Food for thought: Resources for Greener Pastures

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Food is a basic part of everyone's lives and yet the issues surrounding it are extremely complex. The following resources provide more information on our personal diets, national politics, global economics, and how they all relate:

Political Food Fight

Months after the deadline for the 2002 Farm Bill passed, the House of Representatives and the Senate are still trying to create a compromise between their two versions of the bill and the Bush administration is still threatening to veto the whole thing.

Read the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' statements and action items on the Farm Bill. The bishops, along with CRS, Catholic Charities, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and other organizations that are part of the Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, are concerned about many parts of the massive bill, including reducing hunger, improving conservation, strengthening rural communities, and supporting family farmers.

With food shortages, rising prices, and accompanying riots threatening stability in many developing countries, Catholic Relief Services is also calling on the U.S. government to use more of its resources on hunger relief, Salt of the Earth reports. For those earning less than $2 a day, who can spend up to half their income on food, a rise in price means going hungry.

Although the increased demand for biofuels is helping American farmers earn more, many worry that it is contributing to world hunger. A representative of the Holy See warned against a decrease in production of food products because of the production of biofuels at a conference in Brazil, Zenit reports. Trade, inflation, and increased energy costs for producing and transporting food also contribute to high food prices.

Eating right

Environmental, health, safety, and moral concerns bring many consumers to choose to support local, natural or organic, family farms. Plus local foods just taste better, says Jeanne Brophy, a Catholic from San Francisco.

Brophy is one of many who have embarked on the month-long Eat Local Challenge, in which they eat foods only within a certain distance of their homes. Visit http://www.eatlocalchallenge.com/, the group blog, to learn how to get involved and read participants' thoughts. If a month-long challenge sounds too large, Brophy suggests starting with one food group-such as vegetable or dairy-or with one local meal a week. Preparing and eating the meal with children can also help solidify family life, she says.

To find local farmers-including contacts for Community Supported Agriculture ventures and farmers' markets-in your area, visit http://www.localharvest.org/.

Food For Thought

King Corn

Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollen (Penguin Press, 2006)

The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason (Rodale books, 2006)

The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason (Rodale Books, 2007)

The Ethical Gourmet by Jay Weinstein (Broadway, 2006)

What to Eat by Marion Nestle (North Point Press, 2006)
Website: http://whattoeatbook.com/

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperCollins, 2007)

Sustainable Agriculture: A Christian Ethic of Gratitude by Mark Graham (The Pilgrim Press, 2005)

Fred Kirshenmann of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture/ at Iowa State University recommends Christian author, conservationist, and farmer Wendell Berry. In an interview on Catholiceducation.org, Berry talks about faith, community, marriage, as well as farming. Berry on the practical as well as moral reason to support a small farm food system:

"City people eat and they've got to worry, though most don't, about the dependability of the food supply. The fact is that most farmland requires close care to be used well. That is the agricultural justification for the small holding. It permits close care in a way that large holdings farmed by hired people or even owners on large machines can't be farmed well. The moral benefit of independent small farmers is that it broadens the connection of the whole society to the land, and it increases the number of self-employed people."

Berry has written a great deal of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction on agriculture. Here is one of his most popular books as well as a recent collection of his essays:
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry (Sierra club, 2004)

The Art of Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint Press, 2002)

This web-only article accompanies Greener Pastures, which appeared in the May 2008 issue of U.S. Catholic Vol. 23, No. 5, pages 18-23).