Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Food, Justice, Religion, Meaning

As I search for other work (and if you know someone in the SF Bay Area looking for a capable administrator, please let me know), I have been contracted to create a 5-week curriculum, suitable for Lent, on food. It has been fascinating to create.

The most amazing tidbit was from The Agropolis Museum in France which has this to say about the history of food:

The oldest human vestiges known up to nowadays are dated 3 million years BP, agriculture started around 10000 years BP and the agro-industrial times have only 150 years.
If man had appeared on January 1rst, agriculture had started on the second half of December and the agro-industry on December 31st, late in the evening.

Isn't that incredible?

Oh, and by "agro-industry," we mean things like, oh, canning. It seems far too easy to say, "boo, bah, agro-industry BAD." But I for one don't want to go back to days before refrigeration.

One of the most amazing discoveries I made was this: in hunter-gatherer times, you went to where the food was. In agricultural times, you lived near where the food was. In agro-industrial times, the food travels to where you are.

The Local Food movement makes a lot more sense to me now as I realize how dependent our food culture is on petroleum--just in terms of transport. Doing this research, I'm less concerned about the worries of processed foods per se (a carton of milk is a processed food) than I am about the crazy number of miles food travels to get to my table. The notion of food miles is under serious debate right now, but it was certainly eye-opening to me to realize how novel this notion of food being transportable really is.

On the religion front, I have been absolutely fascinated in looking at food in religious culture as objectively as possible. What do we mean by our food? What are the messages we send? What are we trying to say? One of the lessons in the curriculum is to analyze your church's potluck supper: what are the norms? Why are they there? What would you find absolutely shocking?

Whitebread Protestants, the book I mentioned yesterday, points out in the introduction that almost every church in the U.S. has a kitchen, and asks the simple question, Why? Never thought about that before, did you? Neither did I. Why should there be a kitchen in a church? And what does this say about our faith?

I can hardly wait to get to the chapter on potlucks. Right now I'm reading about the (it seems now) utterly crazy two wine theory (any time the Bible mentions wine negatively, it was alcoholic wine; any time the Bible mentions wine positively, it was non-alcoholic--those prohibitionists worked so hard!) and the development of communion shot glasses.

Fascinating stuff. I'll post the link when the curriculum is ready to go.

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