We've just finished up a three week discussion about food. It began with a viewing of Food Inc., a documentary about processed food and industrial farming etc. It is challenging to watch at times, discomforting to say the least, but it is also eye-opening and demonstrates how ignorant most of us are about where our food comes from, how it is produced and the economic effects it has on certain segments of the population.
What has been interesting is the defensiveness about eating habits that emerged almost overnight--some people talking about the 'food-police' and being deprived of American food,' (most of them not actually in attendance, which is usually how it goes with churches in my experience) when nobody had actually made any statements at all about what any of us were or were not eating. Obviously, the film challenges us to consider what we eat, but the documentary does more to awaken our understanding of where food comes from and how multi-national corporate farming and food production companies threaten the livelihood of small farmers and impact everything from minimum wage to diet.
We also had a slew of speakers who covered the spectrum of food issues--Whole Foods representatives, farmers market organizers, slow food proponents, urban gardeners--in three weeks we covered an impossibly long list of issues--organic foods, food deserts, food insecurity, school food, home-grown versus processed-sugar content-vegan, vegetarian, meat all via a fantastic group of people who did nothing but demonstrate a desire to support better eating habits, a new economic model for food production and consumption in general.
There seems to be a growing interest in not only better eating habits but a more locally sourced approach to food consumption and a shift away from a diet of processed food which virutally everyone agrees is a serious problem. But like religion and sex, discussions about food get sticky--we all have guilty pleasures, secret desires, and a sometime beligerent defensiveness about our own habits with regard to food. The goal of the conversations was awareness rather than conversion but when favourite foods are noted as problematic, well you get the picture.
Food is so central to life and we take it all so much for granted. I think it is becoming another of those demarcation lines between religious groups--there are increasing numbers of people who would rather think about their faith through the lens of lived life--food, population, environment--than through abstract dogma, people for whom theology that is political, i.e. about public life, appeals much more than thinking about religion in a vaccuum. I am not saying that these things are mutually exclusive or that there are not people on both sides who would happily consume a diet of abstract religious ideas, but there is something brewing that hints at different approaches to living life and practising faith.