Sunday, June 14, 2015

2015.06.14 Food Glorious Food!

Many people say there is spiritual hunger. And much of the news from secular and religious sources identifies real-food hunger as a social problem and a health issue. Is there a connection?

But what is real food? It’s what we throw out. Eeuwww. Who would eat any of that? Only dogs eat scraps!

One of my favorite New Testament stories is about a non-Jewish woman (a Canaanite) who nags Jesus, the Jewish healer, to heal her daughter. He tells her more than once to get lost; he has come to feed his own people; it wouldn’t be fair to take food from them and give it to the dogs (a pejorative of the day.) Ah yes, she tells him, but even the dogs gather the crumbs from under the Master’s table. (Matthew 15:21-28) She is clever, faithful and, Godde knows, importunate! She gets what she wants. Jesus gets his comeuppance from a woman, foreigner, clearly no “dog.” To his credit, he relents.

But what about dogs and food? What if this story is not just about spiritual but about physical hunger?  Just for a stunning moment, the woman’s climactic reply pierces through the traditional spiritual meanings to expose a very familiar, literal scenario: real scrawny dogs, starving, scrounging scraps, waste, rotting throw-outs—from garbage bins, street trash. Not to mention people begging on city streets for their next meal, because they have to. I dare not be cynical about such an omnipresent presence.

Every time I’m in a restaurant I see heaping plates of good food coming to a table, half-heaping plates being carried off, and no take-home container returning. Someone could eat that, I think. I am told that all that food will be thrown out, because of some mysterious category called “regulations.” Composting salves my personal conscience, and it’s not enough.

Recently, we saw a brief television interview with Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, about a new program called Daily Table, an operation that made my heart skip.  He’s found a way to use all that wasted food, I thought! What about the regulations?

Research indicates that those “Sell by xxx date” labels are untrue. Discarded food surplus (nice word for waste) is being bought and sold, consumed, and loved. And it’s nutritional!! People, who are hungry, more importantly  malnourished, are buying the supposed “crumbs” and the “scraps” fit only for supposed "dogs". Some poor, and working class people who live in neighborhoods where junky fast food dominates, have their tables—and their spirits— transformed. They don’t have time to travel to shop, and they can’t afford much of what is offered anyway. 

This movement to transform ugly, wilted, and discarded food into gourmet fare is an innately complicated operation. It did not start with Rauch, but he has helped it come to the Boston area and named it Daily Table. The stores are attractive; employees and customers are happy—very. Imagine a tub of curry broccoli soup for $1.29, or a salisbury steak and brown rice entrĂ©e for  $1.99. Fast food, good food, spiritual food.

I feel happy too, and grateful for such ingenuity, will, and investment of time, money and energy in making the world a better place, its citizens healthier.  And I love that my little biblical story suddenly grew another layer of meaning—a literal one, and me an avowed non-literalist!

(You can read much more about this online, and in The Boston Globe column today by Yvonne Abraham, “Waste Not, Hunger Not.”)