by Father Mark Goldasich
Some folks worry about zombies taking over the world one day. Me? I think we’ll be done in by tater tots.
I kid you not. The Sept. 23 Business insert of The Kansas City Star featured a story on food waste in the United States. According to Jack Chappelle, a solid waste consultant from Kansas City, Kansas, there’s one thing he sees tons of in landfills.
“You can get a lot of tater tots out of schools,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s elementary, middle or high school. Tater tots. Bar none.”
Some estimates say that as much as 40 percent of the food produced in the United States — $165 billion worth — goes uneaten each year. Chappelle says that rural areas have more peelings and more vegetables; urban areas, a lot more fast-food containers with half-eaten food inside and a lot more pizza boxes.
That’s one kind of alarming waste regarding food. While I certainly deal with that in my life, there’s also another kind I’m battling: food “waist.”
There’s a haunting story told about Raynald III, a 14th-century duke in what is now Belgium. Being grossly overweight earned him the Latin nickname Crassus, meaning “fat.”
His younger brother Edward revolted against Raynald’s rule. Instead of killing him, however, Edward built a room around Raynald in Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property when he left the room. This wouldn’t have been difficult for most people, since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, none of which was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size; to regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight.
Edward knew his older brother well. Each day, he sent a variety of delicious foods into the room. Instead of dieting his way out of the prison, Raynald grew larger. It’s said that Raynald stayed in that room for 10 years and wasn’t released until Edward was killed in battle. By then, his health was s ruined that he died within a year — a prisoner of his own appetite. (Adapted from “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, general editors.)
It seems that a lot of us
are imprisoned by food — whether we eat too much, worry about where our next meal will come from, or simply take an abundance of food for granted. That’s why we need World Food Day, celebrated on Oct. 16.
It’s a time to “heighten public awareness of the world food problem and strengthen soli- darity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.” With some 803 million people living in “food insecure” areas, we cannot not do something about this.
When I was growing up, there was a small grocery store on my block and two others — one on a block to the north and one on the block to the south. Today, this area of Kansas City, Kansas, is considered a food desert, meaning there are no grocery stores in the immediate area where people can buy good, quality, healthy food. If you have transportation, that’s not a huge problem, as you can drive to a store. However, for the poor, elderly or ill, this lack of nearby food can be catastrophic.
As we mark this Respect Life Month, it seems appropriate to pay attention to how we look at food. In our homes, do we treat food as a commodity or a gift? Are we conscientious about praying before and after meals or do we just gobble down our food without thought or gratitude? Do we routinely waste food or overeat? Do we pay attention to what kinds of food we consume? Do we share meals at least occasionally as a family?
I recently saw a poster that said: “One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well if one has not dined well.” Let’s see how we can help those near to us — as well as those far away — dine well, not just for a day, but for a lifetime. Make a point, especially during October, to donate food and nonperishables to Catholic Charities food pantries or to your local pantry.
Additionally, study ways to eliminate hunger throughout the world. A good place to start is with a mon- etary donation to Catholic Relief Service or membership in an organization like Bread for the World.
Treat food — even those tater tots — as the tremendous blessing that it is . . . and stop letting it go to waste or waist.