WWJE? Does Source Matter?

Funny story. I wanted an example of a food’s source. It occurred to me that my breakfast this morning, a package of Belvita biscuits, could be just the thing. Where did these originate? When I Googled the question, it gave an unequivocal (and incorrect) answer: Indonesia. It turns out that my Belvitas, at least according to the box, were made in Mexico.

For many foodies, “locally sourced,” is one of the principle commandments. At the very least, they would admonish us to know where our food comes from. As for me, Indonesia seemed like a plausible, and rather disturbingly distant, answer a few minutes ago.

Yesterday I took up the question of what Jesus would eat: WWJE? As promised, I would like to spend a bit of time mulling over some principles that I find useful in answering that question. I won’t hold these up as absolute doctrinal positions but rather as my best wisdom on the matter of what goes in my mouth.

Does the source, the origin, of your food matter? Clearly it matters in the area of taste and availability. Broccoli grown in our garden will most likely taste better than broccoli shipped in from California (which supplies 90% of the U.S. crop). On the other hand, we’ll struggle to grow that vegetable in the coldest and the hottest months of the year, meaning the availability is limited.

That’s all great for a food enthusiast, but does God really care about whether your vegetables are locally sourced? I’m not convinced that this is high on God’s list, but I could probably be persuaded otherwise.

When I talk about the source of our food, I think the more important thing is the ultimate source of it. God gives food to the birds, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6. He used birds to give food (from Him) to Elijah. He fed Israel miraculously for 40 years on manna.

He gives food to every creature.
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 136:25

The source of our food is not Hy-Vee or Whole Foods, not Indonesia, Mexico, or the garden a few steps from where I am sitting. My food’s source is God. It is a gift from Him.

If I give a gift to someone–and if it is truly a no-strings-attached kind of gift–then I will hope they will use that gift wisely but I won’t in any way force the issue. For example, about a year back, I gave my old car to my son. Will he treat that vehicle differently than he would one that he’d purchased? I’d like to think that he would remain grateful and responsible with it. Should he drive 30,000 miles without changing the oil, I would be disappointed, but it is his car.

I believe, when considering WWJE?, that it is more important that I remember that my food came as a gift from God than that I obsess over how many truck miles my beef or tomatoes endured before landing in my kitchen.

When we remember that each bite that goes into our mouth and sustains us is a manifestation of the grace of God, then we’re more likely to make Christ-pleasing decisions, which might include buying more locally sourced fare. But maybe not.

A Farmer’s Kind of Comfort

My forebears, the generations before my grandparents, were farmers. I’m not entirely certain how successful these people were as farmers, but they listed themselves as such on the census reports. My grandfathers, born on farms, made an exit toward better economic pickings, eventually making their ways to Kansas City where two of their children met and became my parents.

Why did so many people in America, from the late 1800s and into the early decades of the 1900s make that farm-to-city move? Somewhere in the 1870s, the segment of the population working on farms moved below 50% for the first time. By 1940, as the Second World War drew near, that number dropped to 18%. And the reason is fairly clear. With increasing industrialization offering steady jobs and the relative certainty and comfort of urban life, the move seems sensible.

Think about it. If you work in a steel mill, as my maternal grandfather did, you don’t need to worry much about the weather. A drought will not ruin the steel. Blast furnaces, unlike hogs or cows, don’t die, and if one does go off line, it’s not the worker’s problem so much as the company’s. When the potatoes succumbed to a disease on the farm, that typically meant not having potatoes that year. In the city, unless the problem was catastrophic, it meant that you paid more for the spuds at the market.

City dwellers didn’t have to contend with long dirt roads. Coyotes mostly chased roadrunners in cartoons rather than eating the chickens. Water, sewer service, electricity, and phones came to the city far more quickly than to the country. To this day, the broadband Internet availability in rural areas is limited. Who wouldn’t want to move from the farm to the city?

Elijah presumably didn’t want to make that move. After serving as God’s emissary to bring about a terrific drought, Elijah had to make himself scarce lest the officials make him dead. In 1 Kings 17:2-4, he is told to “hide” in the Kerith Ravine to drink from its brook and eat what ravens brought.

As a result of the drought, Elijah had to move to town in 1 Kings 17:9. Couldn’t God have kept some water running in that stream for him? He could have done so, but I don’t think God wanted Elijah to get too comfortable.

Those who remain on the farm, who move from cities back to farms, or who just have a farmer mentality understand that comfort is not something that we should always desire. We might have to tend the animals in sub-zero weather. That’s just the truth.

Moving from our comfort zone is frightening but less so when we trust that God is directing our steps. Successful farmers have a self-reliant streak, but successful Christians couple that with a God-reliant streak. Put those together and a little discomfort is just–well–a little discomfort.