As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I've been leading a Sunday discussion at church on land ethic, theological response to environmental issues, and most recently the spirituality of food and eating. During the discussion's we've covered Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic, looked at how other denominations view God's creation (including the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the American Baptist Church) and have viewed a short video producted by a Franciscan community of nuns on the challenges of climate change. We are currently looking at the theology and spirituality of food.
During the conversation, corn somehow creeps into our discussions. During the section on Land Ethic, we talked about the toll the environment has taken while we have developed a monoculture of corn on our prairie landscape. During the conversation on climate change, we talked about ethanol a great deal. We discussed how hoarding corn for ethanol production affects the food chain (the commercial one, not so much the natural "eat and be eaten" one). We found that filling up a large SUV with pure ethanol uses enough corn (about 400 pounds) to feed a person for a year. What are the ethical/theological implications of that aspect of corn alone? Interestingly, I found a tidbit (sorry I can't find the link) that John Wesley's cry for abstinence from alcohol wasn't so much that it was unhealthy or a sin to drink; rather it was that the grain that was converted to alcohol could have fed the poor.
As we move our conversation to food it will be interesting to see the role corn plays in our discussion. Corn is everywhere, it is nearly impossible to find a pre-packaged food that doesn't have some corn or corn derivative in it. Nearly all the soft drinks consumed in this country have some high fructose corn syrup in them. Even diapers have corn in them. We've even errected statues of corn! Paul Gruchow, wrote about our corn dependency a number of years ago. His essay, Corn is not Eternal, he paints a fairly frightening analogy between our dependence on corn and the Lakota dependency on buffalo. He wrote:
"A person born in our time will as an infant be clothed in a diaper made in part of corn and fed a formula based upon corn syrup. That person will grow into adult life sustained in thousands of ways by products made from, packaged in, or manufactured with derivatives of corn, from every kind of feed except fresh fish to plastics, textiles, building materials, machine parts, soaps and cosmetics, even highways. And when that person dies, some laws require that the body should be embalmed - in a fluid made in part from corn." "We have not begun to imagine a life without corn. We have assumed, by the default of failing to think about it, that corn is eternal. But it is not any more eternal than the buffalo. In fact, because the corn we cultivate shares a common cytoplasm, it would take exactly one persistent pathogen to devastate our culture as we know it.
" Demand for corn, fueled more of late by the growing ethanol industry, continues to increase. The fear is that in order to meet the demand, more corn will now be grown in places where it should not, such as highly erodible lands. Conservation lands where grasses and forbs now shelter wildlife and help control run-off into lakes and streams are apt to also be converted into new rows of corn. Corn is king.
Are we, by demanding cheaper sources of fuel, running from one dependency to another? Or, perhaps we're already there?
I've been challenging the participants in this discussion to think of ways to make this a pasotral issue. This, as all issues related to the environment, boils down to social justice. Are we going to keep feeding our appetite for fuel at the expense of a hungry world? Are we going to keep warming our climate so millions of people will be displaced by flooding?
Quite literally, food for thought.