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Why I Don’t Like Trader Joes or A Continuation of Food Journey Part II

August 13, 2014

DSC_3968Somewhere in my local, organic eating, my food choices turned into an issue of my faith.  Bear with me today.

My faith journey veered in a slightly different direction after I moved to Austin some 17 years ago.  Somehow, I became aware of the contemplative movement–meditation, guided prayer, silence, and the teachings of monks (nuns) and mystics.  No doubt this coincided with Oprah telling us all to be present in the moment as well.  It stuck though.  I try to live in faith, to not move so fast, to give thanks for all that I see around me, and to live out the first instruction God gave humans in the creation story–Take care of the earth.  While a large part of my food choices emerged from what food tastes the best and what is the best for our bodies (extra antibiotics that encourage strains of antibiotic resistant infections?  No thanks), over time, I found myself unable to go back to the way things were because of my desire to love God and love others.

Along the way in the Christian church story, the role of Christians emerged as conquerers.  We were victorious over death in Jesus’s resurrection and somehow, we were also to be victorious over non-Christians, the earth, and the sinful bodies we were given.  The instructions in Genesis to “till and keep” the earth meant we could do anything we wanted to the earth because it was ours.  We had nothing to fear so we could do whatever we wanted to the earth to become prosperous in the name of Jesus.

In the US, the farm bills, the big agriculture and food lobbyists insist that faster is better–crops grown faster, chickens raised to maturity faster, food prepared faster.  In return, we cease taking care of the earth, thinking it is ours to use up and until it is all used up, hoping technology will help us grow food when the land won’t support us any more.

It’s an issue of faith for me.

In Getting Involved with God:  Rediscovering the Old Testament, Ellen Davis says the following about the Genesis 2:15 instructions to till (‘avad) and keep (shamar):

The first reorienting idea, stemming from the verb ‘avad is that the land is something we may be expected to serve.  Typically we think of fertile soil as a  “natural resource.” But the Bible has chosen a verb which implies that we are to see ourselves in a relation of subordination to the land on which we live….The needs of the land take clear precedence over our own immediate preferences, as the master’s requirements override a servant’s desires.  (p. 193).

The vision of people living in permanent committed relationship with nature, a relationship of dependence on and responsiblity to the fertile soil, is what animates the agrarian movement….Consciously or not, the agrarians are bringing us a message that is genuinely prophetic-that is, it accords with what we may understand from the Bible about the function of prophecy…First, what agrarians tells us about how we stand in relation to the fertile earth confirms on all essential points to the picture set forth in scripture.  Serving and protecting the land, observing its natural limits, and protecting it from violation–all these are the basic operating principles of modern agrarianism….Second, the agrarian movement qualifies as prophetic because, like the biblical prophets, agrarians are issuing a fundamental challenge to power.  They expose the self-serving “wisdom” promoted my the multinational conglomerates that control the vast majority of food production and processing in this country. (pg.196-197)

Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first brought this dichotomy between using the earth and taking care of the earth to light.  When she decided her family would eat IMG_2914locally for a year, I was enthralled.   Could I do it to?  I couldn’t (see Part I of my Trader Joe’s saga).   As I read more, I found myself drawn into the the responsibility that Genesis places on us.  As Davis states, in the original Hebrew, we are not called to pillage the earth.  Instead, the original Hebrew suggests that we are to serve the land.  Jesus says the same thing, calling us to be good stewards (managers) of all that has been given us–the point of being a steward not to get the most possible out of the powerless, but to respect and nurture those (and those things) we are relationship with.  The love Jesus calls us to can extend to our treatment to the land as well.  The love can extend to our future generations, creating rich, fertile soil for those who will need to eat in the generations after us, not leaving them at the mercy of technology and land that has been expended.

On my table for daily reading is Joan Chittister’s book, The Rule of Benedict:  A Spirituality for the 21st Century.  While there is seemingly little connection between the Rule of Benedict and food/faith, there connections are rich.  Benedictines speak frequently of doing intentionality–recognizing that every thing we do is a choice and has positive or negative consequences.  Benedict’s Rule calls us to make choices that reflect God and loving others.  We don’t exist in a vacuum and the food choices we make have consequences as well.  While I often, I think that I am just one consumer, I don’t need to worry about my own choice, the Rule of Benedict reminds me that my choices impact those around me and enough individuals can make up a large whole.

When I choose to buy my food (and produce in particular) at Trader Joe’s, I am choosing to support the draining of natural resources–through transporting the produce here from California while there is better tasting, fresher (and even less expensive) sometimes produce that was grown in my area.  I do buy produce sometimes at HEB and Whole Foods.  When I make the choice about which produce to buy, I first reach for those things that were grown in Texas.  I know that does not guarantee that the fruits and vegetables were grown sustainably.  I do know that less gas was used in transporting the food.  Most of our produce is grown here in town, through our CSA.  I know the farmer who grows our food–I have made numerous trips to the farm and have talked with the farmer and know he is committed to serving the earth, growing not just food but also soil.

I won’t be buying produce at Trader Joe’s, who stocks no locally grown produce.  My choice does matter, and it is a choice that I feel compelled by faith to make.


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