 2012 Farm Bill to require improvements in laying hens’ welfare and better accommodation of their instincts, through larger cages, perches, and “nest boxes” where they can lay their eggs.

To assure a continuing supply of eggs at a fair price, the improvements proposed, if enacted as part of the 2012 Farm Bill, would be implemented through a 15-year transition. Fifteen years may seem like a long time; but in coming to agreement, Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society, stated that through their joint effort, he had come to appreciate the competition faced by egg producers to build efficiencies.  The regulations proposed will temper that competition so that chickens raised for eggs will enjoy better lives and will enable farmers to provide better conditions for chickens without losing competitive advantage.

For additional detail:

Temple Grandin, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals


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