I accomplished a near-miracle during Thanksgiving week when, tempted by the opportunity to eat a great deal more turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and pie than I ought, I refrained. I resisted the urge on my own behalf, but believe me, the temptation was there! What food! And I wasn’t compelled to run ten miles the next day to work off the extra calories. My legs and back were grateful.
Food is so plentiful in our society that for most of us there is little thought given to how much we consume, where it comes from, how it’s produced, what’s in it, whether there will be more available, and perhaps most importantly, do we need all this?
It’s estimated that the average person needs about 2,500 calories every day for reasonably good health. Of course, most of us consume a great many more than that every day, whether it’s Thanksgiving or a normal Tuesday. Lots of us look for ways to cut back on the calories we take in daily, knowing that not only do we need require those extra calories, but that doing so is actually harmful to our health. But we live in a culture of plenty and the temptations are always in front of us, and so hard to ignore.
When we finally decide to push away from a great meal, having taken in more than we need and perhaps even leaving a remainder on the plate, someone will inevitably remind us that there are starving children in the world. It’s a reminder that often frustrates us: we know there are starving children in the world, but how do we expect to get that last piece of turkey or helping of corn all the way to Nicaragua or some other far-off place? And how could this little bit of leftover make any difference? It’s a conundrum that usually goes unanswered, because it is all too far away and complex.
But what if we could understand it in a different context? What if we came to realize that there really is enough food, that the 2,500 calorie-counting that so many of us indulge in could be applied in a different way? It goes something like this:
If we could combine all the food in the world, both grown and processed, and count it up in one place, we would have enough edible food to provide more than 3,500 calories per day to every current inhabitant of the earth. We would have enough food to not only meet the minimum requirement for sustaining healthy life, but to actually exceed it! If we could do this, each of us receiving enough calories each day to more than meet our needs (and even protect us from our own tendencies toward obesity) and in the process see that every other human’s caloric needs were also being exceeded, we would have an end to hunger-related death and disease, not to mention a host of other political and social conflicts. Let’s start with this fact-set and do some imagining.
Imagine that we have enough for everyone to eat and then some. We know how to get the food to every person. Starvation has become an historical concept. We all visit the “food sites” each day for what we need and want. The distribution of food is unexpectedly easy and satisfying, both nutritionally and emotionally. And then, imagine that something goes awry. Something in the distribution or “counting” process breaks down and you suddenly find yourself with 5,000 calories a day on your plate. You had nothing to do with the error, nobody has noticed the inequity, and so you say nothing and quietly enjoy the excess calories that you’ve been dealt. You actually kind of enjoy saving some of the excess food for a late meal at night before bed. You grow accustomed to the mistake until one day, as you arrive to receive your extra-large portion, you learn that there is an individual who unexplainably has missed out on his portion of food for the past weeks and has become quite ill because of the error. The food administrators haven’t been able to discover the source of the error, and so can do nothing immediately to correct the shortage. You learn of this as you walk from the kiosk where the 5,000 calories have been erroneously assigned to you.
What would you do? When you have enough, when you are healthy and providing plenty for your family, and then learn that another has become ill due to the excess amount that you have been receiving, what would you do? Will it be enough to say that it’s too difficult to correct the error? Is it acceptable to thank the fates for your good luck? Are you free and clear since it wasn’t your error to begin with? Do you have any responsibility for the individual who faces starvation due to the extra food that you have received? What would you do?
As we push away from the table of plenty and roll our eyes at the reminder of starving human beings because it’s just such a big problem, maybe it’s time for an after-dinner stroll. Perhaps a short walk under the early evening moonlight will remind us that we have walked up there on the moon, that we conquered with resources and will and creativity a frontier that was millions of miles away, not even of this earth.