By Lauren Matusich
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, [Jesus] said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.” (Mk 6:41-42)
Such a simple meal Jesus shared with his disciples and some 5000 others that day – bread, most assuredly baked in a communal oven after locally-grown wheat was harvested, ground into flour, and kneaded into dough, and fish, most likely caught earlier that day by whomever presented it to share.
Not exactly a feast to us, yet “all ate and were satisfied,” probably due as much to the spiritual nourishment Jesus provided as to the physical needs he met.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes, along with so many other “eucharistic” meal stories shared throughout the gospels, not only reminds us to give thanks to God for what we have and to share it with others, but also offers a glimpse of the simple, close-to-earth lifestyle Jesus and his disciples led.
The land and the water provided all that people needed to physically sustain themselves with little waste or negative environmental impact.
Almost 2000 years have passed since Jesus dined with his disciples, and we now face a multitude of environmental problems predominantly due to our modern lifestyles.
As previous CGI articles have examined, we currently live in a way that is not sustainable for our planet; climate change, depletion of natural resources, lack of potable water, reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and air and water pollution are only a few of the numerous environmental challenges we must address as stewards of God’s Creation if we are to ensure that future generations will be able to live on the Earth as God intended.
While many of these problems are complex and leave us wondering what we might be able to do as individuals to mitigate them, one thing few people realize is the impact that our daily food choices have in the greater scheme of things.
Dietary changes in America over the past 50 years have been detrimental to both the health of our planet and the health of our people.
Many people are aware that fast-food and pre-packaged, processed foods have contributed greatly to the rise in obesity, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses that plague our society. But few realize how these same convenient choices threaten our environment.
For example, it takes 16 lbs of grains and between 2500 and 5000 gallons of water (roughly the amount of water an individual would save in a year by using a low-flow showerhead) to yield one pound of hamburger.
Cattle are often raised on crowded feedlots and fed predominantly corn and huge amounts of antibiotics. It is estimated that a cow consumes 25 lbs. of corn a day.
Every year some 14 trillion gallons of water are used in America for irrigation to produce livestock feed, five times what is needed to irrigate fruits and vegetables!
Approximately 80 percent of agricultural land in the U.S. is used for feed grains and animal farms. Livestock cause soil erosion that results in loss of topsoil and nutrients, creating a greater need for fertilizers.
Eroded topsoil along with pesticides and chemical fertilizers wind up in water supplies, and the domino effect of environmental degradation goes on.
If the beef for that same hamburger is imported from Central or South America, most likely rainforests have been depleted, resulting in loss of biodiversity and a decrease in both oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption critical to the health of our planet.
In short, a diet that contains beef (and to a lesser extent other animal-derived foods) contributes to environmental degradation to a much greater degree than other food choices.
While this may sound like an attack on consumption of beef and other meats, it is not the overall intent of this article.
Rather, the example demonstrates that our daily food choices have a significant impact on our environment and assures us that we can and do make a difference, whether positive or negative - most of us three times a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
If we are to be good stewards of Creation, we have an obligation to know how our lifestyles impact our environment. We need to mindfully ask ourselves not only what we should eat for dinner, but also where our food comes from and how it is produced.
What is it packaged in? How far did it travel? What affect did it have on the land, the air, and water? Consider some of the following tips for an environmentally just, sustainable and healthy diet:
• Eat less beef, pork and lamb.
• Eat low on the food chain – less meat and poultry and more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, soy products, nuts).
• Eat out less often.
• Eat seasonally and locally grown fruits and vegetables.
• Grow a garden.
• Eat fewer packaged snacks and junk food.
• Eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods.
• Try Tofu Tuesdays (go meatless once a week).
• Buy Fair Trade certified foods, especially coffee, chocolate and sugar.
• Buy foods that require little or no packaging.
• When possible, buy organic foods.
• Eat leftovers.
• Walk to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
• Eat only what your body needs.
From the meal stories in the Gospels, we are reminded to be grateful for all that we have, to share it with those who have little, to eat and live more simply, to appreciate the bounties provided by the Earth, to trust in God as our provider, and to know that in doing so, we will be satisfied!