I recently attended a presentation on Francis of Assisi's influence on Pope Francis and his environmental encyclical by a theologian who tossed out an astonishing figure that should give us pause on Thanksgiving: 40 percent of the food in American refrigerators is thrown away.
Curious, I checked on it and that isn’t exactly the case. According to a 2012 report from the National Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is never eaten. “The report points out waste in all areas of the U.S. food supply chain, from field to plate, from farms to warehouses, from buffets to school cafeterias,” says CNN News.
But most of the waste does occur in the home. “American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. (The report) cites several reasons, including (the notion) that food has been so cheap and plentiful in the United States that Americans don't value it properly.”
Our Daily Bread
I often think about that when I pray, in the Our Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We so take our daily bread for granted. After so many decades of relative prosperity for so many Americans, we assume there’s always going to be enough food to go around.
Food waste is only one example of what Pope Francis refers to as our “throw-away culture.” Let’s face it, besides food, we throw away, or devalue, born and unborn children, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. And caring for creation is a blind spot in our ethical and moral vision.
Since the search for God isn’t just an intellectual quest but also a matter of reflecting that search in the way we live, we should give thoughtful attention to an issue that affects all human beings.
Some people may wonder why a theologian – or the Pope, for that matter – is talking about the environment. Don’t theologians study and teach theology, the study of the nature of God and religious belief? What does the environment have to do with that, and how does it relate to people who have given up on God and/or religion?
That may seem a bit naïve or Pollyannaish in today’s world, where so many of us consider creation an unlimited resource intended solely for our exploitation, but it’s a venerable –though often ignored – Christian way of looking at creation.
Furthermore, said Grant, our relationship to creation is really about our relationship to God.
“Redeeming a healthy relationship with our home, the earth, is an urgent moral and spiritual imperative” which deepens our relationship with God, he wrote in his handout.
This, it seems to me, is something we share with our Buddhist brothers and sisters, even though Christians don’t talk or write about it much: the oneness of all things.
“The Buddhist principle of the oneness of self and environment means that life (sho) and its environment (e) are inseparable (funi),” says the web site for Soka Gakkai International. “Funi means ‘‘two but not two.’ This means that although we perceive things around us as separate from us, there is a dimension of our lives that is one with the universe. At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment.”
Science confirms unity
In at least one way, science confirms this unity. We may have heard that 99 percent of our genes is shared with mice, but the relationship is much broader.
“A human and a grain of rice may not, at first glance, look like cousins,” says a National Geographic article, “and yet we share a quarter of our genes with that fine plant. The genes we share with rice – or rhinos or reef coral – are among the most striking signs of our common heritage. All animals, plants, and fungi share an ancestor that lived about 1.6 billion years ago. Every lineage that descended from that progenitor retains parts of its original genome….”
People searching for God can’t ignore this unity, nor its practical implications. We should do all we can to care for creation. We owe it to the human family as well as to God, and it’s hard to be thankful without cherishing what we’ve been given.