the Price that is Paid
The manner in which we produce
our food illustrates the burden of knowledge plainly enough.
There are always accidents. In September of 1996 there
was an accident near Bakersfield, California. A crop dusting
plane was spraying a cotton field with Lorsban when the
wind shifted and the spray drifted over a neighboring
vineyard where some farm laborers were at work. Twenty-two
of them were poisoned including three pregnant women.
One of the ingredients in Lorsban causes a range of neurological
damage including birth defects in humans. The scale of
this accident, and the level of its reporting, were both
unusual. But things like it happen on American farms with
The poisons most typically
used on food are nerve poisons, and many of them are acutely
toxic. Safety restrictions in their application often
go unheeded in the farm fields, particularly where large
migrant populations with limited English skills, and perhaps
limited literacy are at work. In California alone, thousands
of cases of acute toxic poisons have been reported over
the last several years, and given the circumstances of
food production and migrant populations it can be assumed
that many cases go unreported as well. Many of these incidents
occurred when farmworkers were poisoned by direct application
of pesticides, many others occurred from "drift"
- the application of pesticides on neighboring fields.
Case studies of poisonings of this type reveal wide variation
in the application of good safety practices, and the availability
of safety equipment and instruction for farm workers.
While each pesticide has a required "re-entry"
period - a period of time during which workers may not
re-enter the area of application, the combination of drift
and lax enforcement result in high numbers of poisonings.
Practices of Faith
If we are to practice our faith in the knowledge of consequence,
we must find different ways to grow our food at far less
cost to the earth and to our brothers and sisters. A practice
of faith "addresses fundamental human needs and conditions
through concrete human acts." In the fields where
workers are routinely sprayed and exposed to poisons,
fundamentally different practices are called for. We are
faithful people everywhere we go, and we are responsible
for actions taken on our behalf, or from which we benefit.
If the Earth is God's holy body, and those who labor to
grow our food are our brothers and sisters, the children
of a common creator, then we are led to practices that
are fundamentally different from the practices being carried
Broken for You
Faith compels us to understand the sacramental nature
of the ongoing sacrifice of people and ecosystems, and
to require an alteration in the work that is done for
us. We must alter these practices as a community, and
not as individuals within it. A practice of faith that
truly recognized each meal as a sacramental meal would
require exposure of the conditions under which the ingredients
were produced, the economics of their sale, and the cost
they have exacted from the earth and the people in the
production chain. We would not put in our mouths the wages
of sin and exploitation. We would take to heart the message
of the sacrament of eucharist "broken for you"
and we would understand its application to every bite.
from the "Oh Taste and See: A Practice of Ecological
Care and Relationship" by Rev. Clare Butterfield,
Director, Faith in Place. This reading is found in What
Makes Food Sacred?
Congregational Resources for the Abrahamic Traditions,
by the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.