The Ethics of Buying Squash

We are privileged in terms of being fed – as Americans, we spend a smaller percentage of our incomes on food than citizens of any other developed country. We are blessed with a government that funds research into improving food production and better understanding nutrition and health. We are blessed with a more stable food supply than anyone else can boast, and we have the means to buy food in the event that our own agricultural system were to fail us. Goodness, we have plenty to the point where there is a tremendous amount of food waste. I grew up on a farm, and I’m working this year in a small grocery store. We bring local foods to Falls Church, VA, often catering to organic and gluten free shoppers. We are filling little niches in the food supply. For a business like this to exist in the first place, here must be a great concentration of wealth, privilege, and leisure. We must have customers willing to pay the extra money for organic produce or milk from grass fed cattle. We must have the infrastructure and the technology to build a network of local, independent providers and source our inventory from this region. The presence of this store, in and of itself, means there is a huge amount of privilege here in relation to food. And since the biblical accounts of Genesis detail the consequences of abusing privilege, I must ask myself throughout the year if I am at any point contributing to improper stewardship.

This leads to many questions, of course, as my call to build the Kingdom infiltrates every action. And not every decision is easy or has an immediately obvious answer from a faith perspective. For example, I might have to decide whether to buy organic or conventionally produced squash. I know that for my business to be successful, I will have to charge more for the organic produce. But then, I have a much lower chance of selling all my product truck-with-squash-1326644 - Barbara Derksenbefore food waste occurs. If I go with the conventional squash instead, I can likely reduce waste and help people feed their families for less, but I am no longer supporting the organic farmer, so I must consider how that style of farming helps or harms the earth. And while organic sometimes means healthier food, it also means a trade off between less pesticide exposure and more physical labor for poorly paid, poorly treated farm workers. Seeing that these people are often the aliens we are called as Christians to serve and protect, what is my responsibility here? And how could I really affect change for these migrant workers? I can’t rely on the government to advocate for these abused souls if they are migrants – our officials consider these people less than, and capitalism, as always, is happy to exploit their labor to produce cheap food for the rest of us. But working within the constraints of capitalism, I can use my dollar to vote as much as I am able for locally produced foods. I can help build a business where we have relationships with the producers and know the working conditions in those environments. I can buy local and know I have saved the energy of transporting pineapples from Costa Rica. But local means less variety to choose from, less expendable income to serve my own consumer demands, and less stability in my food supply.

Mind you, these are the ethical issues that come out of a simple thing like which squash to buy. There is an entire grocery store to stock. The considerations and decisions are endless. It is too much to weigh at every crossroads. I want food for people and good conditions for workers. I want everyone to be treated with basic humanity instead fostering this sickness where money allows you to buy privilege and exploit your fellow man. I think of the part of the curse where Adam must toil in frustration over the ground, and my soul groans with all the other implications of darkness in feeding people. I don’t know how to fix what America does to procure the relatively safe and stable food supply. I know the smallest sliver of trying to build communities where local food is reasonable and accessible. Beyond that, I must labor for the coming of the Kingdom of God in every way. I must pray for the continued redemption of creation and do everything I can to fill and subdue the earth with good stewardship. I must rely on God to strengthen me so that I will not be crushed by the weight of despair when I see people in pain and under oppression that I don’t know how to relieve. I must pray for Christ’s coming, eagerly desiring the restoration of all things. And I must trust in His faithfulness, and strive to be His hands and His feet in this world until He comes to make all things new.

 

 

Katelyn Kuck grew up on a farm and works in the grocery industry in Falls Church, VA.  She is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.

Images: FreeImages.com/Barbara Derksen, Nathalie Dulex

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  • Hannah Kincaid

    I currently work for a local food hub in Chattanooga, TN and so I found your topic VERY interesting. We, too, seek to bring local and organic produce to our community on a small and large scale. However, I have never thought of the privilege aspect of this work. I of course know that we, as Americans, are privileged, but I never connected that to the availability of organic produce in our stores. But you are right! The fact that we can even consider buying local and organic produce does make us privileged especially given the higher cost of that produce. I’m glad you shed light on both the negative and positive sides to providing and buying organic food. It is easy to just assume a complete positive perspective since it is healthier and often local. But as you mentioned, everything comes with a cost and it is important to educate yourself on where your food comes from and what goes in to making it. I can only hope that if I keep supporting the local, organic movement that eventually the prices will go down and everyone will be able to afford it. I won’t hold my breath though. Keep up the good work in Falls Church!