Food, Farms, and Faith

417px-Dairy_farmLast week we talked about Industrial Farm Animal Production and the problems it has produced in the US. The week before that we talked about zoonotic diseases and that the need to feed families causes people to move more deeply into previously uninhabited (by humans) regions of the world. This week, I would like to put these two topics together and consider food production on a global scale.

National Geographic has an article this months print magazine and on line, “The End of Plenty: Special Report, The Global Food Crisis . Take a moment and read it. It does a nice job, as National Geographic often does, of presenting both sides of the issue. The “Green Revolution” in India has saved an untold number of people from starvation, but it has also come with substancial costs to the environment. There is a movement toward using more sustainable methods of farming, but we would be foolish to expect this to be cost free. As with the “Green Revolution” and intensive animal farming practices, it may take a while for the costs of sustainable agriculture to become apparent. The need for food is rising and globally, food production is decreasing. We have been “getting by” by using up grain reserves. And food prices have been rising for a variety of reasons, one of which is the use of grain for biofuels. The poorest billion people, according to National Geographic spend 50 to 70% of their income on food.

These are tough problems and there are no simple answers. Fortunately there are some smart and dedicated people workiing on these problems. One group is the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. They have been thinking and actively working on developing sustainable agriculture. At their website you will find a variety of resources about the science and the philosophy that guides their work.

Once again as I have written repeatedly for the past few weeks, people of faith need to understand, at least at a basic level, the science involved. We must be able and willing to engage science. Important decisions have to be made about human health, farming, the care of animals, the environment, genetically modified foods, water and soil use and preservation, the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers, and zoonotic diseases. 

In addition, we cannot ignore culture and the values of the various societies around the world. Merely importing our Western solutions won’t work. Recently, Sightings, a publication of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago published a short article  by Spencer Dew that captures some of the complexities of animals, disease, and culture.

The topics I have written about over the past few weeks are complex and cross disiplinary boundries. It’s not enough to be only a soil scientist or a virologist. We need to recognize the way each discipline interacts with other disciplies in the real world. There is a huge amount of information we need to consider.

Do we need to understand everything about all these topics? Well, while that would be ideal, it’s not possible. And frankly few of us will be directly responsible for making decisions on these issues. However, that doesn’t mean we can ignore what is going on. We need to be aware. We need to be informed about the programs our government and our churches are involved in. We need to be part of a serious, thoughtful debate. I believe Christians and other people of faith need to be the voice for social justice in these discussions. Without us, the participants are business interests who are primarily concerned with profit and politicians who are primarily concerned with power.

Conversation in Faith has been for the past few weeks more like Conversation in Science because people of faith- to be faithful- must engage science. Too many Christians in North America fear science and faith are incompatable. We end up anti science at worst and afraid of science at best.  But friends, science- what ever it discovers- doesn’t change who God is. Science may, just like serious Bible study, challenge our small flawed ideas of who God is and how God is at work in the world. But to avoid science is to evade our responsibility to care for creation. Stewardship isn’t merely some idilic pastoral ideal. Stewardship involves tough choices in a real world.

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2 Responses to “Food, Farms, and Faith”

  1. Francine Marie Tolf Says:

    Hello Nancy,

    I read part of your article on Ben’s excellent “Not One Sparrow” blog, and was very impressed. I appreciate your compassion and intelligence, and I agree with your approach towards science. Just wanted to let you know. You are doing good and necessary work. Thank you.

    Francine

  2. Solveig Says:

    I’ve recently begun listening to TED in a regular basis. A talk by Steward Brand in which he identifies four environmental heresies is interesting. I’m certainly not suggesting he provides the answer–or even an answer–to the multitude of problems you identify. But his concepts are interesting.

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