How We Use What Others Lack

I’ve been spending some time the last several days mulling over two things that I heard or read about on Sunday.  The first was a New York Time article that I blogged about here, talking about how much food is wasted in the United States and in countries like England.  More than 25% of the food available for consumption in the United States gets thrown away….while millions in the world go to bed hungry or die from malnutrition.  The second was a sermon given by a visiting priest who had been a missionary in Tanzania.  Among other things, he spoke about a problem we know is a major one – the lack of clean water in so many places in the world.  And, again, what struck me was the contrast: children dying because they lack clean water or young girls who can’t go to school because they must spend their entire day making trips to far away sources of water and carrying it back to the village in which they live….and people here in the U.S. allowing their automatic lawn sprinklers to run even when it is raining outside, or running the dishwaster when it is only a third full, or throwing away half drunk bottles of water.

Now I know there is not a direct link between our using less and the people who lack having more (although the New York Times article I mentioned does cite estimates of the the U.S. Department of Agriculture that “recoving just 5 percent of the food that is wasted could feed four million people a day; recovering 25 percent would feed 20 million people”).  But even so, it seems to me there is still something significant in the admonition we used to hear: Clean your plates because children are starving in Europe. 

It may be that I am more sensitive to this issue than are many Americans because I spent several years in Southeast Asia, where I witnessed really extreme poverty.  But there seems to me something – well, sinful – in taking for granted that which so many people lack.  As a general matter, it is hard to get traction in this country on issues like food and water waste.  But it shouldn’t be hard for people of faith to rally around such issues.  If we truly recognize that all we have is gift from our loving God, we will think more about how we use what we have been given.  And if we recognize that this gift from God is meant to benefit all, we will spend time thinking about what steps we can take (both individually and communally) to address the fact that so many lack so much of what we take for granted.