Not long ago, I had to make a hurried trip to Atlanta and back. As I traveled, I noticed the restaurants and fast-food joints, or signs for them, which line our interstate highways.
Applebee’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Church’s Chicken, Cracker Barrel, Dairy Queen, Domino’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys, Hardee’s, Jack-in-the-Box, KFC, Krispy Kreme, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, O’Charley’s, Olive Garden, Outback, Panda Express, Pizza Hut, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, Quizno’s, Sonic, Starbucks, Red Lobster, Subway, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Zaxby’s.
If none of those places has what a traveler is looking for, there’s always the chance to get a hot dog from the gas station or even poker-chip-tough nachos topped with liquid cheese and jalapenos from a truck stop.
With all these places to eat, and with the endless variety of products available in grocery stores, it would be easy to forget, if we ever knew, that food doesn’t magically appear in a box, can, jar or bag.
It doesn’t come on a plate, in a wrapper or bundled with a toy or a game.
Food grows from the soil of God’s earth and the rain of God’s heavens. It’s tended and harvested by the sweat of farmworkers’ brows, the bending of their knees, the bowing of their backs and the aching of their muscles.
Food doesn’t materialize – presto! – in response to money. It rises from the ground in the mysteries of planting, rooting and emerging.
In the summers between my senior year in high school and freshman year in college, I worked as a hand on a more or less 40-acre farm. The owner of the place kept chickens, raised pigs and cows, grew corn and tended a large garden.
I repaired barbed-wire fences, put up hay, weeded the garden, mucked out the chicken coop, gave injections to calves who had pink-eye, “fixed” hogs (don’t ask and I won’t tell), picked beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, dug potatoes and onions and cut okra.
It was some of the hardest work of my life. I learned why farmers generally don’t need memberships in health clubs!
I also learned that, to eat hastily and thoughtlessly, without pausing to give thanks for all the work and care that is concentrated into the food on my plate, is a kind of arrogant forgetfulness of my dependence, my absolute dependence, on the people whose hands touched my food before I did.
So I am reminding myself these days: Look at the food you eat before you eat it. Notice its shape, color and texture. Smell it.
Imagine its life before it became food for you. Listen for the sounds of the workers who brought it to you. Give thanks for them, for rain, for rich soil, for fruitful seed.
Give thanks to God, who cares that people eat, and ask God for the will and the compassion to join God in seeing to it that they do.
A consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC), he served previously as an assistant professor of religion at Mars Hill University, an adjunct professor at Gardner-Webb Divinity School and as pastor of several Baptist churches.