My earliest memory of food is of a bowl of Jell-O being thrown across the kitchen, landing on the wall and sliding down the wallpaper. My alcoholic father was having a violent fight with my mother and yelling something about how we should have had dinner at the table, oblivious to the fact that his rage had made it impossible for us to sit and eat.
My parents’ divorce was inevitable. Then, like many single mother families in the ‘80s, my mother, brother and I joined the long lines of women and children receiving large blocks of government cheese and powdered milk.
Working with the chronically homeless in San Francisco for 9½ years, I have also come to see the other side of food scarcity.
Certainly in this difficult economy, the need for food is growing and the lack of healthy, affordable food for low-income individuals is causing an obesity epidemic.
I’ve also seen how food scarcity creates trauma for individuals who go without for so long that they over compensate by over eating or who discover rodent and mold problems from their compulsive food hoarding in times of plenty.
In my high school years, I was often bullied for being of a more robust build than some of my classmates and developed an emotional eating pattern that shifted quickly from comfort to shame.
With all of our emotional associations with food and the very real need for food justice in the world, how ought ELCA members talk about food?
Certainly, Aristotle reminds us that anything can become unhealthy when either abused in excess or withheld to extreme. The trick is to find the proper balance. Surely if this were easy we wouldn’t need to pray for (no more or less) our daily bread.
A reverence for food
My Aunt Diane, the wife of a farmer in Henry, S.D., taught me a reverence for food. I remember hearing her talk about how fragile crops are and how one bad storm can ruin a whole year’s wages.
I also remember going with her to grocery stores to set up displays to encourage people to eat beef and pork. She taught me that our choices about what to eat, how we buy it and our support of local food production is vital to the lives and income of the many households that struggle to put bread on the table, even though they grow all the ingredients to make it.
The time I spent on Diane’s farm helping haul hay enabled me to understand the seasons of scripture, the sacredness of what it means that Christ becomes the daily bread we are longing for and how fragile and miraculous it is that in Jesus’ parables we are called the wheat that will eventually feed this hungry world.
As a pastor who does more literal planting, harvesting, cooking and feeding than preaching, I see it as our Lutheran calling to respond to poverty as we respond to the call of Jesus to feed both literal and spiritual sheep.
It’s also important for us to keep our bodies healthy, physically and emotionally, and to be more faithful in our eating. But we must also continuously echo the voice of Christ that demands that our dinner tables continue to grow in size until everyone is able to not only eat but also to experience love and dignity.
I hope you spent some time around World Food Day, October 16, thinking about your relationship with food (emotionally, spiritually and physically) and what you can do to support those who would think our description of lack was a feast.
Remember that Jesus says we are defined more by what comes out of us than what goes in. Spend more time doing something about it than you do eating or thinking about it!
Blessings to you when you eat and when you hunger.
Megan M. Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations and has been a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.