Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

An Interesting Perspective

An interesting look at the food crisis. The main thing I notice they don’t address is one of the sticking points of the whole dispute, and that’s the use of GMO crops. On one hand, they can help solve the short-term crisis. On the other hand, they have far reaching effects that we can’t even comprehend when we first use them (how they might affect migration patterns, for example, or how resistant pests may spring up as a result). In any case, it’s something to think about. And I like the concept of a more collaborative, rather than combative, attitude. I just worry that the Almighty Dollar will always want to have the last word.


Education, not disappointment


IMG_5086Rob and I continued our path of forming relationships with farmers last night through a 3-hour dinner with our bison farmers from the farmer’s market, Kathy and Ken Lindner.  There is a deep wisdom, accompanied by comfortable kindness, in this couple.  They make you feel at ease, and within moments of talking with them you are assured of their intent: the wellbeing of and right relationship with creation (specifically of and with bison).

There’s so much I could write about regarding this holy encounter, but for now I will focus on one phrase of Kathy’s that struck me. We had commented that so much of what they encountered when trying to sell their meat to grocers and restaurants (compared with their current model of selling directly to custumers at farmers markets) must have been extremely frustrating and disappointing.  Kathy’s reply was simple, but profound: “It was education, not disappointment.” She went on to explain how each part of the journey, even ones that didn’t end up fruitful, was part of their education toward what really needed to happen–for their own good, for the good of the customer, and for the good of the bison. Because their philosophy is not steered by making money, but rather by contributing to the Greater Good, it seemed to me that theywere able to put these “frustrations” in the proper perspective. Disappointment is a matter of expectation. Education is a matter of learning, of growth. The same circumstance can be seen either way: it’s our choice on how to perceive it.

I think this is such an important lesson in my own formation. It’s so easy to see setbacks or delays as disappointing. It’s so easy to be discouraged when people just don’t understand the importance of balanced food ethics, or their role in a culture of over-consumption, or the crucial element of conscious solidarity in an active faith life. It’s a temptation.

Yet I think it’s important for me to realize that passion can only take me so far in my faith life (and consequently my vocation). Zeal isn’t necessarily sustainable. It’s valuable, and certainly can be used for goodness, but it’s not sustainable. It’s what is needed for a sprint, but not a marathon. What I pray for today is the sustainable maturity of faith that Kathy and Ken showed us last night. They may not necessarily use those Christian terms, but this language speaks to what I need and pray for–grace to mature in my faith, to be content with the process, the lesson, the metaphor, the now.

The willingness to see the education rather than the disappointment.


Over the past year, I’ve found that one of the most profound practices of solidarity has come from making my own clothes. Today I made myself a shirt:


So I’m not Donna Karan or anything…I mean, it’s certainly simple. But it’s the work of my hands and I’m proud of it.  Here’s a skirt I’m working on:


And one of the most important part of this experience is that I was thinking about how people all over the world are laboring to make us blouses just like this, and that it isn’t by choice or an act of enjoyment. Their next meal may depend on how fast they do it and how accurate the stitches are.

This is a simple act of solidarity…and tonight I hold in my heart all those who labor unjustly, and who cannot take joy in the work of their own hands.

P.S…We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of my husband’s and my one year “Stuff Diet”…stay tuned in the coming weeks for our personal reflections on the successful and not-as-successful aspects of our commitment, and what we learned from our experience (and where we’ll go from here!).

Avoiding Paralysis

I’ve been sitting here this morning working on writing an article on food justice. As I’ve spent a few hours swimming in grim statistics and passionate organizations for relief/philanthropy/justice/political action, I found myself feeling a little overwhelmed.

It’s hard to take a lunch break right after reading that 900,000,000 people chronically suffer from hunger every day in the world. Nine hundred million.

But I think it’s important to walk the balance between being as aware as possible and being so totally paralyzed by the gravity of the information that it becomes personally irrelevant.  It is important to be educated. It is important to be compassionate. But it is also important to not feed the tendency to feel guilt about one’s own full stomach and leak-free roof. If you are one of the lucky upper-percentile in the world that does not have to worry about chronic hunger or civil war or backbreaking work, then: 1) thank God for those blessings right now, 2) ask God to give you the courage to do something with those blessings, and 3) start figuring out a way to help enhance the greater good for the people, policies, international relations, ecological factors, and attitudes that are affected by the decisions we make based on having those blessings.

It’s easy to become paralyzed by guilt. But it doesn’t do any good. It’s also easy to become so overwhelmed by grief or disgust or sadness that we put the realities of the world out of our minds and go about our business. If we don’t think about it, maybe it isn’t going on every second of every day, right? Wrong. Someone’s child is still dying right now because she will not have enough nourishment for her body. Someone is still working in 115 degree heat to keep his family in a simple home. Someone is still pocketing money from the pre-death torture of thousands of animals a day so we can get that cheap bucket of chicken. Someone is still starting on a path of life-long obesity and eventual death because of a culture that couldn’t teach her what was proper and appropriate nourishment for her body. It’s all going on, right now, whether we like it or not.

Some say that guilt is good, because it will make people do something. But I disagree. I don’t think positive action should be sourced in negativity. It has to start from goodness, because it should be sourced in the Ultimate Good, God. It should start out of love. Out of compassion. That is more empowering than any negative emotion in the world.

So when you read about the horrible things that we all should be aware of in our food system, our labor policies, or our ecological circumstances, redirect your emotions to be consciously full of love and compassion. It is from there that sustainable action can begin.

Sugar Rush

So the other day my husband and I were once again purchasing sugar from the store. We tend to go with a variety that claims to be vegan, but that’s not why we buy it. Rather, we buy it because it is one of the only bags of sugar that assures us of both organic and fair labor practices.

Still, every time we buy this particular brand of sugar, the person working at the checkout counter never fails to ask, “What makes it vegan? I didn’t even know sugar wasn’t vegan.” We had no idea either, so we’d usually shrug our shoulders and comment to each other that we’d need to look it up when we got home.

Now, I dabbled in veganism for a little while, and as you know from my previous posts, I’ve spent quite a few years as a committed vegetarian because of the horrors of big agribusiness. But I had no idea what could possibly be un-vegan about sugar. Until a couple days ago, when my husband and I finally remembered to look it up.

We found out that sugar in the US comes from two sources: cane and beet. Because of the way that it needs to be processed, cane sugar is often purified through a charcoal filtration made from bone char–charcoal made from animal bones. Beet sugar doesn’t need this process, and therefore bone char is never used to purify beet sugar. Now, cane sugar filtration doesn’t always use charcoal from bone char–it really depends on the sugar plant that it processing the sugar. But there’s really no way to know from the package. You have to do a little more digging to find out which companies use bone char and which do not. I found this website to be a thorough explanation:

Now, some would say that this is taking things a little too far off the deep end in terms of awareness, but I’m not so sure. I think that there are a lot ways our current food system does a very good job of hiding human and animal exploitation. From the methods of processing to the damaging of local economies far far away, the way our food reaches our tables is not always as simple as we may like to believe.

I think the most important thing here is to simple become slowly more and more conscious of how things are made and how they get to us. You don’t have to go out and become an advocate for unfair labor practices or give up your favorite fast food place…just become aware. Take time to learn about how things work. Then, and only then, can we all have an educated and practical discussion about what we need to do about it–morally, economically, politically. But we can’t get anywhere if we continue to just take things at face value; unfortunately, food has become much more complicated than that.

Why We Choose Local

IMG_4810For the past 3 months, our household has been a proud supporter of a local farm, Tierra Miguel, as one of the main sources of our fruits and vegetables. Getting our box every other Wednesday always gives us a feeling of excitement and anticipation–and, every once in a while, adventurousness (“What in the world do we do with our 3rd week in a row of radishes?”).

Anyone can join a local CSA–which stands for Community Supported Agriculture–and often times you’ll save money by doing so. Basically, the way a CSA works is that you pay a certain amount of money for a share in the year’s crops (some CSAs break it down to seasons, but the idea is the same). For that amount of money you pledge to support the farmer by basically buying a share of their yields. The farmer, in turn, gives you a weekly or biweekly share of whatever he has harvested from his farm that week.

This benefits both the consumer and the farmer. For the farmer, he can rest assured that he/she will be able to stay in business whether or not he has a banner year or a less successful year. For the consumer, he/she can appreciate the bounty of fresh, local foods (knowing the manner in which they are grown as well), can eat seasonally, and can have the opportunity to try new foods and learn new recipes based on the contents of that week’s harvest.

For my husband and me, we’ve also used our CSA membership to use as an opportunity to build relationships. Our CSA offers a monthly work-day; every first Saturday volunteers are welcome to come tour the farm, work on some farm project for a couple hours, and then enjoy a potluck lunch and one another’s company.  It isn’t a requirement, but it is really a neat thing to feel like we are participating in the life of the farm and helping out in the process of bringing food to our table.

Choosing to eat local has other important aspects as well. You don’t have to worry about how many miles the produce had to travel to get to your market–and, likewise, how unnaturally early the produce had to be picked to survive the trek. You don’t have to worry about unnatural chemicals used to unnaturally ripen said produce once it has reached its destination.

Because we know the farmers that run our CSA, we also can feel comfortable in the labor practices that were used to harvest the vegetables. Not only are the farm workers paid fair wages, but they are treated with decency and respect. We know they aren’t exploited to make a quick buck.

Choosing locally produced foods is just another way of building relationships. You have right relationship with the land, with the workers who tend it, with the farmers that oversee its use, and with other like-minded consumers. Not to mention the fun of seeing all the different shapes, sizes, and colors of the fruits and vegetables that are normally uniformly presented on a grocer’s shelf.  Forget your inhibitions about that curly cucumber. You can’t descriminate when it comes to good food! And I think being locally and ethically grown makes it taste all the better.

For more information on a CSA near you, check out:

Our One Month Experiment

So over the weekend, as the new month began, my husband and I began our one month experiment of living with only one vehicle. Per our agreement, only one of our two cars can be in use at any given time. The other person needs to walk, bike, or use public transportation to get where he or she needs to go.

I realize that many, many households function just fine with only one–or even no–car. So this may seem like an easy or obvious choice. In Los Angeles, however, everything is very spread out. Everyone I know has their own vehicle. It’s part of living in LA; as my mother-in-law once told me, “Everything seems to be at least an hour away in LA.” It’s true! So it creates an environment where having one’s own care is almost essential to living here. It’s not extremely bike friendly (although it seems to be getting a little better in some cities). The public transportation system certainly has something to be desired here. Simply put, it’s just easier to have your own car. For example, it takes me 35-40 minutes to drive to my seminary if I leave around 6:30am. But if I take public transportation (1 bus ride and 1 train ride), I have to leave at 6:00am and am barely hustling into class by 8:00am. So not having a car available does entail a little sacrifice.

But enough justification for our car-hogging system. Why are Rob and I downsizing for the month?

One of the reasons is solidarity. When I worked as a first grade teacher, I taught at a school where the kids were mostly children of poor families, whose parents worked as gardeners and housekeepers in the richer parts of the neighborhood. Because the families couldn’t afford to live anywhere near the school, they often lived about 2 hours away. They would all go in their one family vehicle each morning, and the kids would go to school while the parents worked in the neighborhood. Then they would all go home together at the end of the work/school day, facing the same 2 hours commute. It was not an easy life for many of them. Other kids would bus in while their parents worked in the opposite direction. Few lived close enough to walk, but some were able to carpool with other families.

I think it’s important to be mindful of people who can’t just get into a car anytime they want to go get whatever they want. I think that delaying that gratification, or requiring some sort of smaller sacrifice (like walking or riding a bike) is an important lesson in recognizing the many sacrifices that the poor have to make around the world to accomplish the same tasks we take for granted because of easy access to transportation.

Another reason has to do with our path toward simplification. This one is easy to explain: one car is simpler than two. One car requires us to coordinate together and make sure we don’t overextend in the activities that are available to us. Plus, it saves money on gas and gives the walker/biker some exercise. If we end up truly downsizing to one car (eventually selling off the other car), we’ll also save on car insurance. Even though we will have to budget for public transportation, we will also save on the cost to the environment.

I’m sure this experiment won’t come without some trials, so I’ll keep you updated on how everything goes. In the meantime, we continue to pray about how to be as mindful and as grateful as possible on a daily basis.