“What we eat is one of our most basic moral choices.” That was how the Rev. Dr. Michael Floyd began his great sermon this morning in Quito at Advent/St. Nicholas Episcopal Church. He was preaching on the Old Testament lesson for today, from the Book of Exodus:
2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ 8And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’* For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
He went on to say that when we don’t eat in rhythm with the patterns of the earth’s energies, we will profane the earth.
In the Exodus story, taking food for granted is associated with bondage, because when we have surplus as a regular condition of life, we can come to disregard the reality of others’ needs, and even our own – we simply expect food to be there. Thus, we are living under a delusion, and are not free as we were created to be.
On the other hand, having just enough, eating out of simplicity, can be associated with freedom.
Michael went on in specific ways: “Industrialized agriculture carries us far from ‘just enough. It displaces small farmers, the food produced is less nutritious, tasty, and may contain toxins; it leaves the land exhausted.”
It was a powerful sermon.
There was a forum to respond to the sermon afterwards, and I’ll throw in some thoughts of mine and some more things I learned from it:
Food sovereignty, a response to industrialized agriculture, that gives local communities choice and control over their food, and encourages local production and local consumption, is written into the constitution of Ecuador. I thought about how our U.S. Constitution really enshrines some of our country’s highest values and priorities, and I thought once again about the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, how formative and central it has been for us since we adopted the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The last clause is this:
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.
What if we added something that gave centrality, priority to the earth and its status, like, “…and respect the dignity of the Earth, the creatures of the Earth, and of every human being?”
A parishoner spoke up regarding localvore eating, and the slow-food movement, both aspects of Food Sovereignty, " My wife and I lived in Buenos Aires for ten years. It is a city with a strong Italian influence, which showed in the lengthy preparation of meals, and the three hour+ meals that ensued, the food being the base upon which lots of conversations, sometimes I remember six going at the same time. I think the long preparation was bound up with the deep respect for what would take place during the meal, the eating, and the sharing of ideas and emotions."
All the above prompted me to remember that the word “aesthetic” has a root meaning relating to eating. For me, Michael’s sermon opener, “What we eat is a basic moral choice,” has meaning that includes what ideas we feast on, what emotions, the cultural surround we choose. We live in a deeply interconnected world, and the choices we make in any of these areas, the food, the images, the ideas, the conversations, can affect all the others, and beyond our individual selves we may contribute to either the health or the ill-health of the earth, its creatures and every human being by the fundamental moral choices we make.
Note: the photo is from Ecuador, the Ayme family, from the superlative Time photo essay, "What the World Eats 1."