Posts tagged with: Food and drink

wedding1In a recent column for USA Today, Kirsten Powers uses some legislation in the Kansas state legislature as a foray for arguing that, for many Christians, the supposed fight for religious liberty is really just a fight for the “legal right to discriminate.” Pointing to recent efforts to protect a florist, a baker, and a photographer from being sued for their beliefs about marriage, Powers argues that these amount to the homosexual equivalent of Jim Crow laws.

Powers, herself a Christian, reminds us that Jesus calls us “to be servants to all,” which is, of course, correct. Yet, as many have already observed, those involved in these lawsuits have no qualms with serving gay customers. Their conflict, rather, is with the particular ends that such services would support. As Andrew Walker explains at First Things: “What’s at stake in this context is when individuals who provide material and artistic craft for weddings are then forced to take their talents and their creative abilities and use them for purposes that go against their consciences.”

Setting aside any differences over sexual ethics or the particular legislation at hand, it’s worth noting how Powers so decidedly divorces work from religion, and in turn, work from ethics. Are we really to believe that the ends of our economic activity are of no consequence?

Powers writes that most of those planning a wedding would be shocked to learn that their vendors and suppliers had some kind of religious principle or transcendent ethic driving their efforts. “Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service,” she writes. “It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.” Reinforcing this view, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley is quoted, advising Christians to “leave Jesus out of it” when it comes to discerning the shape of their economic output. Later, in a tweet responding to her critics, Powers still fails to see it. “Of all the pushback I’ve gotten on my column,” she writes, “not one person has explained when Jesus taught that baking a cake is an affirmation of anything.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

hunger-games-catching-fire-extended-tv-spotTomorrow I’ll be offering up a more extensive commentary on the second movie of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” Until then, you can read Dylan Pahman’s engagement on the theme of tyranny, as well as that of Alissa Wilkinson over at CT. I’ll be critiquing Wilkinson’s perspective in my own review tomorrow. I think her analysis starts off strong, but she ends up getting distracted by, well, the distractions. But I commend her piece to your review, and in the meantime I’ll also offer a couple of notes on the film.

The film version doesn’t depart much from the source material, which is always a good thing when you have a strong source material. There is some streamlining of the plot and things are condensed a bit, but this is no doubt necessary to fit everything of relevance in to a 2.5 hour film.

One of the nice things that they do in the films is to show things that happen “off stage,” so to speak, in the books, which are presented from Katniss’ perspective. In this way, we can find out some things that Katniss doesn’t know, and some more texture is added to the narrative. In “Catching Fire,” the theme of hope flares up again, as it did in the first Hunger Games.

In an exchange between President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker argues for more explicit brutality contrasted with puff-piece entertainment to bring the rabble in the districts in line. Snow expresses doubt, noting that “fear” only works to oppress “when there is no hope.” As long as Katniss is alive, the people have hope. Heavensbee persuades Snow, and in doing so deceives him, hoping to further foment revolt with such tactics.

But as I’ve also observed with before, the hope offered in the Hunger Games really is just a temporal hope. The bread that people seek really is literal bread. There is little in the way of spiritual nourishment offered to anyone in the films, despite the sometimes heavy-handed religious imagery. “Bread first, then ethics” remains the motto of life in Panem.

Oh, and Heavensbee also drops a plug for my book when, in the midst of the Quarter Quell, he exhorts Katniss to “get her hands dirty” a bit.

Golden RiceA piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).

Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”

Get_Your_Hands_DirtyAs I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”

A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”

So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”

How can we trust a government to tell us what’s best for our healthcare when it’s subsidizing a corn industry that produces a food additive researchers believe may be tied to rising levels of obesity and disease? Anthony Bradley looks at a new study that raises moral questions about the consequences of the corn subsidy. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
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Public health officials estimate that Americans consume an average of 40 gallons of sugary soda per person per year. But now thanks to the tireless efforts of Michael Bloomberg, NYC’s Mayor and Nanny-in-Chief, the average New Yorker will now only consume 39.2 gallons of sugary soda per person per year.*

On Thursday, New York City passed the first U.S. ban of oversized sugary drinks as a way of curbing the obesity epidemic. Violators of the ban face a $200 fine for selling a soda in a size that exceeds government standards.

While the legislation is absurd, it’s not the first time a big city mayor has tried to promote healthy food consumption through taxation. As Jordan Ballor pointed out in 2005 when Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick proposed a a 2 percent tax on fast food,

The fast food tax, or “fat tax,” is really the newest incarnation of the age-old “sin” tax. The reasoning is that fast foods, which tend to be higher in calories, fat and cholesterol than other types of food, are unhealthy, and therefore worthy of special government attention.

Of course Bloomberg and the other nanny-state proponents don’t really believe the ban will reduce obesity—at least not by itself. For them, this is but one of the first skirmishes in the Fat Wars. As the liberal economics blogger Matthew Yglesias admits, “Giant sodas in one city and calorie menu labeling on chains nationwide are both very modest gestures, but the same forces that pushed for those will keep coming up with new ways to ratchet-up the stigma and inconvenience associated with ‘empty’ calories.”

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, in an article for AEI’s The American comes to the same conclusion:

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Picking up on the theme of my commentary and blog posts from a few weeks ago, I note (via Carpe Diem) that St. Paul, Minnesota will be welcoming “a new entry coming soon to the food truck scene in downtown St. Paul. Tot Boss will be the city’s first truck specializing in Tater Tots.”

And to lend some more anecdotal evidence to the idea that mobile trucks can lay the groundwork for more permanent and developed enterprises down the road (so to speak), check out this story of Brigitte Wooten in Holland, Michigan, “who for the past 11 years has been doing ribs and pulled pork at the Tulip Festival and other summer events around the state.” Wooten opened Jus’ Ribs & More late last year.

“Now I’m the owner of my own business. And I’m the cook and the dishwasher and waitress and the cashier and the dishwasher,” said Wooten.

Well, that wasn’t a serious title: After an hour of reflection, I am forced to admit that pizza qua pizza is a morally neutral proposition. We might have thought it was politically neutral too, until Congress decided this week that pizza sauce still counts as a serving of vegetables in public school lunch lines.

The brouhaha over pizza’s nutritional status reminds one of the Reagan-era attempt to classify ketchup as a vegetable. The department of agriculture was tasked with cutting the federal school lunch budget but maintaining nutritional standards, which it proposed to do by reclassifying ketchup — acondiment up to that point — as a vegetable. The move would have saved schools the cost of an extra serving of vegies, but Democrats cried foul (hard to blame them), and ketchup was left alone.

At Acton we go in for the natural law, and tend to shun legal positivism, so Congress’s declaration on pizza doesn’t really change the way we look at it (which is, after an informal poll, as a mixture of a number of food groups, vegetables not among them since the tomato is a fruit).

Talking Points Memo takes a less metaphysical tack, and discovers to its outrage that (1) lobbyists for Big Pizza spent more than $5 million lobbying Congress to maintain the status quo, and (2) the reclassification of pizza as a non-vegetable might have helped lower the child obesity rate, which is alarmingly high.

When a democratic government begins making laws that harm particular business sectors, they hire lobbyists. If TPM thinks it has solved the problem of faction, it should reveal the solution before skipping right to complaining about its redundancy and assuming we’ve all made the same brilliant political discovery they have.

Otherwise, if they’re upset that the problems of faction have infected school lunch lines, they should remember that the only way to get the K Street money out would be to relinquish Congress’s micromanagement of what children eat for lunch.

And that brings us to the second point. TPM can’t believe that even though “the CDC estimates about 17 percent — or 12.5 million — of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese,” Congress is allowing public schools to continue passing off two tablespoons of salty pizza sauce as a vegetable.

But the 17 percent childhood obesity rate is not actually a result of Congressional action. Michelle Obama’s recent healthy eating campaigns admit as much — they’re aimed at parents.

Laws always have an effect on the character of citizenry — a fact which the left usually chooses to ignore — and much less frequently on its health. In the case of school lunches, it’s easy to trace the government take-over of lunchtime through parental disregard of nutrition to 17 percent childhood obesity.

If you teach parents that their children’s health is not their responsibility, they’ll stop worrying about it, but when your federal bureaucracy can’t keep their 74 million children healthy, you shouldn’t blame Domino’s and Papa John’s.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 13, 2010

In an otherwise fine piece focusing on innovative techniques used by food banks to increase efficiency, while at the same time improving service and the recognition of the dignity of those they serve, Bread for the World president David Beckmann uses the opportunity to throw a dose of pessimism into the mix.

“We can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger,” said Beckmann, co-recipient of the 2010 World Food Prize. “Christian people need to change the politics of hunger as well.”

Well. So what if “we can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger”? Does that mean that we have to make governmental lobbying our primary focus? How about using the opportunity to praise best practices and improvements in the way food banks are run? How about talking about the important and indispensable role that food banks play?

It might just be that framing the problem as political by definition minimizes the role that private charity and local giving play. The emphasis all too easily becomes one of lobbying and advocacy rather than taking practical steps to address hunger in local contexts.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this. But I think we can see right where the “politics of hunger” mindset leads. Here’s an example from my local area: “West Michigan food pantries see drop in demand, but not for a good reason.”

Here in West Michigan local food bank officials point not to decrease in demand or need, but instead toward “increased state food assistance and accessibility.”

While local food banks are seeing their usage numbers decline, “We have continued to set records every month (for the food assistance program) for the past 18 months, said Edward Woods, communications director for the state Department of Human Services (DHS). “Recovery funds (federal stimulus) did increase the amount of food assistance by nearly 14 percent.”

If changing the politics of hunger means that fewer people use food banks and food pantries in favor of government welfare then I have no interest in changing the politics of hunger. Instead I want to see hunger de-politicized.

All too often discussion about charitable causes end up downplaying direct charitable giving and activity with calls for political activism and advocacy. Jim Wallis, for instance, has said “I often point out that the church can’t rebuild levees and provide health insurance for 47 million people who don’t have it.”

Instead of talking about what food banks can’t do and what Christians can’t do, I like the observation from Ron Sider about the untapped potential of Christians to act on their own through their own institutions without resorting to government advocacy.

Sider says, “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”

Obviously evangelism shouldn’t be a “leftover” priority, but you get the point. Christians and churches can and should do more, and calls to change the “politics” of hunger, poverty, and a host of other issues let us off the hook too easily.