Part 1: Making Choices

Alternative Giving

Part 1c: Food and Celebration

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Hunger and the Lifestyle Connection

Milo and Colleen Shannon-Thornberry

Get to know Milo at Post #181.

Into the consciousness of a nation already troubled by the repercussions of political intrigue, war, poverty, and urban unrest, the 1970s brought reports of a scourge which was ravaging the world. Hunger hit the headlines with compelling intensity: Famine in Bangladesh! Drought in the Sahel! Even as the century comes to an end, the hunger has not ended.

Most of us learn about the existence of hunger through televised pictures of dying babies and starving people waiting in line for food rations. We listen to the statistics of the food crisis affecting hundreds of millions of the world's poor even as national leaders gather time and time again to discuss the problem.

Others of us do not learn of hunger via television or other media. Others of us live our lives in a food crisis every day. Tucked away on reservations, in migrant worker camps, in former plantation regions, in urban ghettos and sharecropper shacks are the very old and the very young, the men and women whose stomachs are rarely full and whose bodies are never proper nourished.

What is not so generally known is that all of this has been happening in a world which, from a global perspective, has enough food to meet the basic nutritional needs of all its people.

We live on a planet with food resources more than adequate for its population, and yet malnutrition continues as the world's most widespread cause of physical and mental debility, disease, and death.



What must be done?

If the causes of this scourge are so many, so complex, and so interrelated, is there anything that can be done? Or are we doomed to see a world in which the "Haves" build ever-higher walls to protect themselves from the ever-growing numbers of the "Have-Nots" and pay ever-increasing amounts of money for arms to keep the "Have-Nots" from storming the walls of plenty?

To know what must be done if malnutrition is to be eradicated is not as difficult as knowing how to do it, and neither are as difficult as actually doing it. But knowing what must be done is the starting point. So, what must be done?

1. Each nation has to decide that providing adequate nutrition for all its people is among its highest national priorities. In many developing countries, agricultural priorities are: first, food for export; second, food for industrial processing; and only third, food for the population at large. That is a formula for malnutrition. The agricultural priorities must be reversed if all people are to be adequately fed.

The determination to provide adequate nutrition for all its people involves more than a nation's agricultural priorities. Other priorities must include making possible employment for all who can work so that they will have the money to buy food that will be available when the agricultural priorities are changed. If the opportunity for employment for all people is realized in the society, the cancerous core of the cause of malnutrition will have been eliminated.

Employment opportunity, however, will not solve the problem of those who cannot work: the young, the old, the sick, and the disabled. A society that can decide to change its agricultural priorities and provide full employment opportunities is also a society that can provide for the welfare of its helpless in ways beyond the imagination of those who have experienced the impersonal and dehumanizing welfare system in the United States.

2. The international community of nations must decide to accept a more equitable basis for mutual intercourse than presently exists. With justification, the poor nations of the world cry out that "the rules of the game are unfair." It is not too difficult to understand why those countries, with 70 percent of the world's population, reject a system which awards 70 percent of the world's income to the other 30 percent of its inhabitants. That inequity is due less to ignorance, laziness, and lack of resources than it is to the fact that the "rules" of the world economic "game" - as applied to trade, the international monetary system, the operation of large multinational corporations - are "fixed" in favor of the industrialized nations of the world. Those rules are the legacy of Western colonialism.

What the developing nations of the world are calling for is a new international economic order (NIEO), in which the poor countries get fair prices for the goods they produce for the industrialized countries and in which poor countries are not forced by wealthy countries to produce goods for them at the expense of providing food for their own people.

There should be no illusion about the difficulties in getting the community of nations to play by a new set of rules. As Geoffrey Barraclough, an analyst of the world economic crisis, has reminded us, if one looks at present indications, the prospects for a new world economic order look slim and those for new world economic disorder look alarmingly large. However, just as it was possible for slavery to be ended in this country, and just as it was possible for Western political colonialism to be ended in most of the developing world, so it is also possible to end economic colonialism.

While there are many other decisions that need to be made if hunger and malnutrition are to be eliminated, there can be no substitute for the decision at the international level providing for more equitable dealing among nations, nor for the decision at national levels to provide adequate nutrition for all their people. The implications of these two decisions are far-reaching. How the decisions will get made may not yet be clear, but that must not detract from the necessity of seeing that they are made.


What can I do?

Specifically, what can I do to ensure that the decisions at national and international levels are made and implemented? Commensurate with the seriousness of the problem and the difficulties in getting the important decisions made is the seriousness with which we approach the problem personally. What is required of us is nothing less than a lifestyle focused on the problem and its solution. We suggest that there are five vocations in this responsible lifestyle.

1. We must be students so that we can see beyond the headlines and political and corporate rhetoric to understand the fundamental issues. Both study and reflection can lead us to a recognition that employment, welfare, and the New International Economic Order are hunger issues.

2. We must be activists in our local community. The integrity of our commitment to the hunger concern is reflected in our ability to recognize the dimensions of hunger at home and in our willingness to be involved with the poor in its elimination. There is no substitute for direct personal involvement. In the 1990s, tens of millions of North Americans are hungry. Forty percent are children.

3. We must be advocates at local and national levels on government and corporate policies and practices. We must stand in those arenas where the poor are not present, whether at a company stockholder meeting or at a Senate hearing; our voices must echo those of the poor whose access to the decision-making process at both government and business levels has traditionally been blocked. Several excellent organizations exist that can assist you in the effort: for example, Bread for the World, the Inter-religious Taskforce on U.S. Food Policy, and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

4. We must be responsible stewards of our financial resources, committing them to church and other voluntary efforts to combat hunger, and monitoring their use in our individual and corporate lives. Through both our charitable contributions and our financial investments, we can make strong statements about our stand for equality and justice. As government and churches develop programs which are more controversial, your informed support may well be critical.

5. We must be pioneers in finding new ways of living which are characterized by using only that which is absolutely required. This means developing a lifestyle that will be a microcosm of the kind of world order which must come to be. It means developing immunity to that disease which is endemic to our society: consumerism and consumption for its own sake. The life of voluntary simplicity is a luxury which we receive in exchange for rejecting our bondage to consumerism. It becomes a sign of our personal liberation as well as a symbol of our solidarity with sisters and brothers for whom simplicity is a "given," not a choice.

Over the years many of us have worked to mobilize people in our churches into the kind of lifestyle just described. We have sought, through this mobilization, to build a broad-based consensus of concern among our church constituencies. In doing this, we have adopted a style which sought to be inoffensive and low key and an approach which, while straightforward regarding facts, sought to be moderate regarding actions.

That mobilization must continue to be strengthened through individual commitments. Moreover, it must be strengthened through deepened commitments which carry with them a sense of urgency about implementing solutions to hunger. We must end the complacency with which we deal with the "statistics" of hunger by making it our own struggle, and by joining hands with the victims of hunger and working toward their victory.

Food and Celebrations

To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage

Food has been an important part of celebrations for people of various cultures and religions from earliest times. Museum exhibits of ceremonial bowls and goblets used by the ancient Greeks, Latin writings describing Roman banquets, religious documents giving instructions for feasts and festivals, traditions of the First Nations for sharing meat from the hunt - these are reminders that festive food has been an integral part of celebrations throughout history.

The Bible includes accounts of many special meals; in fact, food is a recurring theme in scripture. In the story of the prodigal son, the "fatted calf" is killed and prepared for the son's homecoming feast. And when Jesus becomes aware that the time of his arrest and death are near, he makes careful preparations for one last intimate sharing of the Passover meal with his disciples.

Food and celebration seem to go together. Even a casual look at the cookbook section at most bookstores or a glance at space given to describing holiday meals in newspapers and magazines will reveal the keen interest our culture takes in food. Special meals for national, religious, or family celebrations add variety and zest to our daily routine. They afford opportunities to share family anniversaries, to recognize important events, to affirm or to comfort a family member or friend, to increase our understanding and enjoyment of many holidays.

How can we emphasize the creative and joyous aspects of celebrations and avoid both the anxiety of having everything "just right" and the extravagance of preparing and eating foods that are too rich and too expensive?

1. Share responsibility. Invite members of the household to take part in planning, shopping, preparing, and serving a special meal. This change from a pattern of assuming that one person, usually the wife and mother, will do it all may not be easy. Sometimes the person usually responsible likes being in charge and feels threatened by having others do her or his job. Conversely, members of the household may not want to take on additional tasks. But if planning is done far enough ahead, if new ideas are considered, if there is some choice about who does what and when, and if a team spirit can be developed, then sharing responsibility becomes more plausible. The investment of time and energy into this kind of joint planning and job sharing is worthwhile because it can yield exciting dividends.

The first dividend goes to the one who has customarily taken responsibility for the meal. That person will be less tired, less anxious, less resentful and, therefore, more able to enjoy the celebration. One year, "The Best Christmas Gift," a contest sponsored by Alternatives, was awarded to a woman who was a mother, grandmother, minister's wife, and annual hostess of her large family's Christmas dinner. A few weeks before Christmas, her son and daughter-in-law notified her that their gift to her would be a "Kitchen-Free Day" on December 25th. They planned, shopped for, prepared, served, and cleaned up breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the whole family. On that day she did not feel torn between duties at the church, visiting with family and friends, and kitchen tasks. She was a guest in her own dining room.

The second dividend goes to the children and adults who help with the meals. Because they are involved from the beginning, they are spared those vague feelings of guilt about one person "slaving over a hot stove;" they share credit for the results - especially their own dishes - and feel more a part of the festivities. Talents might be discovered and later tapped for regular family meals.

The third dividend goes to the guests. They join wholeheartedly in a celebration atmosphere where nobody seems worn out or uptight. In the rush and strain of daily routines, the gift of a leisurely visit with friends is enjoyable and renewing.

Another way of sharing responsibility for a meal is by asking guests to bring some of the food. This can be a true potluck, with guests bringing whatever they like, or a planned potluck, where each is asked to bring one specific part of the meal, or even a specific item. In addition to sharing the work, guests and hosts also share the expense of the meal.

Gifts of food can be part of special occasions in many ways other than meals at home. A gift of food, especially a favorite recipe, can be taken to the celebrant for a special occasion. If the person is a friend of the family, preparation of the food can be a joint endeavor. Many people traditionally take food to bereaved families, an effort that is practical as well as comforting. Members of the North Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, have a tradition of packing goodie-filled Valentine boxes for students away at college.

2. Work ahead. The most crucial step in arranging food for celebration is planning. First, choose a workable, affordable menu. Divide up such tasks as shopping, advance preparations, and cooking on the day of the event. Children enjoy making table decorations if they are not rushed and if they are allowed to use their own creative ideas. They are also tireless helpers for a cookie-making project, but the project supervisor must be sure to allow enough dough for pre-party sampling! Members of the household with demanding work schedules can make cook-ahead dishes such as breads, desserts, or salads, and they can prepare ingredients for dishes to put together later (shell and chop nuts, cut up dried fruits, prepare raw vegetables). Advance preparation frees the kitchen from last-minute congestion, allowing family members and guests to enjoy each other in a more leisurely manner.

3. Keep it festive but simple. Set a festive table with attractive mats or table cloth, a pretty centerpiece of cut flowers or a bowl of fruit and a special card or gift for the guest of honor. Have an eye for color - parsley, cocktail tomatoes, or pimento are pleasing garnishes. Serve the food in bowls and platters different from those used every day. Keep the meal simple by serving fewer dishes. Even for a party meal, a hearty main dish, fresh vegetable, salad, bread, and light dessert are enough. Prepare a sufficient quantity of each dish. Try new recipes, but include some familiar ones, especially if there are children in the group. If those who share the feast leave the table feeling pleased and satisfied, but not "overstuffed," those who prepared the meal deserve to be complimented.

Some meals are fun to eat! Set up your own Salad Bar, Rice and Toppings, Potato Bar or Pocket Bread Sandwich Bar. Young people seem particularly pleased with food they put together themselves.

When the moderators of two main branches of the Presbyterian Church were to lead a joint worship service in Richmond, Virginia, the hospitality committee wanted members of the congregation and visitors to greet the moderators. But it was not feasible to serve a regular meal unless a sizable number of people missed the church service for kitchen duties. The committee devised a plan that worked well. A large quantity of rice was prepared ahead of time in the church kitchen. Members of the congregation were asked to bring any kind of vegetable, meat, fish, or cheese sauce that would combine well with rice. Those unable to prepare a cooked sauce were asked to bring peanuts, raisins, coconut, or other toppings. The pastor of one of the congregations in the city opened his remarks of appreciation for the event by saying, "We Koreans like rice!" That was a plus for the menu that the committee had not even considered. Since rice is a staple in so many parts of the world, it is a good choice for meals prepared for people from other countries.

4. Invite others to share the meal. In planning a dinner for any traditional special occasion, let members of the household suggest persons they would like to invite: foreign students, friends who have no family members nearby, or persons they have met from the church shelter. For a birthday dinner, a child might want to include a scout master, church school teacher, or a new school friend. For a wedding anniversary, a couple might want to invite friends who attended them, or the person who performed the ceremony.

Each Christmas, I enjoy thinking of friends who joined our family celebration in past years and of the special contributions each made to the occasion:

Children who grow up in families where guests from other countries and cultures are often in the home find it easy to relate to persons from different backgrounds. Money cannot buy the kind of educational experience that growing up with friends from different places provides.


Change is possible

Experiencing the beauty and variety of other cultures in their growing-up years is a privilege not many adults can claim. But most of us are aware of a thread running through every culture: humanity's common need to celebrate. A second commonality is a penchant to organize celebrations around good food and warm friends amid pleasant surroundings. As noted earlier, we have done it this way for centuries. But recent history tells us that millions of the world's people are in a constant struggle simply to survive. With this in mind it seems no longer appropriate to celebrate by imitating opulent, self-indulgent, Roman-style feasts.

It is not necessary to give up celebrating in order to be sensitive, compassionate world citizens. However, celebrations that take into account the world's hungry people and Earth's finite resources demand discipline and commitment to ethical eating, and changing our style of living to consider all who inhabit Earth. If the way we live includes good habits in food buying and preparation on a daily basis, our festive occasions will be easier to plan and execute within the context of responsible living. And we will be rewarded for our efforts by nutritious meals that attest to our involvement with the world's hungry people and by celebrations that are both life-giving and life-enriching.

Almost everyone agrees that certain changes in our diet may be to our benefit. Studies by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggest that we should:

Doris Janzen Longacre in the More-with-Less Cookbook also urges avoidance of over-processed foods, convenience foods, large amounts of refined sugar, and saturated fats. But change is difficult - or, at least, we think it is - and, oftentimes, we resist. Three statements are frequently made when new approaches to eating are discussed:

  1. It is too time-consuming.
  2. It's hard to find those ingredients.
  3. The members of my family won't eat it.

Family cooperation is sometimes achieved when each member helps in the planning and decision making. Those who accept responsibility for meals (husband, wife, children, etc.) have a better chance of success if there is a firm conviction about the benefits to be reached - better health, lower cost, greater satisfaction, more to share, and happier memories!

Dare to experiment! Make a few changes at first. The daily papers and monthly magazines are full of practical suggestions for new dishes - pastas, stir-fries, frittatas, Oriental and Eastern vegetable dishes, quick breads, unfamiliar fruits (kiwi, papaya, mangoes), lentils, etc. Many communities have good farmers' markets and some have stores featuring health foods. Even traditional grocery stores are becoming more responsive to demands for brown rice, rye flour, spinach noodles, bulgar wheat, pita bread, snow peas, and carob candy.

Celebrations are more joy-filled when, in conjunction with good fellowship and delicious, simple meals, we carry out commitments to conserve resources, share our bounty, and follow good health practices.



Good shopping habits trim the food bill, save time, and help change eating patterns. First, get a cookbook that encourages thrift, good health, and awareness of the world. Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook is a basic. Read it until you are saturated with the fact that what you do at the market and in the kitchen matters!

Think about meals as a testimony of faith, not just as an act of survival. Enjoy planning, reading food ads, making a few new menus and thinking ahead so that meal time is a joy and a celebration.

Rearrange storage space so that buying and storing a few items in bulk is possible; for example, whole wheat flour, brown rice and a variety of pastas. Get rid of those things in your refrigerator that you have not used in weeks, and stock bulk yeast, unflavored gelatin, fresh herbs (ginger, dill, mint), fresh fruits and green vegetables in the newfound space. Cut down on canned items which usually are heavily salted and sugared. Stock a few new spices on your pantry shelves. Try oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and whole nutmeg. Buy spices loose at one-tenth the price and keep them in small labeled bottles.

Find a store that caters to the "new you." Farmers' markets and health food stores are good sources for these foods. Or, if you live in an area where such markets are not available, ask your grocer to stock these items. Wherever you shop, do two things: make a list, and have an eagle eye for bargains.

Prepare for shopping by doing three things: read weekly food ads, mark "specials" that fit agreed-on standards (no junk!), and list items needed for selected menus.

Do incidental shopping by keeping the list in your purse and stopping by the store when you are in that area. Be firm about steering clear of sections of the store that tempt you to binge on sugary doughnuts or to indulge in impulse buying. But be flexible enough to snap up a bargain.



Experiment with stir-fry cooking. Children usually love it, especially if they can help. Try new soups - cheese broccoli, corn chowder, fresh spinach, gazpacho, or even cold fruit soups. Make enough for more than one meal.

Discover pasta salads, using raw marinated vegetables and a variety of salad dressings. Serve hot pasta with bits of beef or chicken. Chop fresh vegetables for a salad. Use homemade dressings which are cheaper and free of additives. Cut down on the number of different items on your menu - hot pasta, vegetable salad, and fruit dessert are adequate and nourishing.

Get acquainted with beans and legumes. They are nourishing, protein-rich and less costly than meat for your wallet and for Earth.

For dessert, try to stick with fresh fruit, simple puddings, or healthful cookies. Find simple, reliable recipes for making a batch of cookies or a sheet cake on Saturday afternoon, and hide it to use during the week. Breads are delicious but high in calories - presenting a problem for some people. Hot breads with bran, nuts, or raisins furnish protein and make an ordinary meal special.


New kinds of cookbooks

When we are looking for responsible kinds of cooking, we now have many alternatives offering Earth-friendly recipes. Look for them in second-hand book stores, rummage sales, or at book sales, or, borrow them from the library. Many of these books do more than present new recipes. They provide incentive to change by making us aware of the dangers of additives and preservatives, giving us a new appreciation for natural foods and enlisting us in the war against needless starvation in the world. Some of the books are general in nature, covering a range of foods and kinds of preparation. Others are specifically directed toward certain kinds of food, for instance, mouth-watering desserts. All ages can profit from these exciting, challenging books. No one is too old to change or too young to begin right!

Do You Serve Feelings or Food?

Jean Farmer

"You need advice," my daughter Susie said firmly when she learned I was going to write about celebrations and food. "You must see Professor Yasuda."

"He's a better cook than I am?" I had jealously guarded my culinary reputation through years of stretched strudels, stuffed grape leaves, and flaky croissants.

"Cook? Why, I don't know whether he can cook at all," Susie said, munching on a radish. "He translates haiku poetry. Even got a gold and ruby pin from the Emperor of Japan."

"But what's this got to do with celebrations and food?" I protested. My daughter had been going to Friday night meetings at Dr. Yasuda's home. Philosophy or something.

"Mom, face the truth. Do you cook for guests to make them happy or to celebrate your reputation?"

I maintained a sullen silence.

"It's not that we don't love your food," said Susie. "But honestly, when we had the grads over for beer, did you have to make the pretzels?"

"Okay, you've made your point. But what did the Master serve the troops last time?"

"Oh," said Susie, waving vaguely, "some sort of tea and cracker. But in the most exquisite cups. Kind of like a ceremony. Let me talk to him about you."

The next Tuesday, an exquisite spring morning, I found Goodbody Hall (a happy omen!) and Dr. Yasuda's office. I offered him a spray of quince blossoms and some rather bad haiku I had written on the way over.

He smiled at the flowers and discretely said nothing about my poetry.

"Tell me about food, Sir."

"Americans - barbarians with food," said Dr. Yasuda, his broad face wrinkling in disgust. He spoke in a pleasantly metallic voice. "We Japanese don't eat food. Instead we offer food to ourselves. The same way you offer things to gods - incense, flowers, crops..."

"You mean we're like temples?"

"Yes. We offer our bodies nourishment to keep us alive. A funny thing happens when you eat with this idea of offering. The body refuses to eat more than it needs. Even people who get to be of enormous weight can do this."

"No diets?"

"No diets," he said. "This is not an intellectual thing. It is feelings. First, you feast the eye. You satisfy the senses of smell and touch, then taste. All five senses we offer to the body."

"One sense was missing," I thought out loud. "Oh, sure, the sound of food when we break it or chew it."

Dr. Yasuda nodded. "But you must take your time. My father liked us to spend an hour talking and eating."

After our session together, I wasn't sure if I had heard something profound or simple-minded.

Why, Dr. Yasuda even insisted that this technique had worked with alcoholics. Could I trust a man who had spent two and a half years sweeping streets - with a fine university degree in his pocket - just because his Master had wished him to learn humility?

A week later, my husband invited guests for a party. What kind of menu should I offer? I ran over the list. One was a diabetic, one couple was vegetarian, most were overweight. If I followed Dr. Yasuda's philosophy, I must smother vanity and concentrate on giving my guests food they could offer wisely to their bodies.

As a food activist, I rarely used sugar or fabricated foods. But was it moral or hospitable to tempt guests with rich, fattening foods? Perhaps not. It didn't seem nice to put meats or fish on the table for vegetarians, either.

I decided that a salad bar would be an ideal solution. Over the years I had collected a nice lot of coconut shells, sawed in two and filed, to make them stable. I covered the table with a tie-dyed sheet, colored brown and black like Hawaiian tapa cloth. In each coconut shell I put something different:

I baked only one kind of bread and offered two dressings for the salads - olive oil and fresh lemon juice, and mayonnaise thinned with plain yogurt. Drink was a special, lemony herbal tea. Instead of butter, we had nutra spread. Dessert was pears and a nut meringue cookie, only 10 calories apiece.

Before dinner, on impulse, I said, "Well, let's offer this good food to our bodies."

Everything looked beautiful, yet was very inexpensive. I was able to give my guests my full attention, because I wasn't saddled with fatigue.

Upon leaving, the guests seemed to have extra sparkle and cheer. Why not? They hadn't stuffed themselves, but had offered good things to their bodies. Isn't that what hospitality is all about? Isn't this true celebration of life?

Since this success, I've served increasingly simple menus - a pot of homemade soup or hot tortillas with assorted fillings. As long as I concentrate on feelings, everybody has a good time. I realize that the extraordinary pains I'd gone to in the past for company were really expressions of anxiety. I was trying to prove to everybody how splendid a cook I was. When something went wrong, I brooded for days. This does not mean that offering your guests something special is wrong. What greater compliment than to offer a foreign student, let's say, a freshly-caught fish, wild strawberries, or a fine apple from your Orange Pippin trees? But the best you can offer should not be expensive. It should be something offered with love and friendship, not bragging.

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