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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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November 2010

november 2010 earth healing calendar

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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Colors of the Eastern poison ivy plant, Toxicodendron radicans
(photo: Janet Powell)

November Reflections, 2010

       November is again upon us.  Just as on May the First we find the forest clothed in leaves, so exactly six months later we find the woodlands undressing for their winter's rest.  It happens about on schedule, but global climate change is pushing the dressing date into April and the shedding of leaves to mid-November and beyond.  We now note one month's difference in the growing year and suspect that this span may expand.   

      This is the second month of our food series, and culminates in Thanksgiving, when we show our gratitude for the bounty of the harvest season.  The last four decades of my life discussed in November involve more profound changes in food attitudes than the first half of life did, as reported in the October Daily Reflections.  Here we come to grips with our limited resources to effect change, and yet we are confronted with our bountiful harvests that lull us into complacency.  As we make preparations for the holiday season we ought to take serious note of where we came from and where we are going on the issue of food.

               Introduction to 1970s: Food as Ethical and Political 

      They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets. (Luke 9:17)

      In the beginning of 1971, Mike Jacobson, Jim Sullivan, and I launched the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  Mike has been the sole director since 1977.  In the seven years we worked together, CSPI engaged in several areas of consumer and environmental interest stemming from within the tradition of Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law, for which we had all worked.  Mike's own food-related work took off with greater popular appeal, and over time CSPI became increasingly nutrition-oriented, especially after I pulled my research section out and moved to Appalachia in mid-1977.  My hopes were to work more directly with the poor -- something quite difficult in Washington, DC, surrounded by some of America's richest counties. 

      My years in Washington, DC, involved a change in food-related attitudes.  I held on to the Moderation in All Things Principle; for the greater part this seems the best ethical principle, and it governed my everyday practices.  In contrast, others in the emerging public interest movement tended towards choosing good food/avoiding bad foods, the Either/Or Principle.  Certainly toxic materials are to be avoided and, with equal certitude, excesses of good things can be harmful.  We can drown as fast in fresh pure water as in a polluted lake.  I questioned the possible application of one of the CSPI's first publications, "Nutrition Scoreboard."  The scoring of nutritional content for items was not wrong in itself, but the practice of dividing foods into "good" and "bad," though having popular appeal, was contrary to the thinking of the champions of moderation in all things.  Chapter Six in my book Tobacco Days relates this ethical struggle in attempting to moderate smoking practice.  That activity involved the addictive nicotine-containing material -- the heart of cigarette's popular appeal and tobacco profits.  Certainly food is different.

      Moderation in food intake seems at first acceptable to all, but it is not.  Tainted, contaminated, and salt-, fat-, and refined sugar-laced foods challenge the practitioners of moderation.  Granted that food additives (dyes, pesticides, flavorings, etc.) need testing and deserve alert flags, the foods themselves must be scrutinized.  Food moderation still exists however: a) when we eat locally-grown, low-priced, seasonal and still-nutritious food and b) on festive occasions when we allow ourselves to indulge in richer fare such as meat and more desserts.  We think twice in choosing what we are inclined to buy -- or do the food companies influence what we regard as desirable?  Do we have free food choices, or are we subject to subtle forms of enticement?  Do politics and economics enter into food choices?  Striving to answer these 1970s issues led to discovering an ambivalence associated with food-related issues. Let's treat these in turn.   

















Grasses, dried in autumn.
(*photo credit)

November 1, 2010  Do We Make Informed Food Choices? 

      If we look deeply, we discover that choice can be evasive.  My 1970s national public interest decade proved a time that this was so.  If we remain uncritical and follow the company line, we allow advertising to overwhelm us no matter what the item.  What applies when I talk about heavy enticement in Tobacco Days can also be applied with qualification to purchase of commercial foods.   

      We are programmed to change diets more than we think  throughout life.  Children's food is not the adults'; we were weaned from mother's milk and infant formula; we accepted and engaged in school lunch programs; we graduated to fast foods and diet foods and barbecues cooked by friends and confreres.  Few  have rigid lifetime diets; most shift to more available and enticing foods.  We eat faster and we consume fewer relaxed meals; we buy imported and out-of-season foods once slated for festive occasions; we deny that we are eating too much of the wrong thing.  Our diets direct us, not the other way around, for food-eating practices and smoking habits have profound similarities.  Unless fully aware, we tend to become strongly influenced in food choices, despite knowing that food is essential and smoking is a form of entertainment.  Food habits can also tend to be addictive and life-threatening. 

      As a people, are we moving in the direction of resource-costly prepared frozen dinners, snacks, soft drinks and food dishes, or are we still able to cook with basic ingredients even though they take more time to turn into meals?  Do we as Americans note that our diets are based on time availability, locations, foods at hand, and peer pressures -- not on what is grown on our farmstead this year?  We develop new tastes, but what causes this?  Often income is a greater determinant than health issues in diet change.  As tens of millions of Chinese advance to more disposable income, they "acquire" a taste for more expensive and resource-intensive foods; rice and legumes are replaced by meat, eggs, and dairy products along with specialty fruits and prepared meals and snacks-- thereby causing changes in land use and resource distribution. 

      Modern supermarket foods entice us, as we walk the long air-conditioned aisles filled with choices.  We buy from our list, and then personal impulse adds this or that to the shopping basket.  Yes, we are doing what is induced by container appearance: color, shape, logo, etc.  Resolution to buy only needed items has been broken and the labels are passed over.  Over the decades CSPI has championed more informative labels, some have not liked the agency's successful campaign to apply warning labels to wine.  Eventually some labels ARE read.  When eating we may pick up and read the labeled container stating ingredients or calorie contents.  The government has established requirements to check false and extravagant claims.  And the consumer is in agreement. 

      An answer:  No, we do not make totally informed food choices but we ought to.  Opportunities exist to do so. 





Mums to brighten an autumn day.
(*photo credit)

November 2, 2010  Should Emphasis Be on Growing Food? 

      The conscientious consumer demands good food safeguards for what is purchased and consumed.  Often in the early days, CSPI straddled the consumer and the environmental movements -- and discovered that good consumerism is good environmentalism.   However, there is another ingredient that composes the three-legged stool of food, namely local origin of foods.  Consumers want their money's worth and that means high quality, chemical-free, properly weighted, well-labeled food materials.  The focus on good nutrition is part of that high-quality purchase and consumption but not the whole picture. 

      The environmentally-concerned involve themselves in food issues as well.  These citizens prefer foods that are not shipped from great distances (shipping demands transport energy and refrigeration in order to keep the produce fresh).  For them, local food sources become a prized consumer focus and do not demand as many food safety inspections because the origin can be easily checked.  The environmentalist is more focused on resource conservation in the cultivating, processing and delivering of food.  The activist consumer may demand serviceable individualized packaging for protection and verification in purchase as to quality control; the environmentalist may be interested in keeping the packaging of a type that requires fewer resources in production (plastic versus paper or bring-your-own containers).  Furthermore, one can pick up loose produce and put it directly into one's own tote bag. 

      Food purchasers have different concerns from those of food growers.  The more astute food purchasing advocates turn attention to pressuring the Federal Trade Commission with demands for truth in advertising and in local and more comprehensive food safety requirements.  "We become what we PURCHASE and eat."  On the other hand, growers are concerned about production economics, physical exercise, weather, water sources, local individual controls, and spiritual enhancement through communion with soil and plant life. "We become what we GROW and eat."  In part, my move back to the hills of Appalachia from urban DC in 1977 was because the simple lifestyle techniques highlighted in 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle needed to be verified -- and gardening was a major component.  Certainly rural folks need food safeguards and consumer protection for they are also subject to massive infusions of junk foods; but growing one's food in congested urban areas was difficult.

      An answer:  If you have time, space and energy, use them well and grow your own food.  Virtually all of us are purchasers needing to exercise consumer caution, but we can also be growers.  If too old, or ill, or young, or busy, then moderate the extent of growing.  If able, then be both a grower and a purchaser in ways that allow for growing herbs, salad greens, and root crops well into autumn.  Limit purchase to foods not easily grown in limited space.  In buying, recall caveats made in the previous essay; be discerning as to quality and price, and patronize local growers. 




Brightly colored red and gold against blue sky.
(*photo credit)

November 3, 2010   Have We Calculated All Food Energy?

      We can talk about the energy content of food in two ways: the internal energy or the amount of calories that can be obtained by digesting certain foods; and the amount of external energy it takes to grow, process, transport and preserve the food.   

      With reference to the first, we could focus on "empty calories" to be avoided by those with weight problems; we could also focus on the needed, rich-calorie foods needed by famished workers or trail hikers who need extra energy.   

      With reference to external energy factors, we search about and find non-renewable energy inputs in many often hidden places.  We may want to stop or to continue searching for energy factors such as advertising and promotion, or land fertilization or preparation for crop-growing.  We tend to neglect these more hidden factors, depending on whether we want to prove more or less energy use:

         energy in crop growth and tillage and harvesting;

         energy to transport produce to processing centers;

         energy in agricultural waste disposal;

         energy in processing the raw materials;

         energy in manufacturing food containers;

         energy in transporting foods from place to place;

         energy in commercial storage, refrigeration, and lighting;

         energy in bringing foods to the kitchen;

         energy to refrigerate and store along with added

         external energy to dispose of wasted food;

         energy it takes to prepare the food for the meal; and

         energy to wash utensils and dishes. 

       Let's take two cases; in one we want to air-ship raw grapes from South America to our regional distributing center; these are transported by refrigerated truck to the grocery and there they are refrigerated and a certain percentage sold and not tossed.  We go by automobile and purchase the raw grapes, take them home, and decide to eat them as a nutritious dessert or for snacks.  We note this unprocessed food has a considerable external food energy input.  In contrast, we eat only seasonally-grown local grapes that occur in August up to and into early autumn.  We go out, pick, and eat them right there.  Virtually no external energy is needed and yet the same nutrition may exist (provided neither example is treated with pesticides). 

      An answer:  Attributing external energy is a complex and somewhat difficult task.  Have we included the governmental security factors in bringing foods into this country or the costs of safety procedures?  However, granting the limits of what is accounted for, there is some value in comparing different methods for obtaining a desired food product.  The thrust for transparency will make us more likely to include energy expenditures that others would prefer to overlook.  The exercise is not precise but can help raise levels of food/energy/environmental consciousness. 






Friends. (Green frog, Rana clamitans).
(*photo credit)

November 4, 2010       Do We have to Go Organic? 

      A mounting effort is being made today to grow, certify, classify and purchase "organic foods," a fast-growing segment of the total food economy.  Organic foods are those free from commercially-synthesized pesticides and fertilizers as well as other medicinal, growth-enhancing, and commercially-available chemical substances.  The buzz word is "natural," and so organic evolved beyond the subject matter of our organic chemistry field.  In the world of chemists, "organic" meant naturally-derived chemicals, but through human-induced synthesis came to include all carbonaceous compounds synthesized from coal tar or petroleum into carbon-derived materials.  My tradition as a synthetic organic chemist included being thrilled to make new products whether useful or not, and mine were not naturally-derived organic chemicals -- they came from the most part from fossil fuel derived chemicals.  For food purists "organic" means non-synthesized and challenges synthetic organic chemists.  This is not always understood. 

      Fertilizers termed "organic" are the most difficult for  chemists to accept.  All admit that overuse of concentrated synthetic fertilizers has contaminated water systems through runoff and caused unnatural growth patterns among crops.  For the life of me, I have to favor some basic "synthetic" fertilizers even though their overuse is quite harmful.  My own fertilizing materials include not only my kitchen compost, but also my diluted urine on occasion, and certain wood ashes and mature horse manure.  However, although I do not buy commercial fertilizers that are anathema to some, neither do I condemn them.  My choice is because I am cheap, not because I am theoretically opposed to their proper use.  Use commercial fertilizers when you need to, but use them sparingly. 

      Pesticides that are synthetic rightly alarm many gardeners.  I recall hired hands on our tobacco farm would get sick from applying a lead arsenate, "Paris Green," (an inorganic chemical) on hot, muggy summer days.  On the farm we also applied potent pesticides to beans and potatoes; however, in the years since, I have refrained from such applications for the sake of the agent and others who would handle and consume the plants.  My professional gardener, great uncle told about a spray plane flying over his field and playfully spraying his field workers -- and one got very sick.  Powerful pesticides are no laughing matter.  Not all pesticides wash off easily or disappear quickly.  I refrain from such pesticides and let a few pests take their toll.  Try growing  companion plants that are very attractive to Japanese beetles (evening primrose) and higher on the pecking order than grape leaves and beans.  Marigolds discourage certain pests.

      An answer:  Use as few commercial chemicals as possible whether as medicine or in your home, garden, lawn or orchard.  Absolutely "organic" is difficult to attain, retain, and sustain today because contaminating chemicals are persistent and becoming somewhat ubiquitous.  If organic certification is too painstaking and costly, do the best to reduce the use of commercial chemicals. 







A once-productive henhouse.
(*photo credit)

November 5, 2010  Are We Overly Concerned about Food Nutrition? 

      Can one overdose on "nutritional supplements?"  I watched in horror as a friend took his daily massive handful of vitamins and nutritional compounds at his breakfast table.  He obtained all this assortment of freebies from a health center where his wife works.  Maybe each item is good in its own right, but what on earth does such a combination do to the human being when metabolized  simultaneously?  Isn't this a form of overdosing?  Isn't a combination of too many good things possibly a bad thing? 

      A few people grow up in a household that sets ordinary food before them and they are grateful -- and eat it.  Another portion of eaters are more picky; they dictate what they like, and their diets could involve too much meat, fat or sugar.  Nutritional balance is harder for them to establish.  Some live totally healthy lives through balanced eating and never taking supplements and extra vitamins.  In other cases, people lack certain basic ingredients and, upon proper diagnosis, their doctors prescribe particular supplements. In other cases friends do the prescribing.  Nutrition applies to everyone but in different ways.  

      People are willing to invest in what they term good foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, etc.) and omit what they call bad (excess salt, refined sugar and fat).  They will think it good to eat strawberries that they know are loaded with Vitamin C, and yet forget they are loaded with pesticides to help them stay plump and fresh when being shipped from a foreign country in mid-winter.  When we construct a three-legged stool of local food, economic food, and nutritious food, we must consider energy expenditures in air-shipping strawberries.  If we neglect the other two components (namely price and local growing), nutrition concerns can get out of kilter.  Choosing to consume nutritious foods, locally-grown in season, is healthy for us and Earth; choosing to pay high prices for imported out-of-season nutritious foods is not.  

      Let's always champion balanced nutrition.  Generally a healthy diet goes along with healthy physical exercise, and this allows for more sugar, fat or salt when these can be burnt off and eliminated in the form of sweat.  Thus balanced body exercise allows a greater variety than nutritionally-concerned "foodies" permit in their kitchens.  Let's honor the attempt to refrain from eating out-of-season food that is not grown in a local greenhouse or protected garden, or preserved as frozen, or canned, or dried, or pickled, or stored in a root cellar.   

      An answer:  It is possible for some to become overly concerned about many things, including personal health.  We ought to uphold and honor balanced nutrition at all times, as worthy of consideration along with food economy and local food sources.  We need to live simply and not follow the affluent overconcern about every detail of life, for that can devolve into selfishness.  Let's affirm a concern about a plentiful supply of good nutritious food for our immediate and our entire global family.  




Berries of the flowering dogwood, Cornus florida.
(*photo credit)

November 6, 2010   Is Food an Instrument of Resolution? 

      While residing in Washington, DC, I became personally acquainted with Esther Peterson (1906-1997), who was the Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs under the Johnson and Carter administrations, and later president of the National Consumers League.  In that period, Esther was a vice president of Giant Foods and an advisor to our CSPI on food issues.  I was always ambivalent about "consumerism," for it did not always include a balanced environmental component.  In one meeting with Esther, I expressed my anti-nuclear energy concerns; she said she wanted to get me together with her pro-nuke acquaintances, and she was willing to invite us all to a good home-cooked spaghetti meal to hash this whole issue out.  Now to me that was a Washington approach, mixing my-mother's-home-cooking-solves-problems philosophy with a major global issue.  Yes, a home-cooked meal sounded great, but I told Esther that although while tempting, I doubted that it could resolve matters.  Something far more fundamental was at stake.

      We need not deny the power of partaking meals together.  Jay Womik in The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800 writes about "the most famous dinner in American history (p. 163).  On June 20, 1790, Thomas Jefferson, who knew how to entertain with good food and wine, invited James Madison and Alexander Hamilton to his house and they hammered out a compromise; this was to have the states' Revolutionary War debts assumed by the federal government; at the same it would placate Virginia by proposing that the Federal District be placed on the Potomac River between that state and Maryland.  Simple compromise worked there but it does not always work.  Where fundamentals are at stake, orchestrated meals may only define differences.  Meals may resolve personal matters, but rarely do they have the same success as that one in 1790. 

      Ralph Nader told his raiders never to take even a cup of coffee from someone with whom we have fundamental differences.  I regret that I took a cup of coffee from an oil company executive once and then refrained from bringing up a matter of the company's pollution problems.  Washington, DC, is a charged place, one where all are in general agreement about the need for government, and so conviviality through food and drink is one way of coming to compromise.  But are all potential compromises equal, especially when one side has far more political or economic power than another?  Sharing food is necessary when people are hungry; it is not necessarily desirable if an issue in question deserves formal debate.  Food can help resolve personal issues; that is not so in all political and economic problem areas where compromise means capitulation to the stronger side -- who pays for the meal. 

      An answer:  Let's not devalue the power of a good meal together, for many times differences can be defined or worked through.  Sharing food has its place, but we ask whether each and every difference ought to be resolved by eating together.  Some demand public debate away from a dining atmosphere. 




Colors of the faded Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis.
(*photo credit)

November 7, 2010      Homily: God of the Living?

      God is not the God of the dead but of the living. (Luke 20:38) 

     I wrote the first draft of this homily in mid-summer while at breakfast.  I was eating to my heart's content and National Public Radio was giving a press report; it was announcing that eight million, or half of Niger's population, was threatened with starvation.  Was I so calloused as to continue without some thought of brothers and sisters on another continent who did not have enough to keep them alive?  The report added that the food supplies were sufficient to give high protein supplements to those under the age of two.  This triage of food supplies meant that the three-year-olds were condemned to the terror of hunger.  

      Let's remember that hunger is a form of terror, though never defined as such by the well-fed.  Our nation was spending one billion dollars a day fighting terrorism in a military way on another continent.  Something is wrong if we also hold that ALL are alive for God, and gentle ways could also reduce terrorism.  How are we to judge a dispersal of world resources so that our supposed security and welfare are ensured militarily through exercises that endanger the lives of others?  We show in our actions that God is truly with us -- and we do this by ensuring life for all in the human family, for to be "for God" means being for people. 

      Some may say, "Let's be practical."  We can only focus on so much security at one time, and some of the armed ones will be sacrificed in the process.  Yes, I am attempting to be practical in this month of food concerns.  Being practical in the most elementary sense is furnishing basics to those most in need -- and this has a higher priority than killing terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Terror comes in many forms, and we cannot look to eliminating one while allowing an equally and more far-reaching variety to go unchallenged and unchecked.  World hunger is a global AND a terrorist issue.  We need to see this.

      World hunger could be eliminated with only a fraction of the one-and-a-half trillion dollars spent each year on military forms of security -- and this could be the greatest form of global security in itself.  In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI calls for an elimination of world hunger because it is an ethical imperative of the Church, and also because this has become a requirement for the peace and stability of our world.  Actually we could work together in collective citizenship and change the politics of world hunger.  Consider obtaining and discussing the new book by David Beckmann, Exodus from Hunger (Westminister: John Knox,  October, 2010).  Also contact "Bread for the World, "<www.bread.org> for "What You Can Do to End Hunger." 

      Prayer for the week:  Lord help us to see that our human efforts can make an immense difference, if we but work together to alleviate the urgent problems of world hunger. 

    Introduction to 1980s: Food as Humanly Touched 

   With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread...(Gen. 3:19) 

     I returned from Washington, DC, to Appalachia in 1977.  My firm resolution (with the encouragement of my Jesuit superiors) was to apply the suggestions made in our recent CSPI book, 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle (Anchor Press, 1976 and University of Indiana Press, 1978).  Chapter III of that book dealt with fourteen food topics (e.g., Eat Less Meat, Eat Wild Foods. etc.) and Chapter IV treated seven more (Garden on Available Land, etc.).  Thus the hopes for the new Appalachian center (Appalachia -- Science in the Public Interest) included a local food production element. 

      Though I was born on a farm, still by 1977 it had been two decades since I had seriously gardened.  New concerns such as use of pesticides and tillage methods had emerged.  The challenge went further than past practices; space on which to grow vegetables is more limited in Appalachia.  Time for us to devote to gardening had to be planned with greater care, since the work of operating an appropriate technology demonstration center was all consuming. 

Before leaving DC, I had already been committed to making a garden a basic focal point of my diet.  Our small Jesuit community that lived at the Franciscan Shrine grounds in north Washington, had access to a large lawn.  We obtained permission to use part of that space for some small-scale gardening.  We were becoming convinced that locally-grown food tastes better when mixed with one's own sweat and the touch of one's own hands and heart. 

      With time one looks for deeper reasons for gardening.  A higher quality of life is available somewhere on the continuous resource-expenditure-range from destitution to overabundance -- and what constitutes sufficiency for different individuals can be found over a broad zone.  Obtaining those resources in that middle range can occur through gardening and growing what one eats.  This gardening can be so engrossing that public interest work can be overlooked or relegated to others.  Balance must be retained. 

      Upon establishing ASPI we discovered that voluntary lifestyle change without some governmental regulation is virtually impossible in our crassly materialistic culture.  The middle course calls for voluntary change along with willing cooperation among democratic people so that the food commons may be reclaimed by all.   

      A more troubling question is whether people can undertake the middle course, if addicted to materialistic consumption.  Can they voluntarily come to a simplicity under certain conditions, especially if they are among the great majority of Americans bombarded by advertisements to buy, get a credit card, gamble and, as leaders say, "consume"?  Addictions in food-related matters cloud good judgment.  Do we excuse the over-consumption as a person's private matter?  Should we regulate excessive lifestyle and apply anti-drug campaigns into areas of excessive food intake?





A late-migrating monarch.
(*photo credit)

November 8, 2010   Is Simplicity in Gardening Easy to Teach? 

      In the 1980s, I began to take gardening seriously.  This involved doing my own thing, since it took too much time supervising the inexperienced.  I wrestled with how much time it takes to teach gardening; it involves more than distributing tools and saying, "Go to work."  An inexperienced gardener cannot tell a weed from a useful plant, how close to hoe without disturbing a root system, what to mulch, or the importance of not tramping in the growing area.  Even the time of day is a matter of when to work in the garden.  The general consensus that everyone can garden needs some distinctions:  everyone should garden; everyone has something to learn from others who have gardened in the past.     

        Gardening economics is a driving force behind growing your own produce.  In fact, the other advantages of gardening such as physical exercise and resource conservation (no transportation costs) can help multiply the dollar-and-cents savings beyond mere calculations of savings per hour spent.  Small plots will not be spacious enough to feed families who want to satisfy bulk needs such as corn; however such plots can go a long way to satisfying the desire for certain higher-priced specialty items that are highly nutritious, but beyond the normal shopping list.  Where more land is available, the grower may opt for lower-priced crops such as potatoes or cabbage.  When the land is still more spacious, one can consider pumpkins, watermelons, sunflowers, and sweet corn. 

      The human touch is of utter importance; we must touch the soil in which we receive nutrition and life.  We bless the land when we touch it and work with it to our benefit.  Our over-indulging consumer culture suffers from a disease that some term "Affluenza."  Just as destitution is undesirable, over-abundance at the other end of the consumption spectrum has its negative effects as well.  A happy middle ground is the space in which material goods are not too scarce nor too abundant.  When speaking of food, appropriate "use" means moderating the amount of intensive-resource foods and choosing less resource-intensive, simpler foods.  Many in this world suffer from near destitution and a billion go to bed hungry. 

    The United Nations estimates that one hundred million people are in danger of lapsing into destitution for lack of food; an additional billion people lack decent affordable housing and safe drinking water.  On the other end of the resource spectrum, a privileged few overuse resources. Yes, lack of communal health includes global destitution and over-consumption of resources including excessive amounts of resource-rich food (meat and processed foods).  Overconsumption of resources leads to group insecurity and overstress on maintaining possessions:  vehicles, electronics, houses.  Maintenance of resources takes time. 

      An answer:  A willing gardener is open to learning at all times, and besides basic gardening technique we all must learn what can be grown optimally on the garden space available.  The practice can also lead to simplifying one's lifestyle. 





Rain barrel to store and supply water for small garden plot.
(*photo credit)

November 9, 2010    Locally-Grown: Are We What We Eat? 

      There are a series of reasons for locally grown foods.  If we are what we eat, then let's be local: 

   1. Spirituality:  Natural growth processes generate rhythms of the soul.  We are spiritually uplifted in growing our own food.

    2. Resources:  Energy savings result from raising home-grown produce in contrast to factory-farming and transporting food.

    3. Personal Control:  Gardening allows households to avoid contaminants on produce and to ensure the safety of their foods through organic processes.

    4. Environment:  Eating local produce helps avoid damaging land fertility and the environment, provided good practices are used. 

    5. Labor Practices:  Home growers have better control of labor practices at all stages of food production and preparation.  Consider the exploitation of migrant farm workers, who are often expected to work without adequate protection against agricultural poisons and without proper housing conditions. 

    6. Aesthetics:  Let's beautify the countryside.  Construct the garden landscape artistically through the choice of plants, the timing of maturation and the careful placement of each vegetable.

    7. Eco-justice:  Make a powerful political statement of social justice/eco-justice through gardening.  We will not buy products unless we are sure that workers receive a just wage. 

    8. Health:  Obvious health benefits occur to all including older people who get outside exercise and fresh air when gardening.  A sense of well-being and control over one's life comes from self-sustenance and result in improved health.

    9. Savings:  Economic benefits result from growing one's own nutritious foods and sharing them with others in the vicinity.  We are experiencing rapidly inflating food prices.  At a time of inflated food prices, savings accrue by growing one's own food.

    10. Psychology: In growing our own food we can take control over our own lives and gain an added measure of self-respect.  We provide for ourselves and break the total dependence on others for our food needs -- and this encourages us to take other actions. 

    11. Model:  We show others in the local area what they can do to become self-sustaining through gardening.  People tend to imitate those who are neighbors and find that learning about gardening is less threatening if teachers are familiar to them. 

      An answer:  Yes, we are what we eat, so let's remain local to the greatest degree possible.  






Small town market, Cardwell, KY.
(*photo credit)

November 10, 2010  Is Knowing the Food Source a Control on Quality?              

     If we choose locally-grown food, we have a better chance of knowing the source and deciding whether what is grown is good for us.  Difficulties arise when we want our food to come from indeterminate places.  Local farmers' markets allow the interaction of grower and consumer.  However, while growing one's own is better than just knowing the growing and marketing conditions, sometimes the latter is the best we can do.  Some cannot be growers; the elderly or ill do not have the capability, nor do the very young, or the overly busy, who do not have sufficient time to do much of anything but work and snatch times for eating and sleeping. 

      Today, those of us with the energy to grow things ought to strive for "Freedom Gardens," that is, gardens free from corporate control of our eating materials.  These are equivalent to the "victory gardens" of the Second World War.  These freedom gardens can supply plentiful, nutritious, low-cost food so that we can free up mass-produced crops -- grains, root crops, and edible oil-bearing crops -- for export.  The freedom gardener gains many benefits: physical, spiritual, social and economical -- and a different way of seeing life in which we have a part to play.

      Much urban land is now in lawn, which consumes about one-seventh of our energy-intensive fertilizer plus the fuel needed by motorized lawn-care instruments (it takes less non-renewable energy to cultivate gardens than to manicure lawns).  The locally-grown produce requires no transport energy; neighbors who are gently prodded to do similar things and, through community give-and-take, can overcome the natural embarrassment of being inexperienced; and  the garden can become a beautiful and diversified landscape that stands in contrast to monolithic lawns.  

      The major advantage of locally-grown food, especially grown on once-prime farmland-turned-suburban-residence, should not be overlooked.  Many concerned environmentally-conscious people talk about "farming on the edge" and mean the encroachment of development on otherwise large tracts of farmland in every state of our country with expanding metropolitan areas through suburban sprawl.  One can grow produce around or above buildings (roofs).  New-found garden space is all about and can extend seasonally through cold frames, berming, and greenhouses.  Upon virtually any urban survey, one can discover vacant urban areas that could be converted to community gardens for those short of growing space.   With changes in attitudes about food, people come to prefer more locally-grown food while out-of-season foods appeal to the affluent, thanks to rapid air-shipping and refrigeration.  However, the carbon footprint is horrible, and possible pesticides go undetected, all for the sake of the perfect appearance.  All able-bodied citizens ought to aspire to be food producers.  Is that too much to ask of our countrymen and women? 

      An answer:  Desiring to choose locally-grown foods means we ought to know the sources of the food materials.  









Home-grown shiitake mushroom, harvested after brisk autumn rain.
(*photo credit)

November 11, 2010  Is Having Fresh Produce Better-Quality Living?  

    The tripod of good gardening is good fresh quality, nutritional content, and productive yields.  The fresh quality refers to both the feel of the produce and the taste of that which comes directly from the garden.  Through choice of specific cultivars within the vegetable groups (along with proper harvesting, preserving, and cooking), we can retain quality texture and taste that please the tongue and palate; through careful selection of crops, good nutritional content can be secured; and through raised beds, interplanting and other intensive techniques, the quality-minded gardener can obtain plentiful yields. 

      Current mass-produced vegetables involve picking hybridized unripe produce, shipping for long distances in refrigerated units, using artificial ripening agents, and selling in a supermarket chain.  The nutritional value of such commercial produce is limited when it is harvested before ripening, for vitamins and other components do not have time to develop.  Commercial producers desire products that are perfect in appearance, that is, free from blemishes, without regard to the presence of chemical pesticides or the loss of nutritional content.  Chemical-free commercial produce is not easily found under such conditions and is higher priced.  A wormy apple may be unappetizing, but it may indicate the absence of pesticides.  My finicky aunt accepted worms on or in produce, calling them signs of chemically-free conditions and, if accidentally cooked, a source of protein. 

      Today, many engage in higher-quality lifestyle practices such as smaller vehicles, less spacious homes, less fashionable clothing, more time with family (down-sizing job expectations),  growing and purchasing locally-grown organic foods (nutritional quality), and more time given to the arts and music.  In a world of limited resources, we might emphasize obtaining bulk products (materials that are needed in large quantity) -- food, water, building materials and energy supplies -- from sources close at hand where quality is controlled and transportation costs reduced.  Higher quality grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs allow for a more balanced and wholesome diet that uses less resource-intensive food.  This quality diet means less use of resource-intensive domestic animal products by everyone.  Unit-for-unit, the meat-, milk- and egg-producing domestic animal is a consuming agent, requiring considerable feed to stay alive, reproduce, and furnish products for human consumption.  Much grain is required for conversion to the final animal product that is ultimately consumed.  Grain-fed beef is at the highest end of this intensity scale, with pork, middling, and poultry and fish at the lower end of the scale.  Animal feed (corn, other grains, hay, soybean byproducts, and even pastures) takes up a considerable portion of our prime farmland. 

      An answer: Freshness is a food quality that means better taste and heightened nutritional value; by being discriminating in this quality, the consumer will be on the lookout for other issues of concern related to food production and consumption. 





Home-cultivated blackberries from wild bushes.
(*photo credit)

November 12, 2010   What are Small-Scale Gardening Techniques?        

     Each of us develops a certain cadre of techniques which are modifications on existing garden ideas.  Mine include:   

     Raised beds allow for the excess water to drain off rapidly and permit me to cultivate soon after a rain.  Some people require mechanical tillers to do some of the hard work in the spring.  On the other hand, fashioning a raised bed takes a lot of initial human physical labor, but regard it both as physical exercise and as an investment in the future of the garden.  In fact, gardening is a moderate physical exercise using a variety of muscles; it is not repetitive like cycling or hiking.  The rising and bending and working of hands and back muscles are all part of growing vegetables, herbs and flowers, all of which can be intermixed. 

     Mulching is important for keeping down the weeds; once you are convinced, you will be happy to know that extensive literature exists on types of mulch (plastic, leaves, sawdust, straw, dry grass, etc.).  I find that vegetative mulching with vine plants is really the best, provided the peppers and tomatoes are not smothered by the more aggressive varieties of cucumber or cantaloupe vines.  Once we realize what the spatial needs of a certain vegetable are, we can consider room for expansion at a given plant location.  We can place certain plants near paths or open lawn for future expansion; with greater care we can allow the plant (zucchini near certain herbs) to act as a vegetative cover for others.  I like to plant peppers amid cucumbers because the vine cover protects the peppers that grow straight up and need little extra room in early summer. 

     Floral intermixing gives color to the area, and at the same time marigolds and other flowers serve to keep certain insects away.  On the positive side, the presence of enticing flowers will act as an attractant for butterflies and for pollinating insects that are so crucial to all produce.  Cosmos volunteer and return the following year and give a special color from late June to autumn.  Also insects and butterflies like certain flowers.  

     Various salad greens are needed, for the cost of fresh produce in most places mounts up, and the greens' nutritional value is immense.  A goal ought to be to introduce a variety of salad tastes during the entire year, especially during the non-growing winter months.  Greens have other benefits; for instance, mustard borders serve as barriers to roving rabbits.     

      Herb-growing in small areas is worth considering, since fresh parsley or oregano are good for spicing soups or other dishes.  Many herbs can thrive in winter in pots, and thus be moved from outdoors to indoors as the weather becomes colder. 

      An answer:  Gardening has many benefits when done on the small-scale level.  After we become convinced, we can go out to our non-growing neighbors and gently prod them to garden as well. 








Livestock, grazing in pasture.
(*photo credit)

November 13, 2010   Should We Preserve Surplus Food? 

     In answering this question we recall that preserving efforts can take time, require storage space, and may not necessarily lead to a higher quality product -- especially if surpluses can be distributed and consumed by the needy.  Refrigeration replaced salt as the major preserving agent about 1900.  An ancient motivation for preserving was for plentiful food during non-growing periods.  Other obvious benefits include:  convenient food for a variety of winter menus; good budget strategy and a hedge against food-price rises; emergency supplies at times of floods, violent storms, or earthquakes; showcase of good housekeeping because open shelving delights visitors; practice that prevents the wasting of food produced; and a reduction in the number of grocery store trips.         

     How do we preserve surplus brassicas, cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes?  Our foresighted ancestors thought ahead to the non-growing colder season; they dried, salted, canned, stored in root cellars, and left root crops in the ground.  We imitate their foresightedness through existing and new food preserving-techniques: 

     * Root Cellars are long tested as a good place to store produce.  These storage places are partly or totally submerged outer buildings or interior space.  They are dark and cool places at constant temperature and controlled humidity, where produce can be preserved during winter.  Root cellars are good for potatoes, virtually all the root crops, squash, pumpkins, brassicas, apples, pears, celery, and even individually-wrapped tomatoes. 

      * Canning fruits, berries and vegetables takes effort in the heat of summer, but preserved food tastes great in winter and the contents are beautiful to behold on storage shelves. 

      * Solar drying is a low-priced excellent preserving-technique for low-moisture produce such as carrots, onions and apples.  In its own way, this technique has been around a long time also. 

      Pickling involves the ancient use of common salt; curing meat through the salting process dates back to hams from Celtic lands transported to Roman overlords almost two millennia ago.  The salting or "pickling" process extends to cabbage (sauerkraut), cucumbers, beets, peppers, and turnips as well as eggs. 

     Freezing produce is a convenient food-preserving method, but generally uses non-renewable energy to operate.  Some products become leather-like through freezing without special treatment, but the method works well for corn, peas, berries and many fruits. 

     Allowing crops to winter in the soil is a simple preservation method in temperate areas. In Kentucky, we can protect carrots, Japanese radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and turnips. 

      An answer:  Yes, but be open to ways for better preserving. 




November leaves on deciduous trees remain green only for a short time in Kentucky.
(*photo credit)

November 14, 2010   Homily: Do We Know the Changing Seasons?

    ...When will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?  
                                                                         (Luke 21:7)

     In this year 2010, many people have become deniers of what is really happening, namely, the rapid warming of our planet.  Can't they look out and see hotter summer months that seem to break a record each year, or hear of calving ice caps, or observe floods and droughts and rising oceans?  Some fearful people choose to deny that climate change is of human causation, and prefer to regard this as an anomaly or quirk of nature.  They prefer to defend the status quo -- if there even is such a thing.  Today's Scripture readings have never been more pertinent than in this year 2010.    

     Security in the Lord involves a fear and also a trust.  Our fears need to be well-founded with acute observation; furthermore, we can do something about what is happening.  We are not fated to the inevitable; we can make our future in an active way.  The materialistically-concerned address insecurities by more insurance, anti-ballistic missiles, wallets of cash, credit cards, college degrees, locks, vehicles, full storage bins, alarm systems, and on and on.  The spiritually-concerned are equally fearful but sometimes address the conditions through minimizing the changes or saying they result from natural causation.  They may affirm personal wrongdoing and group wrongdoing in the same breath.  No, we do sin and we make mistakes, and part of this is what we have collectively done to our earthly environment.   

      If this planet's age were a single year, Christ would come in the last moments.  He postpones his return out of mercy but it will be "soon."  Let us prepare to meet him.  He assures us our past was  imperfect; our future can be better; our present must be our point of immediate focus.  When havoc is pending and major changes occur, people may retreat into a state of denial.  They seek desperately to grasp for some control on matters, to deny that changes really are happening at such speed.  Change never comes easily, for this takes a deepening spirituality with a longer term outlook. 

      An authentic spirituality calls us to thank God for the opportunity to serve the Almighty here and now.  We pray for the insight to see these times through keen observation and a serenity of spirit.  All of this calls us to ask the right questions and listen for the response from wherever it will come.  Remember, materialists are distracted by glitzy things; those with false spiritualities may fixate on an idealized past that did not really exist.  Both sets are insecure, though reacting differently.  We ought to pray for a chance to have a more balanced outlook on life.     

     Prayer of the week: Lord, help us to give thanks for your gifts.  One gift is to know the signs of these times.  In the urgency of the present moment, we beg you to keep us alert and to help extend this sense of urgency to those who deny the signs that face us all. 

     Introduction to 1990s: Food in Excess:  An Adult Problem  

      The 1990s, the final decade of the twentieth century, found me having a radically different attitude about food.  The decade was ending with a new outlook on the world, as the USSR collapsed and the grip of Russia on fifteen other nations was broken.  The global capitalists were convinced they had triumphed -- and everything, even food, was affected by the victory.  The century had experienced the Green Revolution, mechanized farm practices, corporate farming and pesticides, and new types of genetic seeds, synthetic fertilizers, UN food programs, storage facilities, giant cargo ships, and instant communications.  We could tackle hunger on a worldwide level, and profit-makers were poised to benefit.     

      As for my part, aging was resulting in a portly stature edging close to obesity.  My appetite was still as grand as ever, but the body no longer needed as much food.  Weight was starting to climb and instead of having the lowest weight among my male siblings, I was moving to having the largest -- imperceptibly at first.  The moderate weight of the 1980s was now being stretched, and weight- watching was a possible concern.  My gut was the focus and I was not unique either;  I was joining the food-excessive American majority.  The only comfort was that various physicians said that, as we age, a little more weight is better for warding off and recovering from the opportunistic illnesses that afflict our age groups.  Cold comfort, if we see that enhanced weight also has additional health effects such as heart trouble and diabetes.  We elders tend to focus on high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high sugar levels -- along with higher scale readings.  

      Exercise yes, but it is hard enough to resolve to set time aside each day for the one hour that is recommended.  However, the will to allocate time is only part of the problem; actually physical exercise can also trigger expanded appetite, more eating, and more weight.  This becomes a vicious circle, for the more we try to take off, the more we gain in those extra helpings.  Part of our weight-watching must involve reducing caloric intake and eating more nutritious foods such as more expensive fresh fruit.   

      Comfort comes when we realize that we need less of the wholesome foods and thus smaller purchases.  Having said this, the lesson is hard for elders to learn, for we like what we eat and habits are harder to change with age.  We search about for reasons that permit the status quo -- and what we like is hard to abandon.  Those of us who seek to be in solidarity with the poor realize that pastas, beans, and cornbread cost less than fresh fruits, yogurt and most nuts -- and yet add weight.  Diet changes seem to make Lent a year-round season, but it also brings self-control to the forefront.  Change we must, and so the search for good reasons goes on and on.  Less weight makes us more mobile as well as puts us on a better health track.  We stay younger in looks and spirit. 



Lattice atop fresh wild berry pie.
(*photo credit)

November 15, 2010    Is Food Always Tempting and Enticing?

      Few things increase girth in middle age faster than to give up smoking and/or physical exercise.  I gave up the first and modified the second over time.  One friend confided that he gave up smoking and immediately exploded by thirty pounds in the same number of days; however, he began jogging daily and has continued well into his eighties -- and he seems to be in good health as of this writing.  Elders cannot expect to remain in the same condition as in youth, but it was difficult for me after forty-three years of jogging to give up that beloved exercise.  Burning off calories easily and the running "high" experienced in jogging are missed.  However, the body tells us something in new backaches and wounded knees, though joggers realize there is no good substitute.

      Moderation in exercise and smoking cessation ought to allow for greater self-control.  To gain such control often makes food smell, taste, and look better -- that final allurement for the weight-gain prone.  In youth, when calories were being burned at a rapid rate, we thought we would stay thin forever.  Not so.  In aging, we are actually under less stress and the metabolism changes allowing  weight to be added and added, hardly ever subtracted.  We have to acquire techniques that give a sensation of fullness or keep our minds on other subjects.

     Moderation in all things is still a good principle in food-related matters, especially when the foods are good and the portions are appropriate.  However, appropriateness includes size and frequency.  Our thought is to satisfy the appetite, and our imaginations suddenly see good foods crop up in many places; a thought occurs to go to the food shelf or refrigerator one more time.  Advertisements can allure us with sights of good dishes; restaurants can beckon; friends can invite us to meals.  It was a shock for me to see that my 170-pound range of many decades turned to the 200-plus-pound range.  Middle age spread is a reality when you love to eat good food.

      There are many ways of dieting and saying "no," but none come easily with respect to food.  Food issues become present and stay in importance triggering our brains to call out for a little more.  It is amazing that when we forget the names of all but the closest of associates, we still can vividly recall the sights, smells, and tastes of our favorite foods.  Acquaintances are forgotten, unless they are edible.  Each food dish carries with it a concatenation of events and warm feelings that rush back into vivid memory.  

      An answer:  For those of us with good appetites, food is always tempting except when we are really sick.  The better thing to do is get one's mind off the food issue and concentrate on other desirable practices -- or to have a glass of water.  Remove oneself from ready access to food; limit eating times; regulate snack food variety and availability; take smaller portions; refuse desserts or just have a taste of the richer food; and eat less in the evening. 






White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata).
(*photo credit)

November 16, 2010   Must We Always Avoid Fatty Food?

    Fat foods go to the gut and storage places of human fat. I used to like to weigh myself after jogging, but now the daily exercise is more difficult to endure even if the results must be registered in the daybook.  Fatty foods are part of the obesity problem in this nation.  The percentage of people weighing more than the obesity mark (depending on personal size and body density) has risen in recent years from 15% to 20%, and now to +25% of the total population in a number of states including Kentucky. In 2010, in over half the American states, obesity rates have increased.  Causes are generally attributed to too much of the wrong food and too little exercise.  One could add other factors:  lower smoking rates; more sitting during the day; less walking and more driving; larger helpings and increased size of restaurant servings. 

      People who fit into the obese categories just mentioned ought to be doubly alerted.  Get the problem kids to become active again and forego the computer games.  Regard weight control as a total family problem, not just an individual's.  Our circuits are wired to like the smell of fast food, the mouth-watering advertisements, the tastes of salt, fat, and sugar, and the prices that beckon people to come and consume more and more.  The result of being caught by excess food includes obesity, diabetes and heart disease. 

      David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, writes and speaks extensively of this barrage of food enticements that affect us all, especially the role of advertising and the fast food places and large portions.  We may want our money's worth and thus we eat more at buffets.  What was said about companies inducing youth and others to smoke could be repeated with respect to food; however, we have to eat and whether we eat is not a free choice to start -- only how much we put on the plate.  If we eat wholesome foods (fresh produce and whole grains), we are less inclined to health problems.  However, rules vary.   

      The food companies' strategy consists of increasing the processing of foods we choose to eat.  Their battle plan is to get people to direct their appetites to the fat, sugar, and salt-laced materials that induce the desire to buy more and more of the same candy and Big Macs and salted snacks.  Instead of water as a filler, the object is to promote soft drinks -- that carbonated sugar water with flavorings that costs much even at bargain rates.  The promotion by food companies is partly to blame, not totally.  We have to attend to their ads and then we cave in -- "the serpent made me do it."  Personal responsibility is at the heart of weight-control, but that is not easily accepted at any age, young or old. 

      An answer: Fats are often regarded as food negatives -- but we need some fat intake for balanced nutrition.  It's not total abstaining nor unlimited intake.  The principle of moderation in all things applies here:  know and control fat consumption.  Yes, labels on containers can be helpful; types of fat are important, so prefer plant (olive or canola oil) to animal fats. 








Oval ladies-tresses, Spiranthes ovalis.
(*photo credit)

November 17, 2010  Should We Create Our Own Fast Foods?

      Fast foods may be a commercial aspect of our age but they have been around awhile.  In fact, throughout time people who needed to travel had foods that did not take extensive preparation.  Some kept beef strips under their saddles or made use of dried fruit, or nuts, or "hardtack," or oatmeal or pickled foods.  Eating on the run has a long history, though today we have more options.  Yes, we have snacks and "gorp" and all sorts of frozen or prepared foods that compete with hamburgers and fries in fast food places.

      Busy folks satisfy their hunger pangs in different ways:  eating seated after ordering in, taking food out to eat in the moving vehicle, preparing frozen dinners from the deep freeze, and heating meals in the microwave, etc.  We need ideas, especially if we want to eat balanced meals, to refrain from prepared foods heavily laden with salt, refined sugar, and animal fat, and to be economic in time of belt-tightening.  Possibilities exist: 

        Let spices work for the common meal -- Make enough of a dish for several meals and do not limit eating these to once a day;  however, so the same food will vary in taste, change the herbs and spices with each new preparation.  

      Create simple meals and desserts -- Learning to prepare attractive dishes does not mean that they have to be exotic, for fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables are attractive in their simplicity.  A mixture of watermelon and blackberries when in season is good as a salad, lunch or dessert in the evening -- and can be eaten throughout the week. 

      Select simple snacks --  These snacks can be of a wide variety and could involve fresh vegetables and fruit and nuts in contrast to potato chips and dip.  Celery and carrot sticks, or apples, or orange slices can substitute for expensive prepared foods and reduce preparation time and clean up.  Some people focus on popcorn or peanuts; others prefer whole-grain snacks such as oatmeal or roasted soybeans with dried fruit or nuts. 

      Consider multi-tasking the cooking process -- Steam vegetables within the pot of brown rice that is being cooked for about one hour.  I use Swiss chard, zucchini, carrots, collards, poke leaves, mustard, kale, peppers, radish greens, apples, or beet greens.  

      Mix fresh produce with leftovers -- A batch of chopped up materials from the garden can enhance a day- or week-old soup or pasta dish.  Enhancement can also be ingredients from canned or frozen materials.  Varying produce allows new tastes and appearances, all needed for the spice of life.       

      An answer:  Pretending that we will take large amounts of time preparing ordinary daily meals is unreasonable for busy people.  It is far better to accept that fast foods are part of our daily life and learn to cook in efficient, tasty, and low-cost ways. 








(*photo credit)

November 18, 2010 What are Limits to Distributing Food Commodities? 

      Hungry people need food, and commodities ought to be easily available for them.  When need arises, charity is required, but we often ask ourselves what are the long-term effects on recipients of free food?  Local food distribution problems affect two different sorts of people: those who are reluctant to get the food even when they need it out of personal respect and pride; and those who are takers when they could earn their daily bread through other means.  The first group often have worked hard in life and through illness and old age are now strapped for food.  The second are those who clutter the distribution system and give it a bad name.

      The first, once they have been persuaded to take from the food commons, will use the handout wisely and not waste the materials given, nor choose junk food when offered options.  Just getting them into the food distribution network is sometimes a chore but is well worth the effort.  This group is usually most happy to use the basic staples (grain or prepared flour or cornmeal), cooking oil, canned or dried milk, and beans or equivalents; they will not complain, and they prefer to prepare good meals from simple foods.  

      The pushy takers are more difficult to address.  The lazy or the ill-budgeted parts of that category of cases find it hard to meet needs properly for themselves or their families.  These folks may be harmed by easy handouts and can become mere professional beggars; they crowd out those who are more in need of food.  Some will go so far as to trade food items, food cash donations or unspecified food cards for drugs.  Generally food distributors are experienced and alerted to this second category of people.  

      Granted that the needy include inexperienced purchasers or growers, we ought to consider their nutritional education.  A certain freedom to purchase within a food stamp program is allowed; this was practiced early in the food stamp program when Coca Cola and other soft drink producers were strong proponents, even though some like some of us spoke out against using food stamps for soft drinks.  The softer-hearted championed the needy's right to choice; harder hearts regarded the taxpayers' right to see that food money was spent wisely. 

      Food education exists for WIC (Women, Infants and Children), federal programs operated through local health departments. Such education ought to be mandatory for food stamp recipients, if a  specifically restrictive food distribution policy is not enforced.  Such education should include making one's own baked goods, herbal drinks, fixing bean and other non-meat protein materials using a variety of spices and flavorings, preparing healthy snack foods, use of more fruits and vegetables, and choices of meatless meals. The needy may prefer junk foods to wholesome alternatives.  

      An answer:  Surplus food needs to be distributed to the hungry, but we must strive to eliminate the hunger condition -- and to ensure that recipients learn to earn their daily bread.








Billowy clouds overhead.
(*photo credit)

November 19, 2010      Is the Food Distribution System Fair? 

      Our neighbors may be hungry and they certainly have a right to enough to eat -- a right worth defending.  Food riots have and will undoubtedly continue to occur in poorer countries.  America is not in such dire circumstances at this time, but food shortages occur here as elsewhere.  I serve an Appalachian county with a 23%  poverty rate and high drug use and overdosing.  As one might expect, some of our residents run low on food, especially at the end of each month.  Conventional food sources often run short of food supplies.  

      The American government's (federal, state and local) food sources are generally available.  Our greatest source is food stamps that those with low incomes can receive.  The use of a personal coded card has reduced abuse of this program.  One of the difficulties is that these stamps can be used for a wide variety of food and even soft drinks by people unfamiliar with cost and with little understanding of the lack of nutritional balances resulting from excessive junk food.  A more specific government program is WIC (Women, Infants and Children), which provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education to low income pregnant, breast-feeding and post-partum women as well as infants and children up to age five who are in nutritional need.  A third government distribution program (provided food surpluses are available) is the federal commodities program that dispenses peanut butter, cheese, and other nutritious commodities to those who qualify; this program often lacks available food surpluses.  Non-profit organizations have sought to fill in the cracks.

Direct money handouts have been discouraged and are not now a popular means due to misuse by those who suffer from substance abuse.  A better direct approach is the retail card that is sold by various food supermarkets; these can be used by the recipient with only slight restrictions depending on buyers' choices (and include gasoline at associated fuel stations).  Cards are open to misuse. 

      Garden produce and other food surpluses such as wildlife from hunts are available at various times of the year.  Sharing these with people who are in immediate need or who can preserve the surplus in some fashion is ideal for reducing hunger.  Unfortunately, this is quite seasonal and does not necessarily mean that the surplus reaches those in greatest need.  Second Harvest programs are available in some places; these groups identify outlets for slightly outdated and unsold perishable foods and collect and distribute these materials to the homeless and lower income people.  Again, the program depends on hit-and-miss conditions.  Meals-on-wheels distributes prepared dinners to the sick and elderly.  Churches and other institutions give food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Finally, some organizations and networks gather basic commodity surpluses for the needy.

      An answer: Local food systems can meet basic demands.  However, the world's hungry people are just beyond our back doors. 







Remnants of the Kirkwood Pike covered bridge spanning the Salt River, Mercer Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

November 20, 2010     Vegetarianism: Is It Good or Bad?  

     Nothing can elicit more varied feelings than to say it is time the world went vegetarian.  Some, such as people from my German ancestry, regard "meal" and "meat" as almost synonymous.  However, when observing the abuses of chicken-raising factories and cattle feedlots, we find that a vegetarian argument gains strength, even when not convincing all.  An emerging argument, based on resource intensity, focuses on the amount of feed and resources required to produce a pound of beef or pork in contrast to the amount used to produce the grain alone for feeding hungry people.  One compromise is to reduce meat consumption, but still allow the special cultural meat preparations on festive occasions.  A third argument may involve reduction or elimination of meat consumption based on religious, spiritual, or moral obligations. 

      Is doctrinaire vegetarianism to be treated seriously at this time?  The answer may depend on the conditions or attitudes of vegetarians.  Some of us eat LESS meat and yet are not defined as vegetarian, for we find that meatlessness makes hosts quite uncomfortable when cooking the traditional Thanksgiving meal next week.  Some primitive cultures especially in frigid regions of the Arctic do not have vegetables in their diet, and so meat is an essential component of the total diet.  Other tribes and groups have had to supplement their diets especially in the non-growing part of the temperate zones by eating wildlife such as deer, rabbit, turkey and wild goose.  In both cases, the need to respect what is killed can be an integral part of the culture.

      Human beings can live solely on plants and/or animal products and thrive.  We ought not to condemn the either/or nor those who use the mix of plant and animal products.  However, the move to get people to shift diets to more plant products is to be encouraged.  In any country where vegetarian foods are easily available, far fewer resource-intensive animal products will be demanded as a greater part of the population goes that route.  The green movement calls for a shift to plant foods and many respond. 

      However, we ought not to cast all our eggs into either the absolute animal-products basket or that of the strict vegetarian's.  Moderation is possible:  eat animal products when health or other necessities dictate, such as living in Arctic regions or needing to supplement diets with wildlife.  We ought to affirm those who want to abstain from animal products, both for the sake of the fauna and for their own sense of well-being and spiritual growth -- provided they are not overly judgmental of non-vegetarians.  The mishandling of livestock at factory farms will lead to lower meat consumption and a promotion of vegetarianism with long-term benefits to all but the meat industry. 

      An answer:  Vegetarianism, as a movement to reduce the use of resource-intensive animal products, is good provided it does not become an absolute doctrine.  Jesus ate both lamb (Passover) and fish (post-Easter gatherings).  Let's continue to be festive.








Summer remnants.
(*photo credit)

November 21, 2010    Homily: Will We Choose a Throne or a Cross? 

      In the end of the church year, we reaffirm our dedication to Christ the King, the one who is crowned on a "royal" throne.  However, on closer inspection we see that this throne is actually an instrument of torture -- a cross for crucifixion.  Christ is Lord of lords, and yet he has redefined royalty through servanthood that also involves suffering and death.  His royal line from David is not through kingly succession but in humble service. 

     Royalty takes a new form.  Pilate, a frightened Roman bureaucrat, who thinks he must appease the mobs, questions Jesus about his royal line.  Jesus speaks of being a king but not in the sense that Pilate understands, rather of a throne which ends on the cross of ignominy.  While Hope Cook became a queen of Bhutan and Grace Kelly a Princess of Monaco, still only a tiny number of the world's people can ever become monarchs.  Such chances fade for, while in 1900, 90% of the world's people lived under monarchies; now, in the twenty-first century, less than 10% do so and the number is falling.  Royal thrones are few, but crosses, in this age of plenty, multiply.  We can't be royal monarchs but we can enter into the service of sacrifice and thus share kingship with Christ.

      In 1897 Queen Victoria of England (queen from 1837 to 1901 and empress of India 1876-1901) celebrated her diamond anniversary.  On that occasion Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem that angered many, who thought the Empire's lasting glory should be unquestioned .... 

          The tumult and the shouting dies,

            The captains and the kings depart,

           Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,

            An humble and a contrite heart.

           Lord God of hosts be with us yet,

            Lest we forget, lest we forget. 

    Those few who ascend royal earthly thrones see them as fragile. Where is the Empress of India?  A billion would laugh at that idea today.  Rather over two billion Christians are invited to glory in the cross of Christ.  Power rests here when storm clouds hang low and lightning flashes and the earth trembles -- yet it takes faith to perceive Jesus' power and glory where crowds cast dice and squabbled over his simple garments.  The cross is an instrument of suffering.  How should a good God allow this?  

     The Cross is a kingly throne.  We are being delivered into the kingdom of his beloved Son -- the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.... in him all things hold together (Col. 1: 12-20).  The contrast of earthly majestic throne and rugged cross is astounding, and yet it is part of the unfolding mystery, which we are asked to contemplate on this great day.  The entire creation is held together through the cross, not by earthly power.  Will we each choose a cross and make it our throne?   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us see what the cross means in our lives. 

    Introduction to 2000s: Food as Gift Worth Sharing: The Elder's View 

      Attitudes change as individuals mature and modify their social networks.  We move about; we gain friends; we take up gardening; we find new sources of food; we discover that our food tastes change with time.  We entered the twenty-first century hoping to eliminate hunger and then suddenly we were confronted with 9-11.  Our common goals were set back, and we even disagree as to how to handle terrorism and a major recession.  Bankruptcy looms just beyond the horizon; financing social welfare emerges as a long-term problem; the differences between rich and poor grow ever greater. 

      Failure to share resources within, or controlled by, wealthier nations leads to a steady undercurrent of discontent.  The rich are targeted and even hated by some who regard them as influencing one's culture through materialistic movies, fashions and means of communication.  When unemployed and with little future, low-income youth regard terrorism as an option.  A feeling of insecurity pervades people who see no way out of their condition.  Both socially and economically we are confronted -- and food enters into this emerging picture in several ways. 

      Use of food-producing land as a biofuel source for those with luxury vehicles is emerging as a global irritant.  Prices of staple corn and sugar cane food products rise.  This leads to some having sufficient food supplies but others starting to cut back on the amounts they can acquire to feed hungry families.  Furthermore, the affluence of some makes them insensitive to the plight of the hungry who suffer as victims of a form of terrorism.  The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen increases, not expected decreases, in the absolute numbers in poverty and hunger (about one hundred million additional people in these unfortunate conditions). 

      When wealthy nations suffer from budget fatigue and hear of shortcomings in direct food aid, they feel justified in cutting off assistance.  An authentic message to transform the focus of aid, from food packages to helping small farmers meet local needs, is in order.  Fair distribution of food means not handing out more and more CARE packages, but a systematic advance in the food-growing potential of every region of the world.  However, to upgrade eroded and depleted lands to full productivity requires resources such as farm training, better seeds, fertility testing, and proper fertilizer, and better tools for cultivation and harvesting.  This change in aid will require a new Marshall Plan. 

      Our twenty-first century attitudinal change must include the comfort of radical sharing and the discomfort of neglecting to do so.  Our food assistance goes beyond the local level; it is rapidly becoming a global demand embracing all people.  Sharing must leave the volunteer level and become a requirement, in which all have a duty to give from their surplus -- and to see this as a mark of global security.  Our family in need is a global one; our attitude about food is a compassionate one. 








American beech, Fagus grandifolia.
(*photo credit)

November 22, 2010    How Do We Celebrate Food as Bounty? 

      Waving grain fields, overflowing storage bins, endless supermarket shelves stuffed with thousands of different food items.  The picture seems soothing but it is incomplete.  In the distance is the irritating whimper of hungry infants or the silence of those who are near death, or empty bins and drought-stricken fields.  This age of contrasts is as near as a computer switch and as far away as a mind bent on escaping through a variety of distractions.  

      Bounty is a good picture; the lack of bounty is stark.  When we prepare a Thanksgiving celebration this week we ought to see how bountiful food triggers an attitude of profound gratitude.  In fact, as we mature we think back at taking things for granted and forgetting to say thanks for things received after parental sacrifice and hard work.  Those who look back with a sense of achievement and happiness always fill their hearts with gratitude, the last service they render before a happy death.

      Thanksgiving Day is every day, and this ought to be a cultural policy -- not a once-a-year national observance.  At this time we give thanks for the many gifts given to our land: its resources, its beauty, its spaciousness, its creative people, etc.  In fact, our thanksgiving list ought to continue to grow (see Special Issues).  Our Thanksgiving holiday is not just a weekend or a Thursday each November, but rather it is an ongoing celebration brightening the way we live our lives.  We learn from thankful people in their last years that they have much to "pray for" in their last great ministry, but these are beyond prayers of petition and begging and include thanksgiving --  for, if we end life with a thanks on our lips, a merciful God will surely overlook our imperfections and accept us into eternal life.

     The food crisis has multiple causes: droughts and floods caused by climate change; enhanced demand for food by China, India, and emerging middle class countries; higher fuel and fertilizer costs discouraging farmers from food production; conversion of grain-growing cropland to parking lots, roads, businesses and recreational areas; conversion of corn and sugar to biofuels; and reluctance of grain-exporting lands to allow sales abroad.  What can we do?  Our soggy bowl of breakfast cereal cannot be shipped to another land or hardly next door.  But can we take some constructive steps to alleviate food shortages? 

     An answer:  Thank God today by answering in some best-suited manner: serve in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving; donate food surplus to the local food bank; assist those who are caregivers;  report cases of food needs; say prayers before -- and possibly at least quietly -- after each meal or snack; share food surpluses;  thank the cook(s); show courtesy and tip those who serve in restaurants; make national representatives aware of the need for food assistance and storage for drought victims;  and consider a good expanded garden, assist a neighbor to start gardening, or plan an edible landscape. 




Autumn leaves collect in broken well along the Natchez Trace.
(*photo credit)

November 23, 2010    Can Food Be Designed as a Powerful Weapon?                

      It was Joseph, as the man in authority in the country, who sold the grain to all comers.  (Genesis 42:6) 

      Perhaps those in authority such as parents and camp directors know that withholding desired food from someone has a way of changing behavior.  "No ice cream tonight unless ... "  and then the demands to which the underling is expected to conform are made.  Often food has been used as a weapon or threat in order to change conduct.  Down through history this was not just a story for those who are unruly toddlers or youth; unfortunately, the power of withholding food from adult populations could have the effect of bending servant practice or feudal subjects (e.g., the biblical story of Joseph and his family).  We learn fast to treat pets in a similar fashion.  Conformed practice of jumping hoops is closely related to food largess and rewards.   

      Using food as a weapon is quite unjust when it comes to the needy, for it can be such a powerful weapon.  Placards carried by beggars at signal lights occasionally disturb us with, "Will work for food."  We know that during the Great Depression this was a practice for those with empty stomachs -- the willingness to work for full meals.  Hungry people can be quickly reduced to dramatic requests for a meal.  But they need a living wage that consists of more than a day's food.  What these begging instances tell us is that donating food can be a strong means of getting one's way.  The right to livelihood takes precedence over the right to possess food.

      In a world of scarcity, food means power.  Such a weapon of giving or withholding food is cruel for it makes people subservient and reduces them to groveling, which destroys their human dignity.  Such differences threaten and disturb the social order.  A world of the super-rich and the destitute knows the power of withholding food.  However, all parties -- the hungry and the withholder of food -- are hurt when some withhold and others go hungry. Certainly, the poor and hungry are quite aware when praying the "Our Father," where we ask for our daily bread.  Here the well-fed may latch onto other interpretations of that prayer that do not deal with the "our" being the entire family of human beings.  The well-fed often distance themselves from the hungry, but by coming closer the prayer takes on new meaning.  Some sated with food bounty have no concept of this physical hunger and thus distance themselves from needs in an insensitivity that condemns them.  The poor must recall to the well-fed, that their own salvation depends on their ability to share the food commons.

      An answer:  Social justice must grow upon each of us, and it makes us refrain from ever using food as a weapon.  The hungry who have a basic right to food should never come under our power to withhold what is essential to their livelihood.  They have a right to this food.    






Fresh mulberry from summertime.
(*photo credit)

November 24, 2010    How Do We Share Food with the Hungry? 

          Shall be like the hungry man who dreams he eats,

        and wakes up with an empty belly.  (Isaiah 29:8) 

      We need to see that people are the world's great treasure, and any time people suffer, we as part of the human family suffer as well.  We may be inclined to focus attention on the healthy who are enjoying their days and making a sleek appearance in the world around us.  We may want to turn away from the hungry for it is hard to gaze on the gray-faced ill or, for that matter, on pictures of extended bellies and gaunt expressions of hungry children somewhere in the world.  However, authentic spirituality demands that we become aware of the true condition of our extended human family, not just blood kinfolks.  We ought to look about and see reality. 

      Like the apostle Paul, we see the road ahead to glory and that sets us on a right track that can overcome our depression and make us hopeful.  The haunting problems we have today can be overcome with God's grace promised from of old and our efforts, which need to be ever renewed.  Through faith we believe that we have the right formula, and that we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We have a course laid out for us, a treasure that we find and focus on diligently in order to secure fully the ends towards which we were created.  That treasure includes the millions of hungry souls who are in need of essentials of life to which they are entitled. 

      Directing attention is more than merely taking time to focus at a given moment; we must have the proper goal in mind.  In fact, we learn much from clever business people who are most diligent in pursuing their own ends of operating a successful capitalistic enterprise.  They teach us a single-mindedness to cut out distractions and direct attention to specific goals.  Do we have such goals with respect to the poor?  Are we distressed by the horror of pictures of poverty in its cruelest manifestations?  Are we resolved to help where possible? Do we seek the face of Christ coming up to us from each magnificent creature?   


      * Discern what we can do through prayerful listening;   

     * Know and become involved in local hunger issues;

     * Read and gather information on global hunger;

      * Champion the world food commons;

     * Pressure elected officials to expand food assistance;

     * Reduce meat consumption and use of prepared foods;

     * Consider working at a food kitchen or distribution center;      

     * Realize that food bounty needs to be shared with others;

     * Support rice bowl efforts and "Bread for the World;"

     * Challenge personal or corporate food waste policies;

     * Publicize the global food hunger issue in any way possible;

     * Make food shortages a Twitter and Facebook issue;

     * Resolve to expand the garden, if possible;

     * Give away garden surpluses; and

     * Encourage neighbors to do the same. 









Homemade ice cream.
(*photo credit)

November 25, 2010    Do We Thank God Enough for Gifts of Food?

      Each day, week, month and year we ought to give special thanks.  Of course, Thanksgiving Day is our grand "thank you" time for -- 

         Awareness of others in need;

         Creative ways of helping them;

         Availability of food at our table;

         Safeguarding of food by regulatory agencies;

         Purity of food that we buy;

         Supply of land on which to grow food;


         Preservation and storage of food;

         Dependable transport of food to where needed; 

         Relatively low priced groceries; and

         Proper distribution of food to those who are hungry. 

    Part of the American Thanksgiving story is that the Indians assisted the first English settlers at Plymouth in Massachusetts Bay in growing corn by fertilizing each hill with pieces of fish.  Though this may be a myth, still the history of settlement of this land has involved Native American food-growing experience being generously passed on to newcomers.  These natives showed generosity to their neighbor because that was their culture of hospitality. 

      On Thanksgiving Day, food takes on a special meaning.  For through eating food we are reminded of the community of people struggling and surviving by the largess of others.  We thank God for seeing that sharing is a blessing for us and others.  The resulting meal is really America's special cultural feast, namely, turkey, corn pudding, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie -- all foods from the North American continent.  Other side dishes and other meats may blend with that tradition within cultural roots.

      Turkey is a key to this day, and it challenges vegetarian practice to abstain on Thanksgiving Day.  Substitutes seem to pale and turkey may be an argument for being occasional meat-eaters and not total abstainers.  However, that will be a decision on the part of practitioners that one should not tinker with during this season of thankful bounty.   

      Today our part of the county has an overabundance of "wild" turkeys.  Amazingly, this stocking of game by hunting agencies has a side effect, for the "wild" turkey is heavily crossed with domestic varieties, and thus the offspring is a heavier and more enticing game animal than the original wild turkey.  However, these modern wild turkeys are like tractors clawing their way across the fragile, woodland understory.  In fact, ginseng seed is threatened by the manner in which it is devoured and crushed by the these efficient fowl.  The overpopulated of turkeys is a problem worth addressing, and harvesting some at Thanksgiving time is fitting. 

      An answer:  We never thank God enough for the many gifts we have received.  Let's make this a thankful day.












A loyal friend.
(*photo credit)

November 26, 2010   Ought We to Have A Global Food-Sharing Program?

        ...To share your food with the hungry.. (Isaiah 58:7) 

      Thanksgiving season is a perfect time to extend our outlook beyond our homes and local communities to a world of hungry people. The less fortunate would feast on Thanksgiving table leftovers.  The food wasted each year in affluent nations is sufficient to feed the world's hungry.  However, table leftovers in themselves can hardly be shared because of spoilage in shipment.  If bulk foods such as grain, root crops, and oil were not "prepared" but shipped for storage at key places, these could be trans-shipped to points of need when people suffer from floods, hurricanes or droughts.  Sharing globally is a moral issue and wasting food is immoral.  Climate change and distorted markets are making this a compelling issue.  The Economist, September 11, 2010 (p.20), suggests that food markets must adjust because of the growing volatility of food prices and the vulnerability of the poor who can't afford these spiking price rises (riots in 30 countries in the past two years).

      First, agricultural protectionism by wealthier countries should be reduced.  Second, food trade must have some insurance against export bans (a great stumbling block of the World Trade Organization); the 2010 Russian ban has contributed to a food price spike even though globally this year will have one of the largest wheat harvests on record.  Lastly, the world would greatly benefit from a Global Emergency Food Storage System.  John Maynard Keynes suggested this six decades ago, and it is still a long way off.  Maybe the World Food Program could run seaport depots in vulnerable areas:  the horn of Africa, west Africa, south central Asia, southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, for starters.  Storage systems could be protected from rodents and restocked after the life expectancy of food has expired, with outdated food distributed in a manner not to disturb local food systems.  Often bulk grains processed into noodles or other pasta can be preserved longer.      

      Reduction of wastes can occur on either end of the food production/consumption chain:  growing, processing, transporting, and selling is one part; buying, cooking, reusing leftovers, and preserving is at the other end.  Harvesting could be open for gleaning.  At the consumption end, grocery stores often throw out outdated animal products and baked goods; and these could be sold at reduced rates or given to food distribution centers.  Local food laws related to reuse of food are often over-restrictive and ought to be amended so that Second Harvest and soup kitchens can use leftovers.  Oversized restaurant portions often go uneaten.  Furthermore, buffet operations result in large amounts of waste by consumers who take far more than they can eat.  What about penalties for wasting food?  Some concerned folks will over-scold for wasting, and others neglect to challenge the practice

      An answer:  We need to improve our awareness of food waste and learn to share at a global level.  Both individual practices and governmental coordination are needed to help share food better. 











Autumn field against vivid blue sky.
(*photo credit)

November 27, 2010  Is Food Sharing a Component of Final Judgment? 

     For I was hungry and you (never) gave me food.

                               (Matthew 25:35 or 42) 

      Food enters into every aspect of our life.  As we age, we confront the fact that all mortal life is terminal (not eternal life); no amount of food in quality or quantity will change that fact.  Loved ones pass on, but we hesitate to say that they die.  Some ill people linger, and some pass quickly, and some move on violently when least expecting it.  The judgment seat looms just beyond the horizon for some, and is never in the thought of others.  Do we hear Jesus speaking to us and is it food-related?  He is pressing us about feeding or neglecting to feed himself when he was hungry.  What is our practice of sharing what we have in abundance?  Do we extend our individual sharing with that of responsible sharing by entire communities and a nation and a world?

      Food issues can enter into our exercise of citizenship.  How do we tolerate one thousand billionaires and one billion people without the means of food this evening?  If the resources were properly divided, wouldn't this feed a world?  The verb "allow" is what bothers me most.  How can some have the power to hold or to withhold resources, and some be so powerless?   Why do I bother about proper food distribution in our world when I can do so little about it?  How can I take on a citizen's responsibility and help make the food commons a reality?  Will we citizens who have a certain responsibility to pressure our legislative representatives be held accountable for not doing so?  Can we enter into a mother's experience of no food for the morrow, hunger's form of terrorism? 

      Christians regard Christ as King who will judge each of us on our own merits and demerits.  The reality comes ever closer as we age; the time shortens inevitably with each passing day.  No out- of-sight, out-of-mind for those who see visions.  We have our individual feelings about this most certain event; only the  uncertainty is when -- not if.  Are we brave enough to be stoic about what is coming?  Better, are we wise enough to start preparing for the final days?  Is our sense of civic responsibility growing with respect to human needs?  Does our silence as citizens speak volumes -- and that deals with our upcoming accounting?  Is it wrong to ask all these questions in a world seeking daily answers -- as though to reflect is to answer?  

      Nothing focuses attention more than definite events in the near offing.  As we age each day, we hear the clock ticking away but it could be a promise, not a dreaded happening.  We are people pressing forward to a definite future that can be one of untold happiness -- provided we prepare well at the present time.  And preparation includes sharing food with others.

      An answer: Advent always looms and involves an awareness that we will ask a final question, and thus we need to prepare for it.  When did I feed you, Lord? 











Fleeting butterfly on patch of aster.
(*photo credit)

November 28, 2010    Homily: When Do We Wait and When Not Wait?   

     These will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles.   (Isaiah 2:4)

      We attempt to wait patiently in many places -- a doctor's office, an airport, a food line, a bureaucrat's office, or at home waiting for a young person's return from a war zone.  Waiting for what is promised has a certain spiritual value as is evidenced in the many words of Scriptures.  If you are like me and in a hurry, waiting is a terrible experience.  In fact, as I wait I mull over the ambivalence in the act itself:  are there times when waiting is best and we can do little else?  Are there times when waiting is to enhance a status quo that actually should not be tolerated?  Do we await a New Heaven and a New Earth, and even hasten this event?

     Waiting could be interpreted as being dutifully contented in the present state of world affairs, or it could mean far more -- a holy discontent with these affairs and our own inaction.  Yes, it takes patience to tolerate the imperfections of our own unsuccessful efforts.  Patience involves realizing our own imperfections and improving our performance in an orderly fashion.  Patience is not sitting but acting with deliberation and openness to improvement.  "If the prize is big enough, it is worth waiting  for" becomes ...it is worth fighting for."  Waiting becomes a preparation for the coming of the one expected, putting in order and not messing up the place.  We hasten the coming of the Lord, and do so through godly conduct (I Thessalonians 3:123-4:2). 

      You must wake up now; our salvation is ever nearer than when we were converted (Romans 13:11).  Being watchful and waiting require keener observers.  The truth is, watchful waiting involves a little of all -- not expecting specific things as rewards, not being so overly taken up with activity that we fail to reflect, and being busy but not too busy at this time.  Jesus calls us to be vigilant at all times and to discover opportunities to help build a New Heaven and New Earth.  The time is short.  We learn from geology that the Earth is about four billion years old, and that in geological time the human race has appeared and flourished in the last few seconds of that time.  The grand act of human salvation has occurred in the final second of the Earth's existence -- truly the end of time.  

     Be vigilant at all times.  The gospel writer (Matt. 24:37-44) tells us to be always alert.  We do not know the day or hour, and so vigilance is also before the Christian.  We need to be alert, and to encourage others to this state of readiness.  Jesus is our salvation; he leads the way, and he invites us to be not mere bystanders but active participants in making a New Heaven and New Earth.  Our weariness makes us prone to fall asleep but, if we try, we can stay on guard and be the watchdogs of the coming age. 

      Prayer of the week:  Lord, keep us alert through healthy living habits, and allow us to foster patience in our vigilance. 










Fond memories of a recent Thanksgiving meal.
(*photo credit)

November 29, 2010          Food Consciousness Grows 

      Although my food habits may differ from yours due to taste, culture, economic status or even location, still we do have similarities worth comparing.  As infants we took food for granted.  Our tastes changed when abandoning baby food for the tasty stuff, and choices broadened.  As we reached adulthood, we discovered that food attitudes involve sharing with others.  We learned to celebrate with food.  As our civic responsibility grew, our food attitudes took on a political flavor involving governmental regulation of safety and commercial practices.  We decided to  control food sources through gardening and harvesting and new buying practices.  As we moved past middle age, we needed less food and soon become more watchful of both quality and quantity.  Lastly, in elder years we prepare to meet our Maker and think seriously about how our sharing with others, or the lack thereof, will be judged in some way. 

      Many conditions influence our attitudes about food: 

     * Growing environmental awareness leads us to eat less resource-intensive animal products and prepared foods and eat seasonally to conserve energy needed for transportation.   

      * Personal food choices give us a better understanding of the type and quality of food consumed.  Our food choices include greater emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains and a de-emphasis on processed food, sweetened carbonated drinks, refined sugar, animal fats, and salted snacks.  We think about control of weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, and girth.

      * Our public interest approach makes us see beyond self and the local scene to a more global view of food needs, especially among lower-income folks. 

      * Our enhanced gardening techniques include raised beds, living mulch, interspersed cultivated flowers, spacing and location of vines and garden varieties, an emphasis on salad greens and herbs, natural pest control and organic gardening, and seasonal extenders for fall and spring.

      * Regional health problems with smoking, alcohol, obesity and associated illnesses and misuse of over-the-counter drugs exist.  Food safety becomes a regional problems involving proper labeling, and awareness of food sources.   

      * Political and civic involvement with elected legislators must be encouraged.  Those targeted are people willing to press for global food aid and who understand that subsidies in converting food to biofuels raise food prices for the poor. 

      * Climate change effects will very soon change the economic costs of food, the traditional areas of food production and the weather patterns needed for food crops (see tomorrow).  









A Kentucky autumn scene.
(*photo credit)

November 30, 2010       China, Food and Climate Change  

      A great disappointment in the first decade of the twenty-first century has been the lack of proper food distribution.  Hunger was not alleviated during this ten-year period but instead grew by a hundred million people.  The rise of hundreds of millions of Asians from poverty to a middle class society, with double digit resource increases per year, has been the twenty-first century phenomenon; the emerging middle class adjusted their diets too.  China is number one in manufacturing, auto purchases, railroad and urban construction, and in energy consumption (2.252 billion tons per year versus United States' 2.176 billion tons in 2010).  In fact, according to the International Energy Agency,  China has become first in energy consumption five years ahead of schedule.   

      With the rise of 1.3 billion people in China alone (with Asia and Latin America following close behind) one finds several additional food-related problems.  The rising middle class can afford foods that are resource intensive such as meat and prepared meals.  Grain-growing areas even in China are being converted to more profitable specialty crops.  Furthermore, corn and other grains, sugars, and cooking oils are being converted into biofuels, which adds to the growing shortage of foods.  Subsidies given to American and European farmers have discouraged farmers in Africa from growing competing crops.  Furthermore, the weather does not always cooperate, and droughts help reduce total food production for a given year.  Certainly, higher food prices mean that the poor have less food.   

      Where does global warming fit into the picture?  To be sure, the northern temperate zone is extending further north in Canada and Russia, and especially Siberia.  With possible erratic weather associated with global warming, some areas in Africa and Asia and elsewhere could become drier or wetter.  Already the deserts have been extending in northern China by a million acres a year, although hopefully this can be stopped through reforestation and protective grass cover.  Global warming could cause African desertification in such poor countries as Niger, Chad and Mali, and these nations can ill afford further surrender of pasturelands to desert.  Our American southeast may become drier also.  When possible droughts hit the major food-producing regions such as the American or Canadian Midwest, Australia or Argentina, food shortages will be exacerbated.  In times of shortages, drought results in a ripple effect with richer food importers taking in more of the scarce commodities and poorer folks being squeezed.  

      If icecaps continue to melt and oceans rise by inches or feet, one can expect entire island nations to be submerged.  Such nations as the Maldives, Fiji, and several other ocean nations are quite understandably alarmed.  Likewise change in rivers that supply water for India, Bangladesh and other Asian lands could affect crop yields.  We cannot be like ostriches with our heads in the sand.  All citizens will be affected in some way, as we all observe rising food prices becoming a central citizen and global issue.

Copyright © 2010 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Davis, Editor

Excerpts from the JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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