The crocuses are up, the days are growing longer, and Earth Day is almost here. Must be spring. And in back yards and window boxes – and outside houses of worship across the country – members are turning the soil and planting gardens. But it’s not just the lush beauty of flowers, plants and trees these believers are after.
Like Michelle Obama, who recently planted her own White House vegetable patch, many congregations have embraced the notion of gardening. And they’re not motivated solely by frugality or health concerns. Feeding the trend are books (such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals), documentaries (for example, Food Inc.) and Web sites (Eattheview.org, for instance) that link our nation’s food chain to many moral challenges. The annual observance of Earth Day, which falls on Wednesday, April 22, this year, is another platform for connecting good ethics and good eating.
Increasingly, some congregations see the way our food is produced – by a handful of large corporations that they say put profit and industrial efficiencies ahead of health, worker safety and the environment – as an issue of justice.
Churches and synagogues are working with community organizations such as the American Community Garden Association to plant organically grown fruit and vegetable gardens to help feed poor communities. They’re buying produce from local farmers and collecting kitchen scraps for community composting programs. Duke Divinity School recently hired a professor of theology, ecology and rural life. Norman Wirzba helps churches focus on practices such as “eating as a spiritual discipline.”
If your last story about the intersection of religion and the environment focused on how faith communities were replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, it may be time to look at the changes afoot in the politics of food. And if you think this is just a mainline phenomenon, read deeper. The March/April edition of Christianity Today‘s book review journal, Books & Culture, has several reviews of new books on gardening that raise theological issues.
Finally, for inspiration, read poet and farmer Wendell Berry’s manifesto “The Pleasures of Eating.” Berry has deep Christian commitments and his books are popular among many church reading groups.
In addition, previous ReligionLink editions can provide leads and resources related to this topic:
- See an October 2007 edition on religious groups and U.S. farm policy.
- See a February 2006 edition on the emerging ethical battle over animal rights and the September 2008 source guide on animals and religion; the latter includes groups and sites focused on the food industry. Also, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an April 8, 2009, column, “Humanity Even for Nonhumans,” that updates the state of the debate, especially in the wake of the November 2008 animal rights ballot initiative in California that passed by a 2-1 margin.
- See a May 2004 edition on religious concerns over the ethics of genetically modified foods.