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Live Justly for Lent: Eating Justly

When I was growing up, my preferred diet earned me the nickname, “Papa’s little carnivore.” Years later I married someone with a similar palate: my Iowa-bred husband loves marinated chops, smoked turkey, pork tenderloin, and Pella bologna. For him, growing up, a meal without meat was just a snack.

I didn’t have a clue how to grill a pork chop when we were first married (I still don’t), so we went through a lot of chicken and ground beef. A meal would look the same in December as it did in June, and I didn’t think twice about it.

But as my faith began shaping my passion for environmental and social justice, I realized that three times a day I was making a decision that could either support the conservation of God’s creation or contribute to the depletion of its natural resources; it could help pay a fair wage for a farm worker or perpetuate a system that takes advantage of those who grow the food that we depend on.

Understandably, the complex injustices of our food system are overwhelming: the thousands of miles that food travels; the often unfair wages and working conditions of those who grow our food; the lack of access to and education around healthy foods and the resulting rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease; the contributions of industrial agriculture to habitat destruction, polluted waterways, soil depletion, endangered wildlife, and climate change; and climate change’s impact on the world’s most poor and vulnerable.

God clearly calls us to care for his creation and for the poor, but where do we start when facing such a broken system? As the primary cook in our family, I decided to respond to that call by “voting” for justice with our food dollars.

Here are five steps you can take this Lent to eat more justly:

  1. Eat Less Meat: Meat production takes a major toll on the environment due to the vast amounts of land, water, and energy it requires. Read this article to learn some staggering statistics. Consider instating “Meatless Mondays,” and when that becomes easy, try giving up a second day. In addition to reducing the frequency, try reducing the quantity: shift meat from playing a starring role on your plate to playing a supporting role, and get creative about substitutes. Can’t imagine life without your famous tacos? Replace half the meat with rice, beans, or corn cooked in the same seasoning, and you’ll hardly notice the difference.
  2. Support a Local Farmer: The biggest step we took to eat more justly was to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share: at the beginning of each growing season, we pay a local, organic farmer upfront and receive a box of fresh produce each week. As a result, I’ve become a better cook, we eat more healthfully, and we’ve learned to love veggies to boot! Plus, with all the fresh vegetables, we eat significantly less meat. Even better, we know our farmer, she pays her workers fairly, and she uses sustainable growing practices that improve the health of her small corner of creation. Praise God! Find a CSA near you, or frequent your farmers market.
  3. Eat with the Seasons: Joining a CSA or shopping at a farmers market forces you to eat with the seasons, but you can take this step even if those aren’t options. Selecting in-season produce from a grocery store will improve the chances that your produce came from somewhere relatively local rather than thousands of miles away. For example, if you live in the Midwest, you can bet that the tomatoes at the store in December traveled a far distance to reach you (and aren’t the freshest). Forego the tomatoes until summer and instead savor squashes and root vegetables. You’ll appreciate and look forward to God’s seasonal gifts, and this cookbook will serve you well as you learn to cook and eat this way.
  4. Buy Fair Trade: In food as in anything else, if the price of something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That is, if you’re not paying for the true cost of something, somebody else is: most likely the farmer who wasn’t paid a fair price to get it into your hands. Next time you buy something that can’t be grown locally—such as coffee, tea, chocolate, or olive oil—consider spending a few extra dollars to help a farmer stay on his land, put food on her table, or send his kids to school.
  5. Plant a Garden: Caring for creation requires a deep affection for it. Growing a garden (or even a single herb or vegetable plant in a pot) will encourage a deep appreciation for creation, the rhythm of the seasons, and the miracle of growing food. If possible, introduce gardening to kids and instill an affection for creation in them as well.

Does eating for justice happen overnight? No. Is it easy? No, although it gets easier over time. Will you be able to do it perfectly, all the time? Not if you’re like us (we’re still known to have frozen pizza in the freezer for backup). But God can take our meager efforts and bring them to new life.

Lent reminds us that the roots of injustice are deep and complex, that all of creation is groaning, and that we often don’t love God and our neighbor as we should. But it also reminds us to put our hope in the promise of Easter and in Christ’s redemption of the world. As we journey towards the cross this season, may we thank God for using us to help renew his kingdom.

[Image: Flickr user Pieter Musterd]

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