Food, Faith and Health Disparities

This article highlights the inequities and disconnectedness of the current food system, drawing comparisons to teachings and discipline, spiritual practice and social justice.

by Jessica Powers, WhyHunger | October 2010 

Under the gothic arches of Riverside Church, we hear songs and speakers on Friday evening, setting the stage for work to be done the next day, at the Food, Faith, and Health Disparities Summit. Speakers from the Christian and Muslim faiths describe the inequities and disconnectedness of the current food system, drawing comparisons to teachings about discipline, spiritual practice, and social justice. We hear from a public health professor about health consequences. And finally, from Cecil D. Corbin-Mark of WeAct for Environmental Justicea local organization that works to create healthy communities. “Foresight,” he says, “is about ethics” — thereby grounding the conversation in a humanist tradition. 

The next morning, we have an orientation to a method of guided facilitation called dialogue-to-change, which connects different community members to social, political, and policy change. Instead of being a “top-down approach,” Carolyne Abdullah explains, we “turn it on its side.” The process is focused on outcomes: changes in individual behavior and attitudes, creating new relationships, networks, and collaborations, and changes in community dynamics. 

A rousing panel discussion during lunch is a call for “liberation,” and thinking of “eating as a moral act.” A skeptical Joel Berg says that a recent hailstorm which devastated urban farms is proof that local agriculture can’t sustain us. Tanya Fields — mother, activist, and resident of Section 8 housing — counters that a community garden “addresses injustices [in our] jacked-up global food system.” 

Our small group facilitators guide us through self-examination, tracing the roots of food system problems, discussing suggested approaches, and finally, to create priorities for action. The conversation is lively and respectful, spirited and illuminating. Interestingly, many of the dialogue circles come to similar conclusions: a need to bridge the world between small business and communities concerned about the food system. Lisa Sharon Harper ends the summit by asking whether bridging this gap is the “calling” of the attendees here. Attendees sign up to continue the work on a variety of topics. It will also be necessary to bridge the gap to other communities of faith in order to move this effort forward. 


Updated 9/2014