A Simple Feast, Columns

Contemporary magnificats

Eva Jensen

As we open our hearts to the season of Advent and listen to the scripture readings and music of the season, what do we hear? Do we hear the prophetic words calling us to God’s advent now?

The prophetic images of the prophets that call for peace among peoples — mercy, justice, and equity throughout all lands — invite us to imagine new possibilities for our relationships. How do we practice and live out these prophetic texts in our time?

As we anticipate and prepare for holiday feasts, we are mindful of people who do not have enough to eat. We are increasingly aware of the sources of our food — the processes and people involved in getting it to our tables. We can learn about injustice and inequity when we look at the impact of our food system on people who live and work throughout the food chain — from the fields to processing plants, to supermarkets, to the plate — especially people of color.

In September, hundreds of food justice advocates gathered in Minneapolis for the Food + Justice = Democracy Conference that was sponsored by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). The conference organizers issued a call of inclusion across race and ethnicity, class and gender. They brought together as many strands of the food movement as possible to facilitate collective wisdom and unite our voices to call for an end to injustice in our food system.

Each day the conference was grounded in the narratives of marginalized and often invisible people who described their experiences of historical trauma, marginalization, discrimination, and injustice, as well as their vision of a just and healthy food system.

Native Americans, removed from land to make way for European immigrants, once sustained local food systems that included over 300 varieties of food.

We first learned of the power of historical trauma — systemic injustice that is collectively carried through generations. Narratives of remembrance, deep listening, truth-telling, and reconciliation can foster healing, understanding of our own biases and prejudices, as well as the formation of collaboratives to address systemic disparities in communities of color.

A world in our midst

Through the historical lens of slavery, we looked at the persistent discrimination that disadvantages African Americans in agriculture, land ownership, food production, and access to healthy food. Today, African Americans are investing in their farms, establishing urban farms, restoring polluted land to production, and making healthy food available where others would not invest.

Native Americans, removed from land to make way for European immigrants, once sustained local food systems that included over 300 varieties of food. They generously shared the abundance of earth’s gifts, understanding food and land as a commons that belongs to all generations and all peoples. Today they advocate for food sovereignty — their right to land and to develop their own food policies as well as manage production and resources of creation in ways that protect their food production and nurture their cultures and communities.

Through the historical lens of slavery, we looked at the persistent discrimination that disadvantages African Americans in agriculture, land ownership, food production, and access to healthy food.

Hmong peoples spoke of their displacement from lands in Southeast Asia, tearfully sharing stories of their war-induced migration, life in refugee camps, and survival as a people who understand farming as a way of life, not only a way of generating an income. Farming provides a space to remember history and family; it supports healing and socialization; it fosters community formation and stability. Yet, the obstacles and barriers to sustaining their farms and production are immense. Second-generation Hmong farmers wonder if they are the last farmers in the younger generation. They asked “How can we help create memory of our heritage and foster more and successful farmers?”

In anticipation of Advent, I hear their narratives as contemporary magnificats — clear and visionary voices of longing and promise. They point to a new ordering of our lives in relationship to land, agriculture, and one another that illumines new possibilities for generating food justice.

At the conference, we collectively developed principles that capture the vision of what a fair, just, and healthy food system would do for all peoples and creation. The draft principles of food justice can be found on the IATP website (iatp.org). They will be distributed around the country to solicit input from every community that wants to talk about organizing for food justice.

Eating is a community act. Even if we eat alone, most of us rely on others to grow, harvest, process, and deliver our food to places where we buy it. God is present at our tables, guiding us in loving relationships, calling us to lives of justice, mercy, and peace. We pause to give thanks for food, those who prepared it, all who are gathered.

How is God calling us to be a prophetic people to participate in the food justice movement?

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