Although we often associate the act of thanksgiving with the holiday, thanksgiving should be a daily prayer that continues long after Thanksgiving has passed. In addition to giving thanks, this time of year reminds us of the poor and our Christian response to these sons and daughters of God. This dimension of the holiday must continue after the celebration; like “giving thanks,” we must never lose sight of our concern for these unfortunate ones on a daily basis.
Recently I came across studies on Food Deserts. Food Deserts are “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.”1 Food Deserts are areas where persons have little access to nutritious foods because of a lack of supermarkets or grocery stores which sell nutritious foods at affordable prices. They may also lack access to reliable transportation to markets which offer affordable and healthy foods. Food Deserts are characteristically located in low income areas as well as communities of color.2
We have Food Deserts in the United States. In Chicago, e.g., there are more than 20 communities identified as Food Deserts which have the furthest traveling distances to purchase healthy food.3 These locations have an imbalance of food options for their inhabitants. They are mostly confined to a steady diet from fast food restaurants, rather than consuming foods that are beneficial for their health. Such communities will likely have “increased premature death and chronic health conditions.4 Diabetes e.g., is one of the major causes of death among Food Desert households.5 Food Deserts can be called food apartheid. This social structure is an unjust system which calls for a rethinking of our respect for human life and the right of all humans to have a holistic mental and physical wellbeing.
We can focus our attention on Jesus words, “For I was hungry and you have me food, thirsty you gave me to drink. . .6 These words aptly apply to Food Deserts. Here we have a situation where human beings are denied a healthy diet. As Christians we cannot ignore this injustice. They are hungry, hungry for those foods which contribute to a healthy lifestyle. They equally deserve the right to healthy foods as do those who have easy access to them. We, therefore, must “feed” them with new channels that will provide them easy access to purchase the necessary food for their wellbeing.
Christ gave us a commandment to “love one another”7 as he has loved us. This charity is the “greatest social commandment. It respects the rights of others and their rights.”8 It is a charity that rests not only on the relationships between individuals but includes the social and political communities which must intervene in the context of “seeking the greatest good for the community, in its entirety”.9
As Christians we can often take for granted what we have, unaware of those who are lacking. Jesus said, “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”10 A healthy and wholesome life is a fundamental human right for all of God’s people. We can never forget this essential value. When we give thanks to God on our Thanksgiving Day, let us also pray that all God’s daughters and sons may be able to be thankful for a wholesome and healthy life. Let us pray that we may somehow respond to this need.
You will be remembered in my thoughts and prayers.
Br. Warren Perrotto, MSC
- Center for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/features/fooddeserts/
- Food Deserts, Food Empowerment Project, http://www.foodispower.org/food_deserts.htm.
- Mari Gallahger, Good Food: Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago, Chicago, 2006, p. 8.
- Ibid. p. 9.
- Cf. Ibid, p. 7.
- Matthew 25:30
- John 13:34
- Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 583.
- Ibid. 208
- John 10:10