“Eating is a Moral Act: Revisiting the Ethics of Eating” – by Jim Ennis
While participating in a conference entitled Faith, Food and Farming in the San Joaquin Valley of California last fall, I was asked by a local reporter what the Church had to say about agriculture and food production. The tone of his question betrayed his skepticism that the Church had anything to say about secular matters such as food, food production, or the economic plight of many in the San Joaquin Valley (the San Joaquin Valley has some of the highest unemployment rates in the country).
A few minutes later I spoke with a pastor who said he had invited several large-scale farmers to the conference, and they asked him a similar question to the one the reporter asked. The pastor then asked me to boil down my answer to a sound byte. He needed simple, concrete reasons why Catholics should be concerned about food production in the United States.
My short answer was “eating is a moral act because it is a human act and there is so much at stake.” Food sustains life and therefore the production of food is essential to our human existence. Food and agriculture are inextricably linked. The world of agriculture is extremely complex and there are many moral dimensions to it including: the treatment of farm workers, feeding a hungry world, responsible stewardship of creation including the animals, and sustaining local family farms and rural communities just to name a few.
Since 1923 NCRLC has been promoting the Church’s teachings on the importance and dignity of farmers and farm-life. In 1979, Pope John Paul II in front of the largest audience ever to gather in a public setting in the history of Iowa said, “To all of you who are farmers and all who are associated with agricultural production, I want to say this: the Church highly esteems your work…It is the dignity of those who work on the land and of all those engaged in different levels of research and action in the field of agricultural development which must be unceasingly proclaimed and promoted.”1
As consumers, eaters, the majority of us who are not farmers are still able to make a difference for the common good by expressing our concerns about the ethical dimensions of how our food is produced to our local grocers, parish school foodservice providers, college/university foodservice providers, and by our own food choices, supporting local farms whenever possible. We can also make our voice known to our federal representatives as it pertains to the federal Farm Bill legislation and/or to our local and state representatives on local agricultural-related issues.
In the Spring 2012 issue of Catholic Rural Life we reflect on Catholic Social Teaching and on what is happening in rural and urban communities across the country concerning the ethics of eating. There are more stories on the NCRLC website at www.ncrlc.com. NCRLC will also be participating in, and sponsoring, conferences in the future on Faith, Food and Farming to further examine these issues. Our faith comes alive when we put our values into action. It is time to act.