In the Desert

This weekend, Jews will hold seders to celebrate the holiday of Passover by retelling the story of their exodus from bondage in Egypt, their odyssey from exile to redemption. This is a story universal in scope, as it applies not only to Jews over 3,000 years ago but to anyone who has ever been enslaved. And it applies not just to those physically enslaved, but to those who have been enslaved in their minds, by their culture, to people caged in by the system — food, financial, metaphysical —  in which they find themselves. Quite simply, it applies to those who seek liberation from any bondage, anywhere. It applies to those wandering for what can seem like 40 years in the desert (food desert or sand desert), and it applies to those yearning for one day to be in sight of the promised land.

We can be in our houses and feel exiled, separated from a source of meaning in our lives. We can also be far from our physical homes and yet feel like we have been redeemed, connected to something larger than ourselves, at one with the world.

In our food system, there are many people who are not free, many people who are not in complete control of the food they put into their bodies. There are many people who work in the shadows. Take tomato pickers in Florida, for example. This is a case of slavery. Literally. Because of high debts to bosses and owners, low wages, and nonexistent labor protections, there is actual slavery there right now, abhorrent working conditions which make year-round tomatoes in northeast supermarkets possible. Barry Estabrook talks about this modern day agricultural slavery in his book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Read an excerpt here. On a related note, read “Labor of Love: Domestic Fair Trade Grows” on Grist to learn about a promising development in farm labor rights in this country — a Food Justice Certification label.

All around this country, all around this world, people without access to healthy food are at the mercy of a system that accepts and perpetuates that lack of access. As we think about ways in which we are still enslaved ourselves, and ways to liberate ourselves, let us also work towards liberation for all people throughout the food system. It will not take any divine intervention nor will it require any parting of the seas. It will just require a concerted effort to direct healthy food to those who need it most. The food — and the need — is all around us. Certain programs, like the Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program, do a great job increasing access and helping move us all towards liberation. Read about these and other programs in “Let’s Make Sustainable Food Less Elitist” on GOOD.

The Book of Leviticus 19:9-10 commands: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap the corner of your field and do not gather the gleaning of your harvest. And do not glean your vineyard or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; rather leave them for the poor and the stranger.” People now are setting up organizations to manifest this commandment by bringing excess produce from farmers’ markets and backyard gardens to food pantries and soup kitchens. The problem today is not one of scarcity, but one of access, and these gleaning organizations are filling the need. Read about these gleaning organizations in “Glean Unto Others: Ending Hunger with Foraged Foods” on Grist.

If any of our fellow citizens cannot easily obtain healthy food, we are all less healthy for it. If we will not leave the corner of our fields unharvested, then we are forgetting that we were once strangers and vagabonds, and that every single one of us has been or will be at some point exiled from our homes, our source of meaning, our sense of self. This is a story we must continue to tell.

Let us define liberation and redemption as a time when we are all in complete control of our own food and health. Then we can truly be returned from exile and at be home in our own bodies.

2 Responses to “In the Desert”
  1. Amen! And have a happy Passover!

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