Last summer someone suggested that I watch a documentary that had been made around the growing of corn in the United States. Its title was King Corn and it involved two friends who decided to grow an acre of corn in Iowa near the town where both of their ancestors had lived. As they learn the ins and outs of modern corporate farming they become more and more uneasy about finishing the task of harvesting their own corn and delivering it to the silo at the local coop.
In a particularly telling part of the documentary they follow their corn’s food chain down to the beef that is sold through low quality feed, the corn syrup that is now literally poisoning our food supply and the disgusted farmers who wish they could grow something better than this terribly inedible corn. It was a disturbing indictment on the food that we so casually drop into our carts at grocery stores. At one point they showed a cow that was being used for research with a hole that exposed its stomach. This was to show that their corn was not naturally what beef would eat and that there must be supplements to the cow’s diet to help it digest this corn diet.
I was not naïve to what went into the production of most of our food in our community’s food chain. I grew up in an agricultural state after all. Factory farming has long since replaced the last family farmers of my youth. Yet, I will say that after that documentary I began looking closer at labels and eschewed any product that clearly stated that it had corn syrup inside. The reality of our post-modern ethos is that we want food to be cheap, easy, accessible and of an unsustainable variety. We want the chef to serve Chilean Sea Bass, the grocery store to have green peppers in February, apples and tomatoes year round. Somewhere deep inside I think we know that this is neither environmentally sustainable for our world, ethical to all living creatures nor is it good for us as spiritual beings connected in covenants with animals and our creator.
When I reread today’s text from Genesis it occurred to me with the squeals of a thousand of slaughtered pigs I had missed something before. I had been so human centered that I had only read of our human participation in this post-flood covenant with Noah and God. You know the horrific story that we so cutely characterize for children. The myth goes that Noah was a holy and righteous man amongst a sinful people. So, the almighty tells him to get some gopher wood and build a gigantic boat. With his family Noah gathers animals two by two to fill this boat to the derision and laughter of his neighbors. When the torrents of rain began to fall he closed up the boat’s door and all the inhabitants of the land died horribly in the rising water. Eventually, the rains ended and after sending out two birds Noah realizes that the water is receding. When the family and animals leave the boat’s hull they are greeted by colors bowing in the sky. God explains that this is a covenant between humans, all living creatures and their creator. God will never wipe out the entire breathing population of the earth again. This is a promise from the divine to all.
Contained in this Covenant is the promise that humans can once again feast on the beasts of the earth as long as they are not carrying the life-blood within them. In the future Moses will make even more restrictions upon what the people are able to eat. Still it is surprising to see the covenant of God being written not only in a human’s heart, but in all creatures alive on the earth. This must mean that God has value for all living creatures.
You know where I am going with this and I can already hear your objections. They are mine also. I don’t have the time, organic food is so expensive and my part is very small in the whole scheme of this planet. Yet, in this difficult Lent season we know that we share uneasiness with in planet where we have been living well beyond our means.
As pesticides run into our water supplies, poisons are found in our foods, entire species of fish are disappearing from our planet because of strip fishing, all types of medicinal pellets are dropped into our cattle’s feed, animals refuse pollutes lakes, people starve while we let tons of meat rot, we subsidize farmers to grow too much genetically altered corn which is inedible by humans, the semis trucking our green peppers from California are some of the biggest polluters of our atmosphere, our cupboards are full with junk, fatty beef raises obesity, heart disease, colon cancer, over irrigation is center pivoting water into the atmosphere while dropping our largest aquifer’s water table, thousands of chickens and pigs are force-fed and penned together in atrocious living conditions. Is this really what God meant? Was God’s purpose for eating animals to regard them and the natural world as a commodity to exploit for profit? Is God glorified in animal cruelty, massive environmental destruction and terrible health risks? Why is Michael Vick in prison anyway?
These are the uneasy questions that I was left with when reading of God’s and our relationship with all living creatures in this covenant. Of course I will still make soup tomorrow, but hopefully when I am only one person removed from the cattle’s rancher I will have lessened my participation in the breaking of our relationship with animals through cruelty. I don’t profess to have the answers for something that so pervades our culture, but I do have unease and I can try to lessen my participation in something that destroys not only other living creatures and destroys our planet but threatens to undo us all in the end.
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