Begin this post, not merely by reading, but by imagining for a moment…
Visualize in your head a photograph taken in any aisle at your local grocery store. Now instead of seeing the labels on the foods stocked upon the shelves, picture boxes added in the foreground, directing you to the items on the shelf and labeled as follows:
and even “Crap.”
The caption under the photo reads, “The Moment When You See Grocery Store Products For What They Really Are.”
Now picture a different photograph entirely:
A child with ribs protruding from his sides, his stomach swollen with starvation, and eyes wide as he stands at the end of that same aisle, seeing for the first time more food in one place than he’s ever seen anywhere. Do you suppose he sees those “real ingredient” labels, or do you suppose he sees…. food? A means to end his hunger?
I am writing this post as a call to gratitude. I have nothing against organic or health-conscious eating and certainly am in support of balance in our diets, as well as every other area of our lives. There’s no question some foods are not good to intake in large quantities. Fast food is not a sustainable source of nutrition for the long haul, and eating right, eating healthy, eating straight from the source is the best choice. I am not arguing any of those points; I love home-cooked meals, farm fresh eggs, homemade bread, and vegetables and fruits picked directly from the field and delivered to my table.
None of that is wrong or morally questionable, other than when it becomes our idol. When we become so ignorantly picky that we can pass on a photo like the first one I described above; when we’ve forgotten the millions who are hungry to the point of starvation; when we ignore the fact that here in America, we live in the richest and most choice-laden country in the world when it comes to food… we have forgotten too much. We have crossed the line from health conscious, to ungrateful. When we look down an aisle in our local supermarkets and, regardless of the numerous inspections and checkpoints that our food is required to pass, we see the labels listed above, we have conveniently become the spoiled brats who have all the food at our disposal, all the choices we could ever hope for, and still have the temerity to push from our minds the image in the second picture, that of the starving child.
If you were to venture in to war-torn Sierra Leone or visit the hunger-ridden streets of Calcutta or drive with your doors locked in your air-conditioned BMW down the ghetto neighborhoods of New York City, you would not have to look long before finding a person with far fewer hang-ups about their food than we have in middle- or even lower-income America. To the person digging dinner out of a dumpster, to the person begging with empty hands, to the person standing in line at the mission for a loaf of bread or a bowl of soup, the choices we are given with every trip to the store would look like heaven. Not junk. Not crap. Far from toxic.
Imagine planting an Ecuadorian native — say a middle-aged female who has never been outside her jungle village, who may have struggled daily to feed her children whom she loves every bit as much as we love ours — in the middle of my local Albertsons or Save Mart or Winco. I can only hope tears would come to my eyes at seeing her reaction to more food under one roof than she has seen in a lifetime. It’s a guarantee she would not be checking the labels as she distributed to her starving, malnutritioned children.
This message is not intended to come off as harsh or pointed at any one in particular. I believe this is something we all need to hear if we have never gone more than a day, at most, without food. If we have the means to feed our hungry children or to feed ourselves, we are better off than millions of others in this world. In spite of my last grocery shopping trip being a more than a week ago, I have food in my freezer and in my refrigerator and in my pantry. All too often, as a result of living in such opulence, we forget; I know I do. When faced with thirty brands of orange juice, a hundred types of breakfast cereal, and an entire aisle of candy in all flavors and colors, with stand after stand of fruits and vegetables imported from all over the world and displayed at a level designed for comfortable shopping and maximum convenience, I am all too easily prone to thinking only of myself and what appeals to me and what I want, even down to picky preferences of brands and styles and colors and flavors. I am so guilty of being self-absorbed and far too well fed in regards to world hunger.
This call to renewed gratitude is one I make to myself, every bit as much as to others.
There is no question that labels should be read and care should be taken when consuming food items and in choosing our diets. Our children need to have health and nutrition taught in school and modeled at home, and living a balanced, active lifestyle, supplemented with good food is obviously the best solution to long-term health. But in our quest for health, in our search for that good food, let’s all take a moment to stand in quiet reflection and consider our fellow humans in all parts of this world who are not so lucky as we are to be standing in the middle of an extravagant display of life-sustaining and life-enriching choice when it comes to eating.