The cost of cheap food

Image via Tara Whitsitt on  Flickr

Image via Tara Whitsitt on Flickr

My husband’s sermon yesterday served as a good reminder that evil isn’t always some outside force in the world.

Sometimes, it’s in choices we make. Or, we’re perpetuating evil when we stand by and do nothing.

God puts different issues on our hearts to fight for; we can’t solve every problem on our own. Food and what we eat worries me. It’s the cause I can’t ignore.

I argue that we as a country need to be willing to pay for better ingredients. For more local ingredients. For higher-quality meat. Some might say that just isn’t an option for poorer people. They have to buy the cheapest food possible because that’s the situation they are in and we shouldn’t judge them for making those choices.

That’s true. But we’re forcing our poor people into a vicious cycle.

According to this Mark Bittman column, the cost of treating and/or trying to cure preventable lifestyle diseases is more than a seventh of our GDP. If you’re a person that feels the government is spending too much money, think of how much the government spends on programs like Medicare. Our poor need medical care as much as anyone else.

In the same column, Bittman estimates by 2020, Type II Diabetes will cost the U.S. $500 billion annually. Think of where $500 billion would get this country if it was spent somewhere else, instead of going to the treatment of illnesses brought on by what we eat.

So much of this is preventable. Avoidable. It’s not an earthquake or a hurricane. We’re just eating too much crap. That’s it. But, we’ve made it really cheap, so that’s all some people can afford to sustain themselves. So they eat it, get sick and need medical care that they can’t pay for. Sometimes, the government is going to have to foot the bill for that.

“One reason that obesity and diabetes become more prevalent the further down the socioeconomic scale you look is that the industrial food chain has made energy-dense foods the cheapest foods in the market, when measured in terms of cost per calorie,” said Michael Pollan in his book Omnivore’s Dilemma.

He also says in later in that chapter that researchers learned a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips and cookies. A dollar only bought 250 calories of carrots.

With or food system they way it currently stands, we aren’t giving our poor people any other choice. And it’s making them sick.

Whether you care about food issues or not, this does not line up with our call as Christians to help the poor. The Old Testament is filled with laws that require the Jewish people to leave some of what the grow or earn for the poor. In the New Testament, we see many examples of Jesus helping the poor.

As followers of God that this is a call we can’t ignore.

James 2: 15-17: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. IF oen of you says him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”






When pride is good

2012-11-20 12.23.57

I don’t know about you, but travel changes me.

I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot through Europe the last two years, but even watching someone else travel changes me. Reading a blog, a magazine article or watching a travel show on TV, I immediately want to learn more. How people live in another place. Eat their breakfast. Hug. Celebrate. Spend their evenings.

Watching an old episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain reminded me of a fundamental lesson we could learn from many of our European friends.

(What, don’t all your life lessons happen while watching No Reservations?)

Watching Bourdain roam around Croatia to learn about tuna fishing and the local cuisine, I was struck by how much pride the Croatians had for their land (or, in some cases, sea). Bourdain and his Croatian hosts ate at a restaurant where everything they consumed—cheese, veal, wine, etc—came from ingredients in the immediate surroundings of the restaurant.

It immediately took me back to my time in November when my husband and I visited Italy and Spain. People in those countries have almost a fanatical pride in food that doesn’t just come from their country, but from their city. Their town.

We have made improvements here in America, but we still struggle to get people buying American food, let alone food that comes from our cities and towns. I mentioned in this post that the average American meal traveled 1,500 miles to get on our plate.

In a country of such incredible natural abundance, how is that number so large?

Most of us in America—definitely not all—know very little about what grows in our neighborhood. How did we lose touch of having pride in the beauty and resources around us? Why do we sacrifice so much quality in the name of convenience?

I believe what you eat says a lot about a specific culture, and I’m afraid ours doesn’t say much good about us.

We don’t value spending time on creating good food; we value working more. We scoff at countries who spend a significant percentage of their income on food. We revere those who get everything as cheap as possible.

People have been trying to straighten out the American food system, but maybe it’s not as much of a food system problem as it is a pride problem.

In many cases, we know pride can be a bad thing. In this case, we need to be more prideful. We need to celebrate what comes from our hometowns, from our cities, from our counties and from our state. We need to take the time to seek those ingredients out.

We need to know our land. Knowing our land would make our pride grow. And by having more pride in it, maybe we’d start taking care of it more.

Friday Five: Home Cooking Edition

Not Pinterest-worthy. But delicious.

Not Pinterest-worthy. But delicious.

There are few times I’m happier to write than after the week I am just about to finish.
This is one of my busiest weeks of the year at work, kicking off a stretch of mild insanity at my job that doesn’t slow down until October.
Being able to come home and write feels good.
In the midst of a week like this where my office becomes a little more like a cave, I am reminded of the importance of how we spend our time, and what it says about us.
More and more, I realize the importance in my own life of taking time for cooking. Of making time for cooking. Here are some reminders about how, despite our crazy schedules, we can make time for cooking:
1. Cook once, make sure it feeds you twice (or more!). You don’t have to commit to cooking every day, but one night in the kitchen can cover you for a couple of days, or at least dinner and lunch the next day. Bonus: you’ve stretched your hard-earned money pretty far too.
2. Cooking does not = gourmet. I love me some Cooking Channel, but I can’t make anything look (and let’s be honest, taste) like they do. If I had that ability, I probably wouldn’t be a full-time project manager.  Seriously, cooking is not a Pinterest contest. Say that to yourself in the mirror if you have to. Throw those rice and beans in a tortilla, add some salsa and call it a (delicious) night.
3. Use the freezer like a champ. Not just for frozen, prepackaged meals (in fact, don’t use it for that). Make a big batch of something, and freeze half of it. On the night where there’s no way in the world you’re going to cook, pull something out of the freezer and heat it up.
4. Plan ahead. Pick a couple of recipes, know what you’re low on and stick to that at the grocery store. You’ll save money if you go in with a plan. At the same time…
5. Improvise. Go with what you have. You probably can make a pretty delicious meal with what’s in your fridge and your pantry, no store visit necessary. There’s no law that forces you to have every single ingredient to follow a recipe and make it pretty close. Tim Gunn what’s in your kitchen and Make. It. Work. You’ll live to tell it if you have basil in there when the recipe calls for parsley.

Food and the Simple Life

Gelato = eating and being glad

Gelato = eating and being glad

Sometimes, living a simple life feels out of reach.

Maybe it’s living in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s trying to balance a work life, a church life, a family life and still feeling like you have a life.

When I feel my life teetering out of balance, the book of Ecclesiastes is a good place to turn.

Oh sure, it talks a lot about everything being meaningless, so on the surface it seems like a bit of a downer. But this book in the Old Testament gives me great comfort because it simplifies.

“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2:24)

Isn’t interesting that when you really get down to it, the Bible (or in this case, most likely King Solomon, who God happened to give unparalleled wisdom) gives us this simple formula to enjoy our lives.

So often—at least in America—live in complete contradiction to this. We want to eat as quickly as possible because we need to keep moving. We don’t want to spend a long time on food. We eat on the run or in our cars.

And we’re missing out.

My husband and I have been fortunate enough to travel overseas twice, wandering throughout several countries in Europe. What struck me so clearly there is the difference in what a meal means. In Paris, you can’t even really get coffee to go, unless you’re in a coffee shop that caters to tourists. No one is eating or drinking while walking around.

In America, we make meals revolve around our lives. In Europe, their lives revolve around meals.

When I returned home, I found myself wishing I could find the time to live that way. More precisely, I found myself wishing I would make the time to live that way.

If I did that—if we all did that—maybe we could put our food culture in the United States on a better path. We’ve been so bent on getting our food as quickly as possible so that we can move on with our busy lives, our food has suffered. And as a result, our health and our earth have suffered.

As I said here, as Christians our lives should be attractive to others. As in, something should stand out; be different. If we’re so furiously busy we don’t make time to have meals with people we care about it, we aren’t living a life anyone really wants to live.

Eat drink and be glad. This theme reappears in Ecclesiastes five times over 12 chapters. When themes repeat in the Bible I feel like it’s God using a highlighter.

“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” (8:15)

First things first: eat.

I think I can do that.



What the World Needs Now is Love…or Cooking

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

My first foray into cooking quickly turned into a cooking failure.

And by “cooking” I mean heating up a can of chicken noodle soup on the stove.

I don’t remember how old I was, but my brother was teaching me what to do. He was the soup making expert, because he wouldn’t eat anything that looked like a fruit or vegetable. So he pretty much lived off a diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (one of God’s greatest creations) and Campbell’s bean and bacon soup.

When I tried to pour it from pot to bowl, I didn’t expect the handle to be so hot (insert your own joke here), and I dropped every last bit of it down the sink.

I remember thinking then, in between thoughts of New Kids on the Block: I’ll never be able to cook. I’m terrible at it, and it’s not even fun.

Somewhere after college, I realized that I enjoyed cooking immensely. And not just heating up a can of soup.

While it took me a while to get on that bandwagon, I didn’t realize the benefits to cooking your own food.

Mark Bittman’s column in the New York Times this week discusses just that. He spoke with author/journalist/professor Michael Pollan about the importance of cooking.

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself,” Pollan said. “People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

What can also get lost when we aren’t cooking? Community.

Obviously, we can go out to eat with people. But cooking with or for someone and sharing food takes your connection to a different level.  You might forget a meal out with friends, but you don’t ever forget when a person cooked for you. There’s some fundamental difference there.

Think of how often God stresses community in the Bible. Much of the Bible is a story of one community, the Jewish people. In Acts, we read the early church gathered and shared meals every day. He built us to need community, and often times we see that community strengthened in the context of sharing a meal.

Passover is a meal people have shared with family and friends for thousands of years. For Christians, taking communion connects us to the beginning of our faith, a remembrance of the meal Jesus shared with His disciples as one of his final acts before dying on the cross. He ate meals with people most did not want to be seen with (Mark 2: 13-17), and He did that to make a point.

Honestly, how many of the problems and misunderstandings could we solve if we would take the time to share a meal with someone?

In the first chapter their book Food: A Culinary History by Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari they discuss how cooking food changed civilization from the earliest times.

“The social impact of cooking was no doubt more immediately apparent than were its nutritional implications. It encouraged commensalism, or eating with others, and led to a greater division of labor within the group, all of whose members participated in a regular round of activities associated with eating. The result was more complex group organization.”

If we make time for cooking, we’re making time to strengthen our community, to strengthen our relationships with our family, friends and maybe some people we never wanted to put in either of those two categories. We’re making time to live in a way that God intended for us.


God and Hippie Food

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

With the Boston events still fresh on my mind and on my broken heart, I am always in awe of people whose best moments happen in the worst times.

I hope that someone says that about me one day. Not that I want to be in the middle of a horrible situation where thousands of lives are damaged forever, but because I want to be someone who puts others before myself in those moments no one expects.

If I’m honest with myself, the fear lurking around my mind is that I won’t step up in the big moment; that I’ll end up looking like Jonah.

You know, the guy in the Bible who hides on a boat in his biggest moment, thinking he can run (well, sail) the opposite direction from God and His will.

Spoiler alert: you can’t.

God asks him to do something new, something somewhat crazy: make the people of Nineveh repent.

Jonah flat out doesn’t want to do it and kind of reminds of a seventh grade girl with how he whines about this mission. One thing to his credit, however: he isn’t afraid to claim his faith.

“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (Jonah 1:9)

Not hard to draw the parallel to today, right? As Christians, we are happy to claim that we are Christians. But when God calls us to something new, something maybe a little crazy, we aren’t eager to learn new tricks (I might add here: especially when we didn’t think of it first) or see something in a new light. We might even whine like a seventh grade girl.

When I talk with people about eating more natural ingredients and cutting back on meat, I inevitably get at least one joke about “hippie food.”

Call it what you want, but if hippie food means eating as many natural foods as possible that have been grown/bred in the way they were designed, that is the way God intended us to use these resources. The way He intended us to eat.

And God didn’t talk much about us eating meat in Genesis 1.

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” (verse 29)

I wish it said, “I give you every type of bacon on the face of the earth and every steak that has sauce on it. They will be yours for food.” But alas, it does not.

Let’s face it: God made hippie food.

As a country, we’ve (finally) reached a point where we’re seeing the damage we’ve done to our bodies and the environment by our food choices and by taking what Big Agriculture gives us. We’re trying to find new ways to get back to the old ways.

While the national conversation on food continues to evolve in positive ways, there are forces trying to hinder that, of course.

As Christians, let’s not look at this the way we always have. Let’s be part of leading the way for change in the food industry in this country. The world needs us in this conversation. God’s creation needs us.

Maybe this is our moment to try something new. Something a little crazy. Don’t hide in a boat sailing the opposite direction.

Numbering our Days

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Happy tax day! Just kidding.

This day often brings to mind the eternal line by Benjamin Franklin:

“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”


Today, the former is what concerns me, which I know really brightens up the room and gets you excited to read.

That line by Benjamin Franklin remains so famous because we identify with it. We know most of life isn’t certain, but death and taxes are. We know we get one shot here on earth and when it’s over, it’s over.

We may know that undeniable truth in our hearts, but our lives don’t demonstrate to others that we understand.

In Psalm 90:12, we read:”Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

In other words, we gain wisdom when we truly comprehend that we aren’t going to live forever.

Do we live like we know our days our numbered?

We eat like we’re going to live forever. We treat the earth and it’s resources like they will last forever.

We don’t know the hour when Jesus will return to earth, but maybe we’re speeding up the process. Maybe we’re forcing Jesus’s hand.

“More than twenty years ago, we reached a point known as ‘ecological overshoot,’ and now the stress we’re putting on the planet—to feed our consumption and absorb our waste—requires 1.3 planet Earths to accommodate it,” according to Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer.

“In other words, our planet needs a year and four months to regenerate the resources we’re gobbling up each year. (We’re going to need two planets’ worth of resources quite soon, and if the entire world lived the average American lifestyle we would need four planet Earths.)”

So, not only are we wearing our bodies out that God created just for us, we’re also wearing out creation. We don’t put enough thought or care into the idea that we’re not leaving this earth in a better place for our children. And, we’re not teaching our kids how to take care of the earth either.

We won’t last forever. The earth won’t last forever if we continue at this rate.

So, what can we do about this? There are changes you go home and make tonight, and they would not only improve your health and most likely your overall life expectancy, but would also help the earth. I’d call that a win-win.

Here are five quick suggestions:

1. Eat less meat. “For a family that usually drives a car 12,000 miles a year, switching from eating red meat and dairy to chicken, fish and eggs just one day a week—in terms of greenhouse gas emissions—is the equivalent of driving 760 miles less a year.” Imagine if you did that twice a week. It doesn’t require that drastic of shift in your eating habits to make a huge difference.

2. Eat better meat. If you eat less meat, you’ll save money and be able to spend on higher quality meat. Eating animals that weren’t stuffed with antibiotics and fed a diet of corn and soy that they weren’t designed for is without a doubt better for you, and better for the environment.

3. Buy more local ingredients. If the average American meal has traveled 1,500 miles, the more local you buy, the more you can cut down on fuel costs for food transportation. And, bonus: you will probably be eating healthier too.

4. Cut down on any foods that are packaged or boxed. Again, you would be contributing to less fuel being used to transport food, which means less fuel polluting the atmosphere. And, that means you would be buying fresh ingredients so that you can…

5. Cook your own food. I’m not blinding you with science here; you know the numerous health benefits to cooking your own food. You control what goes into it. Your health will improve. So will your life expectancy.

As the Psalms remind us, our days our numbered. Once we understand that, we gain a heart of wisdom.

I think the world could use a few more of those.