Each year the United States wastes over ninety-six billion pounds of food. Putting such a huge number in perspective requires an image, some reference to a concrete reality our minds can grasp. Here are a couple of my own attempts: ninety-six billion pounds is enough food to fill LP Field like a salad bowl every day of the year; or ninety-six billion pounds is a pile of food heavier than four hundred Costa Concordia cruise ships.
In our culture of hyperbole, the outlandish and extreme have become commonplace. Whether we are speaking of the computing speed of the newest technological gadgetry (20,000 trillion calculations/sec), the number of people with whom we share our planet (seven billion), or the number of cars in use around the globe (over one billion in 2010), every day we are surrounded by a reality that increasingly outpaces our ability to conceive or comprehend it. Living amidst these abstractions, we easily forget our bigger-than-life lives have real consequences: consequences such as the methane—a greenhouse gas twenty-five times more powerful than carbon dioxide—generated by those ninety-six billion pounds of food left to rot in a landfill; consequences such as hungry neighbors—part of the one in six Americans who are food insecure in a nation that wastes forty-percent of what it produces.
In the face of such overwhelming problems, it can be hard to know where to begin. Coming to Vanderbilt Divinity School, I hoped to find resources that would help to answer these questions and to make these issues manageable. I found the resources I sought, but not in the places I expected. Most often the texts that illuminated the theological meaning of hope, community, solidarity, and salvation were the lives of those I was privileged to encounter. From the students with whom I shared a classroom to those I was blessed to work alongside during the course of my field education experience, I glimpsed visions of justice every day.
Looking ahead to the end of my time at VDS, I carry these insights forward into my work of alleviating food insecurity and hunger. Every day I am continuing to discover new visions of hope in those I meet. I can no longer think of the ninety-six billion pounds without calling to mind the sweaty and sunburned faces of volunteers who spent an afternoon trudging through a field, collecting what others have left behind. When I’m in the field, I can’t help but think of the smiling face of a woman who, after working 40 hours a week, gives her weekends to running a food ministry she started to provide assistance to the unhoused. Although the scope of our problems may be daunting, the measure of these actions is humbling. They may not solve our biggest problems, but they witness to a hope that, when lost, leaves us without any conceivable solution.
“See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.”
Nathan Dryden is third-year student who serves as the Program Coordinator for The Society of St. Andrew Tennessee. The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) is a grass-roots, faith-based farm gleaning organization whose vocation comes from a call to “love not only in words, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) Understanding food and creation as divine gifts to be used responsibly, SoSA partners with farmers, food distributors and other parts of the food system to reclaim and rescue food waste for use by hunger relief agencies and food banks. If you are interested in getting involved as a volunteer or learning more about the organization’s work in Tennessee, please contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org