Eating to Transform Lives and Care for the World

What you choose to eat is important to both parts of how you live out the mission of our congregation—transforming your life and caring for the earth. ...How many of you have heard that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?” Apples (and other fresh fruits) are healthy foods, and eating them every day can indeed help you get and stay healthy.

When many people had apple trees in their backyards, there were many, many different local varieties of apples. Now most of the apples you find in the stores are one of about half a dozen commercial varieties, and most of them are Red Delicious. It’s hard to imagine a less satisfying apple than the Red Delicious—it looks pretty, it’s nearly always uniformly bright red, and it has a pleasing shape. But they are almost always mushy and bland with tough skin that’s often bitter.

But not only has the apple become much less than delicious, it has also become less nutritious. You’ll have to eat three apples today to get the same amount of iron that was in one typical apple grown in 1940.

With the focus on processed foods, the cost of sweeteners and fats has gone down 20% since 1980 while the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has gone up 40%. We spend about half as much of our income on food as we did in 1960, but we’re spending three times as much of our income on health care. There just might be a link!

We’re eating a lot more processed foods with those cheap added sweeteners and fats and a lot less fresh whole foods. That has the hidden expense of causing us to consume too many calories and get too little nutrition.

We’re eating foods that have traveled a long way. The trucking industry is fond of saying that if you bought it, it came by truck, and that’s becoming ever so true of most supermarket foods. All that hauling is hard on the environment. It contributes to the greenhouse gasses and it puts more fine particulate matter into our air, which is already unhealthy.

By eating locally grown foods, we’ll reduce the need for some of that transport and preserve more of the local farms that give our valley much of its charm.

It might be a stretch for most of us to become locavores, eating only (or almost only) foods that were grown in Central Pennsylvania. But it’s not impossible to create a balanced and interesting diet from locally produced foods. Last month—in the middle of winter—Amy Farrell and John Bloom hosted a dinner of almost exclusively Central Pennsylvania foods…. Amy shared their menu with me, featuring cheeses, fresh vegetables, chicken and eggs, even cornbread made with locally grown and ground cornmeal and flour, and sweet potato pie, along with local wines, beers, sodas, cider, and water.

Recognize food as more than a source of nutrition. It is part of many relationships—with your companions (by the way, that word means those with whom you share bread), with the growers, and with the planet, for example. It can also be a source of pleasure, a feast for all the senses, and a reason to sit down with others in a shared meal. For centuries shared food has been a strong symbolic way to celebrate community….

Making good choices about what and how we eat matters. It matters to our bodies and to the planet. And like many of the choices we face—what’s good for us is often what’s good for the Earth. By choosing to eat more locally produced foods and more whole foods, we’re also choosing to do a little less damage to the Earth by our living here.

Sermon delivered at Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA.