We're in a series right now called Cheeseburgers and The Church: the health message. As I (Sarah) look around the faith community I see a few common denominators: obesity, food (a lot of the wrong "food"), unhealthy people and hypocrisy. How can we take care of the souls of the people when we treat our bodies like garbage disposals? Last week was February 27 and it was the End It Movement Shine The Light on Slavery Day. What many in the faith community fail to realize is that the food-like products they are buying are often times produced with slave/child/human trafficking labor. What Cheeseburgers and The Church series is attempting to do is to take a hard look at how we treat our bodies and the purchases we make say a lot more about us than just going to church every Sunday. It's time for the faith community to wake up and start putting their words into action: eating real food, drinking pure (filtered) water, and to stop buying products (Big Food) that keep our fellow citizens entrapped in slavery.
Part One (Introduction to this series by Sarah Stanley)
Part Two (by Kristina DeMuth)
Part Three (by Kristina DeMuth)
Part Four (by Kristina DeMuth
Part Five (by Kristina DeMuth)
Part Six (by Sarah Stanley)
Last week, I returned home from a sweet, short trip to Haiti to check-in with the children and the staff I lived and worked with last year. In "Cheeseburgers and The Church (Part Two)" I shared my experience of living in Haiti and making the connection between the Big Food industry and poverty. In this series, I would like to bring the idea of industry down to an individual and organizational level......and share with you some words of wisdom that came from a "health warrior" I met on my last journey.
These are several tweets that I posted that strongly illustrate some of the emotions I felt during my ministry...
- "The "white savior" and how our influence of power shapes the developing world."
- " Another child asked me for candy yesterday.... Americans=candy, junk food! That makes me mad and sad." Followed by... "Corn flakes & juice are NOT health foods. Corn flakes= processed GMO, juice= sugar beverage. Wish I could make a public service message." and " What also makes me frustrated about corn flakes is that it's displacing real native cultural foods...."
- "The problem we are now seeing in Haiti w/ illness according to my Haitian friend,"People believe in medicine, they don't believe in food." Followed by "diabetes, hypertension, strokes... Mostly are lifestyle diseases that have been on the rise in developing countries due to westernized diets."
- "I wish more Americans would come to Haiti and try the native foods!!" (Here are a few pictures of the native foods)
- "Elders speak wisdom and truth about life. Take time to listen..."
- "I cringe when I see missionaries leaving Haiti (one of the poorest countries in the world) and filling their bodies with processed crap."
Many missionaries, Expats, service volunteers, are all trying to do the right thing-- serve other people that have a need. The troubling part about our service, however, is that we aren't always aware of how our power of influences shapes the lives of others. We often times come into situations with good intentions, but never think about how those intentions undermine and oftentimes displace traditions, artistry, and rich-culture. I have realized this throughout my experiences in Haiti, specifically with how it relates to food.
It frustrates me when people come to Haiti and have no idea about any of the rich, native foods of the county. They come to do service and developmental projects, and then fill their bodies with SAD (Standard American Diet) food-- pizza, french fries, candy, pop, and meat. They bring treats for the children they visit in orphanages----filling these already malnourished bodies with highly processed, refined foods. In the middle of Cite Soleil, one of the poorest slums in the world, I've had children asked me for a piece of candy. I have had a child cry while I visited a friend's home because I didn't bring a piece of candy! Why are Americans associated with candy? Because that's what Americans are doing...passing out candy, as though life is a carnival. Yes, the candy brings the child a few moments of joy and makes us "feel good" because we've put a smile on his/her face, BUT we don't have to witness the long-term consequences of these actions: the influence we have on cultural eating patterns and the implications it will have on this child's health (many of these same children often don't have dentists, doctors, tooth brushes, or basic sanitation). You may think it's just one piece of candy, but you are just one of millions thinking that it's just one piece of candy. Let me tell you, kids in Haiti are as happy to see fresh fruits (especially the more "rare", native ones) as they are to see sweets and candy! (See: "How to screw up orphan care in the name of Jesus: 8. Feed them a crappy diet.").
The role of influence on health and food extends beyond just the sweets we bring and share and into everyday, cultural staple-foods for these people. To many Westerners, food appears to be just food. BUT food is more than that. Food is about emotion and power, and in many parts of the world, food is also about status and class. Some foods, like edible weeds and native grains, become "food for the poor" though the nutritional value of many of these foods are critical for optimal health and food security for many people around the world. Undermining these health promoting and rich native foods during our times of service, does long-term damage to the people and the cultures we are trying to help (See these research articles on food security and developmental work) including deadly consequences. I am sadden to hear stories from my good, Haitian friends about their parents suffering with lifestyle diseases (or dying from them) (See my blog "Education is Power").
Strokes, diabetes, hypertension... many of these are preventable by eating whole, real foods and being physically active. Coke, refined-grains, cheap meats, candy, corn flakes, cheetos.... they are all "foreign" foods that are "more palatable" and brought in by foreigners and, consequently, displacing native, whole-some foods (see my blog "Musing on Food-aid Again"). I kid you not, some children are eating only cheetos and juice for dinner, and (in the case that I am aware of) it wasn't because there was a lack of food available. Where did people get the idea that cheetos were an acceptable meal for children? Perhaps it was the Americans? Maybe it was the health professionals in America that have ties with food industry?
While doing "service" on one-hand, many people are also doing "dis-services" on the other.. not just to themselves, but also to the people they are trying to serve. We are blinded by how our poor eating patterns are harming the health of others, and how our moments of joy are doing long-term damage. We think of it as "just food" or we think that we are the experts about food because we have had our own personal relationship with food. I am not out to play the blame-game. I used to be in the same shoes as every other missionary/ volunteer.... I used to eat the highly processed foods with chemicals and ingredients I couldn't pronounce.. but then I became educated and now try to be more conscientious about the foods I put in my own body, share with others (and allow them to put in their bodies), and the how the my own food choices impact a much larger, sometimes intangible system.
You, personally, may not be involved with mission-related work in a foreign country, but we have a nutrition-crises here in the United States that needs to be addressed. In many places across the country, children are being fed carnival food at school-- they are being fed cheap, processed, an fried foods that are not health promoting. The meat we are producing is destroying the environment, our health, and increasing antibiotic resistance. It's been reported that over 23000 Americans die of superbugs per year...that 30 million pounds of antibiotics are being used to raise animals for human consumption (only 7.7 million pounds of antibiotics are used in hospitals) ....and 80% of these antibiotics are being used as "preventative mechanisms"....Our cheap meat and our cheap "snack" foods are REALLY EXPENSIVE FOODS with the increase in healthcare costs and the loss of human lives!!!! Our current food system is abusive to the workers producing our food (exposing them to toxic chemicals), the environment (depleting the soil, and polluting our air and water) , the animals (factory farming---thousands of animals crammed into cages and living in their feces), and our own health (see TEDxManhattan and "Antibiotic Resistance and the Food Supply").
Many churches throughout the United States have fundraisers and weekly/ monthly fellowships that serve processed juices, conventional cows milk, donuts, pizzas, pancake-breakfasts, grill-outs, spaghetti dinners, and fish frys.... some churches may even serve meals at homeless shelters, pack-food for foreign countries, collect canned goods for food shelves. How can we turn all of these church functioning, fundraisers, and services into events that honor HEALTH--- honor the body as a human temple and the food that we put into it as medicine? How can we offer more health promoting food choices (e.g. fruits and vegetables) and less processed, refined food options (e.g. chips, white bread, cheap meat)? Can churches promote more meatless options to cutdown on the environmental constraints and the production of "cheap meat"?? How can we learn more about the cultural-food practices in countries that we are packing food for? Are there options for locally sourced food-aid that we can put our money to instead? How do our food choices at volunteer events and church functions contradict the faith messages about stewardship to our Earth, to our bodies, and to others?
In closing, I would like to leave you with this message a Haitian "health warrior" shared with me about health, nutrition, and the bible. This is an excerpt from my blog: "In regards to foolishness, the Haitian man again shared with me a message from the bible about the eyes, the ears, and the mouth. We have been given all of these things to see good, hear good, and speak good…. but in today’s world, people are interested in foolishness. They aren’t interested in doing what is good for their bodies. They may listen, they may speak, they may see…. but they do not act on wisdom. They act on foolishness."... Further reflecting on foolishness, the Haitian man said, “People believe God made everything for humans to eat. They pray over it and think it is blessed. They think it will do no harm to their bodies….. but I don’t think so.”We must stop acting as though our Creator is going to save us from what humans have done to destroy our global food supply. It is foolish to think that we have no control in our food choices or how we construct/ develop food environments for both others and ourselves.