NEWS Can food justice become a religion? – Food jars

Can food justice become a religion? – Food jars

Can food justice become a religion?

I recently posed this question to Dr. Christopher Carter, who teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Diego. His research focuses on black theological ethics and racial justice, particularly with regard to food and the environment, and he is a pastor of the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Carter told me that food and religion have a lot in common—for better or worse. First, he says, look at the many spiritual texts: “People eat together all the time,” he notes. Food and faith, he said, are both deeply personal and intrinsically community-based, and each can serve as an entry point into larger, trickier, more complex conversations.

On the other hand – and this bothers me especially – they can both be used to control people. Neither should, in my opinion, but the way the industrialized food system is structured makes it vulnerable to being used as a weapon, especially against marginalized populations. And, we discussed, it can be painful to see religion being used in this way as well.

Many people have deep ties to organized religion, and many do not. Let’s be honest – my family is not religious. I grew up half Christian and half Jewish, and my husband and I like to joke that he is a “recovering Catholic”.

Personally, I tend to think of food as a spiritual practice. For example, I often use cooking as a comfort. It’s a calming ritual, and one that helps me appreciate the people and efforts that put these ingredients on my cutting board.

So, I ask Dr. Carter: Can food justice become a religion?

Absolutely, he told me. Like belief systems, food systems connect us to ourselves, to each other, and to things larger than ourselves.

“At the end of the day, religion is about the creation of meaning,” he said. “Here’s the thing: How do I construct meaning out of my own existence? What resources and tools do I use to do that?”

“In food, it’s the exact same thing,” he continued. “We eat what we eat…we imbue these foods with a special sense of identity, who we are, and how they connect us to each other—how they connect us to something beyond us .”

The link between food and faith has been used to spark conversations around change in food and farming systems.

Farmers, religious leaders and activists gather to discuss root causes of unjust food systems at Come to the Table 2022, organized by RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table program and Key Issues The Role of Faith Communities in Fostering Food Justice. You can read more about it here.

Natalie Baszile, author of “Queen Sugar” and “We Are Each Other’s Harvest,” has a great word for it. “A community of faith can be a link between a farm worker and the community,” she said. At the meeting, farm worker Irma Juárez from Guatemala agreed, saying her partnership with the North Carolina Episcopal Farm Workers Ministry (EFWM) helped She networked with other agricultural women and left a lasting legacy in her community.

RAFI-USA’s Farm and Faith Partnerships program connects farmers of color with local faith communities and congregations to create such sustainable relationships, and is featured in a report titled “Food, Faith, and Farmers of Color: A Guide to Community Collaboration.” , the organization offers more resources on food justice and faith.

I’m also inspired by countless organizations working to bridge food and faith. The Black Church Food Safety Network, started by Pastor Heber Brown III, works with congregations and farmers to create a local Black-owned food system. MAZON: Jewish Response to Hunger not only works to fight hunger locally, but also strengthens national nutrition programs for long-term solutions, especially for Indigenous communities of all ages, veterans, and LGBTQ people. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) works to engage young people in the Muslim community in support of food security, while Islamic Relief USA provides food assistance and relief to vulnerable groups regardless of race, creed or gender.

When I was in Egypt last month for COP27, the United Nations climate change conference, I was talking to an indigenous leader about the tradition of saying grace before meals. We observed that most of these prayers centered on giving thanks for the food on our plates—but what about the systems that put it there? Does the gratitude we feel when we eat extend to the labor and resource inputs and water and air that help food grow? The people who harvest it, process it, transport it, cook it?

In Dr. Carter’s view, this is what religion and food justice are really about: acknowledging and supporting those connections. Know that we are not alone and we need community. And thanks for all this.

I hope you can listen to my full conversation with Dr. Christopher Carter of the University of San Diego on the podcast Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg here, and please share your thoughts with me at

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Photo courtesy of Davor Denkovski, no splash

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