Is The Garden a Mirage?
The image of the garden, a biblical paradise of bounty and temptation, has held a special place in spirituality for thousands of years. Yet, for many in today’s society, the harvest and security of that garden is elusive. Food may be plentiful but it is out of reach for as many as 3.9 million families in America. And though some people still work the soil with their hands, they often live in poverty. The way we have structured our lives has led to a growing disconnect between us and the food we need to survive.
A panel of religious leaders discussed these issues in “Faith, Food and Poverty,” an interfaith discussion held last month, hosted by Washington National Cathedral. Despite the panel being made up of a Muslim, a Jew, and a Catholic, the consensus was unanimous: the interfaith community has not taken hunger and poverty seriously as systemic issues. While individual churches, and even whole religious groups, have donated generously to the fight, there is still a lack of collaboration between faiths, which could make a huge difference.
"The greatest activists should be people of faith," said Dr. Hisham Moharram, a Muslim environmental leader and director of Good Tree Farm of New Egypt, N.J. "What good is our faith if it doesn’t go beyond us?"
All three leaders stressed the importance of religious organizations and interfaith food communities continuing their work feeding hungry people while America waits for Washington to make improvements in the minimum wage and programs that address hunger and poverty.
Professor David Cloutier, a Catholic moral theologian at Mount St. Mary’s University, stressed the importance of encouraging a sacramental food economy in which those who have enough to eat do so responsibility, while acknowledging the interdependence that exists between humans and their food.
Eating responsibly has historically been stressed by religious doctrine. As Rabbi Kevin Kleinman from Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pa., pointed out, the Jewish faith has always promoted seasonal eating, smaller portions, and kindness to animals.
They all agreed that fighting hunger and poverty in a sustainable and collaborative way must start with discussions.
“The network is there. If we worked together, we could combat the causes of hunger and poverty. But a lot more collaborative effort must be asserted,” said Moharram. “Take the old adage, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,’ and expand on it. Teach the man to market his fish so he can feed others.”
It appears that with a little effort the garden might not always be a mirage.
Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.
Photo caption: Martha and her daughter clean beans grown in their garden in the highlands of Nicaragua. (Richard Leonardi)
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