The Paradox of Abundance

From the Director

By Fr. John Burger

A good friend of mine, a religious Sister, served on the missions in Ethiopia during a terrible famine there. A year or two later she found herself back in the United States speaking to various groups, sometimes to Catholic schoolchildren, about her mission experience. She felt herself becoming angry when she would see the children emptying perfectly good sandwiches and fruits into the trash. She was smart and selfreflective and realized the kids had not seen the poverty and desperation she had seen, so she knew she had to work on her own feelings.

But, of course, as much as it may have been unfair to judge the kids harshly, she was not wrong about the issue of food. A few months back Pope Francis said that a negligent and selfish culture of food waste is fueling the global hunger crisis, damaging the lives of individuals and preventing the progress of all people.

Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day, with people who have healthier diets rich in fruit and vegetables the most wasteful, research has found.

About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in U.S. households each day. This waste has an environmental toll, with the volume of discarded food equivalent to the yearly use of 30 million acres of land, 780 million pounds of pesticide and tons of water. Rotting food also clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

“In many places, our brothers and sisters do not have access to sufficient and healthy food, while in others, food is discarded and squandered,” the Pope said in a message sent to David M. Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program a few months ago. The U.N. program provides food assistance to an estimated 80 million people in 82 countries.

Pope Francis cited St. John Paul II and described the phenomenon of food inequality as a “paradox of abundance” that “involves mechanisms of superficiality, negligence and selfishness that underlie the culture of waste.”

He also called on schools, families, media, international organizations and governments to increase awareness of the issue of food inequality, and so I am devoting this column to the issue.

We hardly think we are contributing to oppressing people when we throw out food that with a little creative work could have made into a nutritious meal. “No one can be considered exempt from the need to combat this culture that oppresses so many people,” the Pope said.

Affirming the church’s support, Pope Francis said that “each human being has a right to healthy and sustainable nutrition” and that “by pooling resources and ideas, we can introduce a lifestyle that gives food the importance it deserves.”

“This new lifestyle consists in properly valuing what Mother Earth gives us.” Let’s not just hope so, let’s start to make choices that can make it a reality. Overeating is a form of bad nutrition, but maybe when we were told to clean our plates because children overseas were starving, we should have paid more attention to why that just might be the case and how we could make more responsible choices.


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Columban logoThe Columbans are a society of missionaries, including priests and lay people, who minister to people of various cultures as a way of witnessing to the universal love of God.

We go in the name of the Church to announce, by deed and word, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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