A Place at the Table

13 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hunger and poverty. Of course, over the past year I have been growing more liberal in my politics, so thinking about hunger and poverty, at least as a part of the whole, isn’t a new thing for me. But the week before last I got an email from Panera that kicked this off again.

See, I have a Panera card. You know, the kind you swipe and get rewards after so many purchases and free pastries on your birthday. And because I have a Panera card, the corporation invited me to a free screening of a powerful movie called A Place at the Table. I know Panera is trying to fight food insecurity through their pay-what-you-can cafes. I don’t know much more about Panera, if they pay a living wage and such. I need to learn more. But I respect that they’ve started doing something, because every movement needs a first step.

End Hunger Now

What Panera did last week was open my eyes.

I knew people in America were hungry. I knew that 1 in 6 people are living with food insecurity–they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I read a statistic yesterday that says 8.3 million seniors go to bed hungry each night.

What is going on in America? Why do we have such hungry people, when obesity is a national epidemic and there is plenty of food to go around?

Well, according to A Place at the Table, a lot of it comes down to two things: corporate greed, and the government’s unwillingness to do something about the problem.

Corporations continue pushing out foods that are loaded with non-nutritious calories. Corporate farms suck up most of the government subsidies on corn, soybeans, and wheat, while family farms and orchards are left out. The government gives public schools a tiny amount of money to spend on school lunches, where far too many children are eating the only meal they get each day; as a result, school lunches aren’t as nutritious as they should be. Did you know the average food stamp allotment is $3 per day? How well can you eat on that? Junk food is cheaper than healthful food, and if you only have $3 to spend, you’re probably going to go for the cheapest things around, right?

The actor Jeff Bridges was involved in A Place at the Table, and at one point he says that if another nation was doing this to our children, we would go to war. But we’re doing it to ourselves. That’s insane.

So viewing the movie got me thinking about all this. As the movie points out, there are thousands of private food charities attempting to fill the gap, and yet the hunger problem is worse than ever. Private charities aren’t the solution. Not that I think the government is a great solution either, considering they can’t even come to an agreement about the budget, but something has to be done.

I posted something to this effect on Facebook the other day, and one of my Christian Republican friends pointed out that too much government assistance creates dependency. I disagree with her for a lot of reasons, and I also believe that a well-designed assistance program would be aimed at helping people get on their feet. But that’s a post for another day.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that we need to be worried about dependency right now. I think we need to prioritize things differently. It’s like triage. If a physician has a patient bleeding to death from a traumatic leg wound, does she worry about making the patient dependent on a wheelchair, or does she apply a tourniquet and amputate the leg? Let’s feed hungry people first, and worry about dependency when we’re sure no one has gone to bed hungry tonight.

Along with watching A Place at the Table, I’ve also been reading a couple of really great books. I started with Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis, and this week I began reading Red Letter Revolution by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne.

What I’ve taken away so far is a lot of jumbled emotions and a strong feeling of conviction. I have to change how I’m living my life. I have to encourage other Christians to change how they’re living their lives. I have to reach out to people who have been hurt and judged and condemned and abused by people in the name of Christianity. I have to stop trying to defend all the atrocities committed by Christians and start trying to follow Jesus.

The subtitle of Medearis’ book is “The Art of Non-Evangelism”, but I would posit that the book is about so much more than evangelizing people (or not evangelizing them, actually). It’s about how Christians look at theology and rules and are-you-a-believer-or-not. It’s about how Christians forget to look at Jesus.

What would Jesus do? Well, I can tell you what He did. He fed the five thousand. He healed the sick. He condemned the religious leaders who wanted to stone the adulterous woman, rather than condemning the adulterous woman. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He told us not to lay up treasures on earth.

He fed the hungry.

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4 Responses to “A Place at the Table”

  1. prayerwalking87 March 15, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Reblogged this on Just A Closer Walk With Thee and commented:
    This is a really great post about hunger and poverty in America. Here is a startling fact from it: “8.3 million seniors go to bed hungry each night.”

  2. Esteban Rodriguez April 2, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    I am wrting a response to an article entitled “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” for my Critical Thinking class. Doing some research I came across this blog post and was interested in your christian view about this problem. I think you have a great point that the church should be taking a larger role in alleviating the issue. My two questions are: Is the church large enough (or even able) to make a dent? and Are non-christians or even less-faithful people reluctant to accept help from religious organizations for fear of being evangelized?

    • SWC April 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

      Hi, Esteban! Thanks for your comment. I do wonder sometimes if non-Christians are unwilling to ask for help from religious organizations because of that. I know, for instance, that at least one prominent mission in my state provides shelter and food for homeless women and children, and that recipients also receive “Biblical counseling” – but I have no idea if they are able to opt out of that counseling.

      If I am to be honest, I would probably feel uncomfortable seeking assistance from a Muslim organization, for example, if I knew that I would be required to receive counseling from the Quran as a requirement for receiving that aid, and I could say the same of any other faith, whether it was Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Judaism. I have enjoyed conversations with people of all those faiths in my life, but only from a position of equality. If I were taking food, shelter, clothing, or money, I would feel unequal, as if I owed something to the person giving to me. It would feel forced.

      So you raise an excellent point. I don’t feel as if Christian missions should seek to force Christianity on people they help. If we follow the example of Jesus, we see that He offered aid to people without placing any demands on them. But if they asked what they could do, he would tell them to sin no more. But always, always, He answered their need first, and without requirement. I think Christian organizations would do well to learn from that.

      As to your first question–I’ll be the first to admit that I am inept at mathematics and, by extension, economics. I’ll have to do some research to give you a complete answer. But just looking at the ridiculously expensive and extravagant buildings churches occupy in the United States–looking at churches who have paid staff of 10 or 20 or even 30 people–looking at Christians who drive nice vehicles and wear nice clothes– Well, I can’t be convinced that we are incapable of doing more than we are. Myself included–even as I try to embrace a feeling of having enough, I still find myself buying things that aren’t necessary, things that would feed someone a meal.

      I have only begun reading Ron Sider’s excellent books about Christianity and social justice, but I hope after I have delved more into his writings, I will be able to answer you with more evidence. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Privileged Christians and Hunger in America | Single White Christian - March 19, 2013

    […] mentioned the other day I’d been thinking a lot about hunger in America. What I’ve been forced to realize lately is that even being able to think about hunger is a […]

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