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September-October 2010
Vol. 35, No. 5

Food security: Churches’ week of action

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance has declared October 10-17 the churches’ week of action on food. Encompassing the International Day for Rural Women (October 15), World Food Day (October 16) and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17) the week of action is a excellent opportunity to call for more just, sustainable and equitable production, distribution and consumption of food, while highlighting the critical role that women play as small holder producers. 

Not only is food a basic staple which makes life possible, it holds particular meaning for Christians who remember Jesus in the breaking and sharing of bread. Food was also the center of many of the most important lessons of the Old Testament. The people of Israel had been reduced to slavery through a famine. Applying Pharaoh’s commodity rules, Joseph took first their money, then their livestock and ploughs, their land, and finally their freedom.

God used bread (manna) to give the newly freed slaves instructions on how to live out their economic and ecological relationships. Through the gift of manna they were taught to take only what they needed, to keep the gifts of nature circulating and to take one day a week to relinquish their attempts to control their world by honoring the Sabbath. 

In contrast, most people in the U.S. and in other industrialized countries find themselves disconnected from their ecological surroundings and their food. Wendell Berry observed: “[T]he passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”

Since food is so important to Christian understanding, the excessive commodification and industrialization of our food system leads many into spiritual exile. The focus of a week of action on food in many communities could very well be to encounter food as a gift rather than an industrial commodity.

While some struggle with the over-abundance of commodified foods, others suffer hunger and malnutrition. Fifteen percent of the world’s population – almost one in every six people – is chronically hungry, but not because Earth cannot provide sustenance. Rather, the structures and systems for producing, buying, selling and sharing food are profoundly broken. These systems are not unlike the Pharaoh’s systems from which the people of Israel escaped. The week of action can and should focus on rethinking a food system that has separated humans from other creatures in magnificent proportions.

There is an old saying “If you give a man a fish, he will have a single meal. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat all his life.” To that it has been added, “If you teach a woman to fish, everyone eats.” Women play a critical role in food security all over the world. In many parts of the less industrialized world women are responsible for as much as 70 percent of food production. The global food crisis cannot be solved without an approach that has women’s rights and gender equality at its core. Currently women around the globe lag in having access to means of agricultural production, such as farming land or fertilizers, farm labor, credit, education, as well as decision-making authority within the household. Reversing this trend could dramatically improve food security and enhance the lives of families and communities worldwide.

Starting in 2005, the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance has been organizing churches to join together with other civil society groups in an annual Global Week of Action. Since 2009 the focus of the week has been to promote and encourage the churches involvement in food justice issues.

The resource guide for the week of action gives suggestions for organizing that include a liturgy planning, and an “Agape Meal” to raise awareness about women’s roles in food production and unequal access to land. EAA will also hold a sermon competition on food and gender. Details of the competition as well as letter-writing campaign ideas, exhibitions, videos, bible studies and other suggested resources are all available at the EAA website.

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