Food and Poverty: The Pope Speaks Out

The Pope has lashed out at world hunger and commodity markets which drive up the price of food for those in need.  This excerpt is taken from The Compass,

"My thoughts turn toward the situation of millions of children, who are the first victims of this tragedy, condemned to an early death or to a delay in their physical or psychic development, or forced into forms of exploitation just to receive minimal nutrition," he said.


The pope said the cause of such hunger cannot be found only in technical developments such as production cycles or commodity prices.

"Poverty, underdevelopment and, therefore, hunger are often the result of selfish behaviors that, born in the human heart, manifest themselves in social life, economic exchange, in market conditions and in the lack of access to food," the pope said.

"How can we be silent about the fact that even food has become the object of speculation or is tied to the course of a financial market that, lacking definite rules and poor in moral principles, appears anchored to the sole objective of profit?" he said.

The pope said the United Nations' own studies show that global food production is able to feed the world's population -- which makes the situations of hunger all the more unjust.

The international community often limits its food assistance to emergency situations, he said. Instead, he told the experts, it needs to address the problem with long-term strategies that consider the human dimension of development and not just economic benefits.

This is a problem which needs to come to an end now, but what are the “long-term strategies “which will best ensure food security for the long-term? The Pope suggested that

In responding to the crisis, international agencies should rediscover the value of the family farm, promoting the movement of young people back into rural areas, the pope said July 1 in an address to participants in an annual conference on hunger organized by the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

My colleague Chris Thompson, Dean of St. Paul Seminary, has been touting for a while now a “Green Thomism.” He notes that the family farm in the US has dropped from 4 million to 2 million in the last 50 years. He also points out that, remarkably, not one of the 244 Catholic Universities in the US has a focused professional formation in agriculture or rural life. Thompson said,

"We really need a generation of thoughtful men and women, well-informed in Catholic social thought, entering into conversations on food production, food security, human dignity, rural life -- all these things that have been on the margins of the typical Catholic university experience.”

The article on the Pope ended with this note:

The pope said food security also requires protective measures against "frenetic exploitation of natural resources." This is especially true because the race to consumption and waste seems to ignore the threat to the genetic patrimony and biological diversity, which are so important to agricultural activity, he said.

He said the Bible's injunction to "cultivate and care for the earth" is opposed to exclusive appropriation of such natural resources.

Many of us will not be returning to the family farm, if there still is one, or retiring to rural life, but we must do something to bring to mind the need to care for and cultivate creation and to make certain that food, which is plentiful enough, is getting to all the people who need it.

My neighbor Andy is attempting to create awareness on the ground, literally, by producing as much of his own food as he is able in the city; check out his blog, AutonomyAcres. I have recently tried to bring the biblical notion of stewardship and Jesus’ teachings on food, poverty and agriculture into my New Testament class in more concrete ways. Here are my first forays into creating awareness and involvement in these issues at the classroom level:

5. The service learning option of the class can be chosen in part or in full. The two parts are

a) Work at "Feed My Starving Children" (10%); and

b) Environment and Agriculture (20%).

If you do part a) that would substitute for one of your graded papers; if you do part b) that would substitute for two of your graded papers.  If you do both parts of this option, you would have no Review Exercises handed in for grading, although you would still complete the Review Exercises for participation.

A) If you would like to do part a) you would go to Feed My Starving Children, at a time set up for the class, and then write a short reflection on how this activity puts into action Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 25:31-46 or Luke 12:13-21 (you could choose another passage of Jesus’ teaching if you wish, but clear that with me first) regarding wealth, resources and caring for others.

B) If you would like to do part b) you would have to work at the community Food Shelf Garden in West St. Paul on at least two occasions, weeding the garden, pruning, picking plants, etc., whatever was necessary for the garden at that time. You would write two reflections on your activities there: 1) how does gardening help you understand Jesus’ agricultural parables (see Mark 4 and Matthew 13) more fully? You can concentrate on one or two parables if you want; you do not have to do them all; 2) does caring for the environment and the food we grow itself constitute the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “love one’s neighbor”? Explain how it does or does not.

I would be interested to know whether readers think these academic exercises are worthwhile for creating awareness and involvement in problems and questions related to agriculture, food and poverty, and whether you could suggest modifications, or even entirely new or different exercises. These would be helpful not only for me and my students, but potentially other professors, students and, simply, all of us who want to respond to these needs which the Pope recently addressed.

And have a Happy Fourth of July!

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens



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7 years 6 months ago
This is really a great piece.....  thank you for writing it.   I have a friend who does container gardening on her small deck every Spring (she lives in a condo)  Right now her vegetables (two kinds of tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers and some herbs, scallions,  and I forget another plant) are thriving!   I tried container gardening myself a couple of years back.   It was fun.  I hadn't done it since as I hadn't been around during springtime.  

Yes, yes, I think it would be great if you could start as soon as you possible can.  Really a great idea!  Go for it!
Katherine Jordan
7 years 6 months ago
This is such a great idea! I am a recent college graduate and I wish we had more assignment options like this. I think one of the problems with acedemia for students is that there is not enough focus on hands-on getting involved. I think this would be especially effective since you require a reflection piece after the activity has been completed.
Michelle Russell
7 years 6 months ago
I think your ideas are a great start.  Without knowing your area, and what is available, it's hard to make other suggestions, but one suggestion might be to try to look at both "sides" - the Pope's message suggested a move toward "rediscovering the value of the family farm".  What is the practical difference between a large commercial farm and a family farm?  (now that's a broad question, open to much debate!) Is one way of farming more in tune with the message "to cultivate and care for the earth" - or is it more a function of the methods used as opposed to the size/location?  Do you have any large commercial farms anywhere near?  Small-scale farms? The suggestion to encourage more young people back to rural life has a ring of romanticism to it - what are the realities within this statement? Why is/was there a movement away from the land?  What are the causes? Is it really a problem? What "issues" is it creating in our world, on both a local level and a world-wide level? This is a multifaceted issue, which goes very deep the more you look at it.

I am lucky - or maybe I have chosen to be lucky :-)!  I grew up in a rural area surrounded by large family farms.  After living by necessity in cities for several years, we have found our way back to rural life.  It is not easy, and is a conscious decision to live in a way that is different from most. Far from the romantic ideal, I see the many small farms here struggle each year to make it.  But here is what we do have - our school has a garden which is tended by the students, produce used in the cafeteria, and during the summer the community is asked to donate time to keep the garden up; there is the "farm-to-cafeteria" program, where the local school tries to purchase as much locally grown food as possible; we have a food bank which is supported largely by private donations - a very active "plant a row for the hungry" program (one row in your personal garden is earmarked for the food bank); many, many private and very small farms which provide locally grown produce, eggs, honey, etc...  Small farms are actually on the way back in, as people see the value in locally produced goods, and as people do feel a call back to the land.  Spend some time on a small farm - which is in reality a small business - and see firsthand the joys and difficulties. 

Two websites I can recommend which can provide insight into one possible solution (the Bullocks) and then insight into reality  (John Steward's blog). These arepeople I personally know, and have enjoyed much fresh food from as well!: Bullock homestead Local farmer/read his blog.

Great start with the service projects!  What a great way to combine course study (book-learnin') with hands-on study. 

Mary Sweeney
7 years 6 months ago
So I assume the Holy Father will be coming out against bio-engineering of food this week?
7 years 6 months ago
I have long thought that food is the one safe area for ecumenism and genuine, trans ideological community we ought to promote... but first, I urge everyone to find and watch an excellent documentary called "Food Inc." - find it on netflix. It's absolutely gripping and goes a long way to explain why there are fewer and fewer family owned farms (tax laws on the one hand... and big agri-business strong arm tactics on the other). It also explains the degree to which our federalizing of food security actually makes us LESS SECURE because it's far easier for any corporate or special interest to attempt and succeed at 'regulatory capture' when the number of regulators is small than it was in the 'bad old days' when each COUNTY had their own food regulator. Finally, it's also galling to note that food prices globally (which most affect the poor) are connected to the growing inflationary forces and devaluation of currencies being conducted world wide - in other words, the poor suffer not because of anything 99% of us do or fail to do, but because the 1% who are bankers decide "quantitative easing' is the way out of their debt servicing crisis. A Jubalee of debt forgiveness or just applying the black letter of the law and letting the chips (and bankers) fall where they may would do more to help the poor than all the efforts we can collectively do on the margins.
Tom Maher
7 years 6 months ago
Agricultural productivity and distribution is studied in agriculural economics along with agricultural engineering, agronomy and bio-science.  The United States agriculture should be the world model of how to pridcue and distribute food for the rest of the world.

Let's not forget two-thirds of the worlds agriculure in the mid 1900s was collective argiculure. This political model proved to be not successful in producing enough food and was abandoned by countries worldwide such China, Russia, India.  The two remaining worst examples of agricultural production in the world are North Korea and Cuba where government run collecitve farms make food scarce amd people have to pay a larger precentage of their family budget to be feed. 

So we had widespread politcal experimentation for decades that failed and should not be re-tried.  The United States and the West has market driven agriculture markets that do not have these sever problems of scarcity and high food prices. 

Let's not repeat the same mistakes of the past with new economic, politcal and theological fads to undo a very effective and working agriculture of the west.  We do not need to re-introduce peasant agriculture of the 13th century or have more family farms or grow our own food in the United States of the west.  This small time agriculture is very unprodcutive and is known to actuall tequire more resources per unit of output.  In the west it would be much mor simple, effective and cheap to buy what you need at a grocery store.  

And courses in the economics of iInternational development would be useful for the many problems of agriculture prices and production agound the world. 

This is way to serious a topic for it to be romanticised by misguided home-grown utopian expereiments in worldwide agriculture much of whic is very well fucntioing and able to be imporved and built on.    
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 6 months ago
Nothing romantic about it.  If you grow your own food, you know how it was grown.  Productivity at the cost of natural, healthy food is not progress.  Decentralization and locality is the way to go.  I don't need jellyfish genes in my potatoes, no matter what Monsanto says.  ANd there are no local grocery stores, just supermarkets.  Europe probably isn't as productive in growing food as in the US, but it sure tastes good.  The other thing is, the way we grow food is energy intensive.  That's not going to last.  It is a fantasy to think so.


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