Wednesday, August 2, 2023 | Trey Comstock
An Internet friend of mine introduced me to a new app called Too Good To Go. I love the premise. Restaurants and grocery stores often have items that don’t sell at normal prices in the normal time range. If you run a donut shop, you don’t always sell all the donuts that you make in any given day. However, no one wants to pay full price for day old donuts the next day. What do you do? Or, as grocer, folks didn’t buy as many bananas this week, and now, you’ve got a bunch that have gotten too ripe to sell but are perfectly edible. What do you do? Normally, you toss a lot of this stuff into the dumpster. Too Good To Go creates an alternative. You, as proprietor of a restaurant or grocery store, can list your leftover items for sale at extremely discounted prices. Folks logging in know that they’re purchasing leftovers, select a specific shop to buy from, purchase the items that would have gone to waste, and show up to pick them up. You made some money on perfectly edible food that you have junked. The customer saves some money. Less food gets wasted. Everybody wins.
The people behind Too Good To Go want to help, but the existence of their service highlights the inequities and waste in the global food market. Feeding America estimates that the US throws away nearly 40% of all its food, or about 130 billion meals. We could feed every one of the 7 billion people on this planet, 18 meals each just on the food waste of our one wealthy nation. We chuck day old donuts, yesterday’s leftover soup and salad special, fish that smells slightly too fishy, produce that looks weird but would taste fine, food that we bought, forgot about, and let rot in a strange undiscover corner of our fridge, and the cake that we ordered too much of for the party. Americans are not unique in this regard. A lot of edible food never sees the mouths of hungry people. In the news today was a report of a drone attack by the Russians on Ukraine’s grain port at Odesa that has damaged or destroyed, according to the Ukrainians, 40,000 tons of grain destined for Africa and China. I don’t pretend to understand the international politics of it all, but it’s still more edible food that will never get eaten.
Meanwhile, food insecurity touches every corner of the globe. The Houston Food Bank reports that 1 in 8 Texans suffer from some kind of food insecurity. The area where Servants of Christ is planted is largely a food desert with little access to good food. Urban areas in the US, a nation with vast resources, have it far better than places in the developing world. Hundreds of millions of people still live on a dollar per day or less. When I worked in Kenya, I participated in malnutrition testing for USAID. We went to schools around our area on dirt bike taxis and tested the students for malnutrition. At one of the schools, 70% of the students suffered from some degree of malnutrition. When I worked in Paraguay, we lived and worked in a food insecure community and ended up suffering from it as well. I’ve been blessed and spent a lifetime as a fat and well-fed middle class American. That summer of living on 1,200-ish calories per day did strange things to my mind. It gave me a visceral introduction to how so many millions of people, even in my own state, even in my own community, have to live all the time.
In feeding the 5,000 (plus), Jesus compassionately fills the belies of the hungry and the downtrodden. This story gets related in all four Gospels, but Matthew ties it in with Herod Antipas’s murder of John the Baptist. They flow one story straight into the other. Jesus hears of the John’s death. The crowds keep following him. They end up starving and without resources. Jesus feeds them. In his Feasting on the Word exegesis of this passage, Jae Won Lee points out the contrasts. Herod Antipas, powerful ruler and Roman sympathizer, holds a meal for the powerful, and someone dies. Christ holds a meal for the sick and suffering who sought him out, and they receive love, compassion, and subsistence. Lee frames this as an image of two different kingdoms, one of this world and one of God. In God’s kingdom, the hungry get fed.
So, as we already know, we ain’t there yet. The continued existence of hunger, especially in a world of plenty, should serve as a yardstick of how far from God’s Kingdom that we find ourselves. I know that the existence of a lot of food in one place and not enough food in another stems from a mountain of factors from geography, to geopolitics, to macroeconomics, to global logistics networks, to cultural difference, to the peculiarities of the health code. Still, on a theological level, I find it all galling. We live at a moment in history, where, at long last, enough food exists to feed the planet, and yet so many know hunger.
So, what do we, as individuals, in the face of global inequality? Committing to eating only day old donuts and slightly too ripe bananas feel more than mildly insufficient. Certainly, there’s any number of local or international charities working on food insecurity. In Servant of Christ’s own corner of southeast Houston, Finca Tres Robles is an urban farm trying to get healthy and affordable produce into this food desert of ours.
Theologically, following Christ means living for others – not just ourselves. Thus, we should approach our own lives and way of living to facilitate the goals of God’s Kingdom. If we desire to live in a world, where all have enough, we should only take what we need. Paul used this approach as a missionary in the first century.
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. (Philippians 4:10-14 NRSV)
We love Philippians 4:13 but ignore its context. Christ strengthens Paul to live simply and be content. I confess that I’m not there yet and need to hear this as much as anyone. I have not risen to Paul’s level of contentment in God in all circumstance. I still suffer from the bug of conspicuous consumption. Also, making this leap in our faith merely constitutes a first step. Seeking our own simplicity will not, in and of itself, feed the hungry. It does mean that we start leaving more for others, contributing to other’s potential abundance rather than robbing from it. The less that we consume, and waste opens up opportunities for others to have more – for more in God’s Kingdom to be fed.