Monday, September 2, 2013

Food is Fuel: Don't Let it Go to Waste

For the past week, I have been on the high school version of "yard-duty."  Every teacher has a 3-week obligation that requires us to stand in an area where students eat their lunch. This year, I decided to complete the task early; it's proven to be a nice way to reconnect with students. That is, until I saw one of my former students putting her trash in the garbage can.  

This should have been something I was happy to see. Trash finding its way to its proper receptacle isn't a given. On one of the plates was a beautiful, fresh turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  If it had a bite taken out of it, I didn't see it. In a firm but rather neutral tone, I  asked my student "whose sandwich is that?" Slightly startled, she looked at me in silence.  At long last, she said "I don't want to rat my friend out." I said "I don't want to know who threw it out. That's ok.  Let's talk about this."

I walked over to where her group of friends were sitting and I asked the same question. "Hey, who threw that sandwich out? Please don't answer. I don't want to know. But that sandwich looked delicious and I have a hard time seeing food go to waste, especially when there are so many people going hungry in the world. You throwing your sandwich out isn't going to solve hunger, but I think the issues are related. (At this point, they're most likely convinced I'm weird or mean...or both).  In the future, can we reconsider what to do with a sandwich like that?  Wrap it up and save it for later? Give it to a friend?  Thanks."

At this point two thoughts were burning my brain. The first was from an article I read entitled "Pope Francis says that wasting food is like stealing from the poor."  One need not read the article to understand its message, but Pope Francis stands firm.  
“This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” the Pope said. 
“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. 
“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry,” he said.
It haunted me because I see it everyday on a large scale and school and as much as I try not to, in my own home.  Am I called to evangelize while on yard duty?  I think so.  Part of me says "ugh" and the other part of me knows how I felt when I saw that sandwich go to waste. 

The other thought that haunted me was in regard to the Thursday Morning Comfort Run. How can I ask my athletes to make sandwiches when they can't even finish their own?

As mentioned in An Important Way to Think About Health: Caring for the Poor, my hope is that every sports team at SI will prepare sandwiches for our weekly food run that feeds the hungry. In that post, I quoted Rolheiser who writes "We need to give to the poor, not because they need it, though they do, but because we need to do that in order to be healthy."  Athletic training demands fitness and health.  We train and educate to ensure the best of both.  But the disconnect bothered me. We are making sandwiches and handing them out to people who line up for them and yet we turn a blind-eye to our own waste.  

I sat with this question in prayer.  I let it bother me.  I decided it was better to feel sad with this reality for a bit than shrug it off.  And in that prayer time, God did what God does. God kneaded, God prodded and created a simple and humble offering that I think I can only extend to my student athletes.

A good habit to form: not wasting food.
A nutritionist will once again speak to the cross country team and we will continue to stress the importance of eating right and hydrating with our athletes but this year I will extend the conversation to include gratitude.  More than thinking of food as fuel, can we think of it with thanks and appreciation. Can we say "I'm blessed to have so many fresh fruits and colorful vegetables."  Every time we eat a sandwich, can we remember to pray for the men and women who we give the sandwiches to?  Can we make more of an effort to finish what we have or share it with others so it doesn't go to waste?

A good time to have this conversation might be before a team makes the sandwiches.  We can pray over what we make in the same way that we pray a grace before meals.  And we can pray for the subtle reminder that in those moments we forget, or are tempted to just "throw it away" that we either find a solution or at least offer a prayer for someone else who goes hungry.

Photo Credits
Heart Potato
Food is Fuel

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