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To eat, or not to eat?

‘To be, or not to be: that is the question.’ A familiar quote we know from the centuries-old Shakespearean play ‘Hamlet.’ In today’s terms, it would read, ‘To live, or not to live: those are the choices.’ Bringing it closer to the celebration we honor this week, it would read, ‘To eat, or not to eat: that is our central concern.’
The thing about food is that it truly is a basic need of life. We must consume it in order to produce energy and growth in our bodies. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But keeping humanity fed has been a challenge throughout history. If we could solve this issue for the world’s population, a lot of our more complex problems would go away.
This Thanksgiving, we are being bombarded with the dynamics of the ‘food issue.’ Plain and simple: some have too much and some not enough.
In autumn, the news is all about the abundance or lack of a bountiful harvest. Weather forecasts, grocery store promotions and popular family magazines all are featuring the joy of bringing in the crops of the farmers’ toil. And then we cap it off with Thanksgiving.
For many of us, Thanksgiving is a day to splurge on our favorite foods. We cook more than is needed and gorge ourselves into an afternoon nap or a conversation full of remorse over our gluttony. We don’t do this alone, if we have a choice. When we think of nourishment, we include the ‘soul food’ that the company of family, friends and faith provides. And so, when we meet to give ‘thanks,’ we feel nourished most when we feast with others. Thus, the tradition of ‘Thanksgiving.’
But eating has picked up a new dimension. In our prosperity, we are finding that our pallets gravitate to foods that taste great but are bad for our health. So, we are constantly bombarded with the advice that our lives would be better if we watched what we ate and consumed less. To illustrate our neurosis on this eating stuff, look at a magazine while in the grocery store checkout line. It is filled with photos of desirable skinny women and alarming news about the health dangers of eating too much of the wrong foods. It also will contain recipes and tempting photos of yummy sweets and meats. No wonder we are a bit neurotic.
Add in to this mix of messages the recent appeals from organizations that feed the unemployed, homeless, poor, elderly and storm-ravaged. The World Health Organization estimates that 1/3 of the world is well-fed, 1/3 is underfed and 1/3 is starving. During the time you have been reading this column, 200 people have died of starvation. One in eight children younger than the age of 12 in the United States goes to bed hungry every night.
Food is central to all living things. How we handle it is a defining decision for us as human beings. This is true of us as individuals, and it is true of us as a society. It is an individual responsibility ‘ no one can make us eat right; we have to do it ourselves. And no one is truly nourished without the support, help and communion of other people.
We don’t have to launch a worldwide crusade to begin to achieve balance in the use of food. This Thanksgiving, pay attention to what is in food, where it comes from and how it affects your body, and put a measured amount in your mouth as you give thanks for being able to do so. Invite someone to join you at the table who might not otherwise be included in ‘your group’ or anyone else’s. Pay attention and respond to fair trade practices. Think what you can do to lessen the gap between the ‘haves too much’ and the ‘have nots enough.’ The World Hunger Education Service states, ‘To satisfy the world’s sanitation and food requirements would cost only $13 billion, about what the people of the United States and the European Union spend on perfume each year.’
Perhaps, you could just dig a little deeper in your pocket and send a donation to one of the many non-profit programs that is organized and trained to feed the hungry. There are many, and their accountability can easily be checked on the Internet.
When Shakespeare penned his famous words, ‘To be, or not to be; that is the question,’ he raised an eternal question for all of us, one that is debated on a myriad of levels. Let us apply that question to the issue of food as we gather together ‘to ask the Lord’s blessing’ this Thanksgiving.