Eating Our Words – Food and Faith

Editor: This article was presented at the Fall 2010 CMSM meeting and published in their online Forum. An abbreviated version is published here and the full presentation is available.

Untitled-1From the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey to the Last Supper, the imagery of food and meals abounds in Catholic faith, practices, and beliefs. The integration of food and faith, however, extends beyond Scripture and the metaphors in Catholic doctrine. It is common for families or individuals to say a prayer before meals and Catholics consume the Body of Christ at mass.

We are called to welcome everyone to the table to break bread, we thank God for blessing us with enough to eat, and we believe that the bread and wine offered as gifts at mass are not just grain and grapes, but the transformed body of Jesus Christ…

Eating Sustainable Meat

The production of factory-farmed meat has substantial impacts on local and global environments. A United Nations study on the environmental impact of food and agriculture states that, of all greenhouse gases created by humans, 18% come from the production of livestock – more than is generated by all global transportation…In typical industrial-scale beef production, seven pounds of grain are used to create one pound of edible meat...

Eliminating meat that is raised on factory farms, fed a diet of heavily-fertilized feed, and then transported long distances fulfill Catholicism’s call to care for the environment… Transitioning to eating less meat in order to answer Catholicism’s call to care for the poor, work for the common good, and promote subsidiarity may be challenging, but it is a necessary response.

Eating Locally

Untitled-2Promoting and supporting local agriculture is a logical application of the principle of subsidiarity… On average, every American meal travels a total of 1,500 miles from farms and factories to the dining-room table. …Annually, about 20% of a country’s total fuel is used in the movement of food.

…There is, however, an alternative to this environmentally destructive food system. According to a recent study in Sweden, local food may incur as much as ten times less environmental damage as purchasing food that was grown across the country or across the world (Hahn Niman, Nicolette. "The Carnivore’s Dilemma." The New York Times, October 31, 2009)...

While purchasing local food will involve seasonal variations in diets and may involve canning, freezing, or preserving the food, it is clear that the environmental, economic, and ethical implications of not buying locally are contradictory to Catholic Social Teaching. Eating local food supports regional food economies and community producers while minimizing environmental impacts of food production – allowing Catholics to fulfill the call to care for God’s creation and support the practice of subsidiarity.

Eating to Eliminate Global Hunger

Untitled-3Feeding hungry people is one of the ways in which Jesus calls us to serve the poorest persons of the world. This not only means temporarily alleviating hunger, but completely eliminating it where possible… In fact, the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching says that one does not have the right to inhibit another from receiving food (or any other necessary material good)…

This belief in the universal purpose of all created things is reflective of the idea that God created the world for every person and did not allot certain goods, lands, or food to people simply because they were wealthy… the call to feed the hungry is not a secular duty but a mandated moral obligation of our faith.

Untitled-4Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
(1907-1991), 28th
Jesuit Superior General,
a spiritual leader,
committed to justice.
According to the United Nations, “the world produces enough food to feed everyone” (Vogt, Jim; Susan Vogt. "Feeding the Hungry in a Land of Dieters." Everyday Catholic, September 2009.). Empty stomachs and hunger pangs are experiences thought to be a “developing-world problem,” not one that is pervasive in America. In the fall of 2009, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an alarming report about hunger rates in the United States. About 50 million people, including 25% of all American children, “struggled” to get food sometime during 2008.

…Catholic Social Teaching’s proclamation of the common good should compel us not to waste money or food when this excess can and should be diverted to feed hungry persons around the world. In the United States, almost five million households visited food shelves in 2008. Far fewer, but still a substantial number, were the approximately 600,000 families who relied on food from soup kitchens. Through donations, these families are not only able to eat, but their inherent human dignity is fostered and their well-being is cherished.


As Pope Benedict XVI said in his most recent encyclical, “every economic decision has a moral consequence.”(Caritas in Veritate, #37) Purchasing and growing food involve economic transactions; therefore, they are moral statements...

As Pedro Arrupe, the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, said in his address to the Eucharistic Congress in 1976, “If there is hunger anywhere on the planet, the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere on the planet” ("Address to the Congress," in The Eucharist and the Aspirations of the Human Family, Philadelphia, 1976).

By not eating factory-farmed meat and by supporting ethically and locally grown food, Catholics can care for the poor, the environment, and subsidiary communities while also completing the Eucharist and contributing to the construction of the Kingdom of God.

Untitled-5Changzh, a city in northeastern China

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