I came across an article about the epic journey of sugar from a sugarcane field on the Hawaiian island of Maui to a nearby coffee shop down the road. It claimed the sugar travelled about 16,000 kilometres to arrive at its final destination a little over a kilometre away. It was shipped from Maui to California, then to New York, where it was put into packets and delivered to restaurants and supermarkets across the U.S., including the cafe just a few kilometres down the road from the sugarcane field where its journey started. Talk about taking the scenic route!
The Worldwatch Institute claims the average American meal travels approximately 2,400 kilometres from source to plate, while the David Suzuki Foundation claims the average Canadian meal travels around 1,200 kilometres. The destructive environmental impact of our current food production, distribution and consumption habits is, in a word, obscene. I’m convinced that for those of us who accept the divine mandate to be good stewards of the earth, it is a moral imperative to embrace organic, local and environmentally responsible food choices. I also recognize the moral responsibility we have to change our current economic realities in which only the wealthy and upper-middle class can really afford to make certain healthy and eco-friendly choices.
The fact is, most Canadians now live in urban centres and are out of touch with the land and how our food is produced. I’m fortunate to have people in my life who are helping me reconnect with the earth in myriad ways. However, I’m still catching up with many of my Mennonite friends and peers in cultivating an eco-conscious way of life. It can be challeng-ing to change lifelong habits and patterns, even if we’re convinced we ought to. This seems especially true when it comes to food.
An area of food ethics I’ve been convicted about recently is the art of savouring. Several years ago, I developed a friendship with an energy worker who had been “delivered” from an obsessive-compulsive disorder and lost a significant amount of weight through studying and practising what he calls “higher consciousness.”
One day I shared with him of my own struggle with eating unhealthy food in unhealthy amounts. He’s a vegetarian with six-pack abs, but he didn’t judge me for my eating habits. He had been there himself.
Instead of condemning, he offered a new perspective. “Eating potato chips, for example, in and of itself, is not bad or shameful,” he said. “What makes gluttony destructive is its habitual, excessive and unconscious nature. I would encourage you to honour the potato and the epic journey it has taken to get to you. Reflect on the many miles, hands and lives that have been part of its journey, from the farmer to the truck driver to the grocery store employee who put the bag on the shelves. Think of them and thank them with every bite. Enjoy the delicious taste and savour it while being mindful of the whole experience of pleasure it provides. Be grateful for each chip, resisting the urge to stuff a handful into your mouth while watching a hockey game on TV. Take one chip at a time and pay attention to its shape and colour, the saltiness, the crunchy texture . . . but more than that, be mindful of the epic journey this potato has taken, from God through the soil . . . and finally to this moment, to offer this gift of pleasure to you.”
To be honest, this sounded like complete nonsense at first. But his words stuck with me. I wondered what would happen if I took his advice?
What if, instead of thanking God before every meal and then diving in and devouring my food like I’d just entered a pie-eating contest, I paused to be grateful for every bite? What if I took the time to enjoy the gift of taste and nourishment each forkful provided? What if I contemplated the many individuals who have worked so hard, many for far less than a living wage, to make this meal or cup of coffee possible for me to enjoy? What if I thanked them, blessed them and prayed for economic justice in our world as I brought each morsel to my mouth.
What would happen if everyone started practising the art of savouring each bite at every meal?
Troy Watson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.
See also “Are we eating ‘Just’ Food?”