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'You give them something to eat'

Command by Jesus transcends time

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What's the connection between the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and the food crisis in East Africa?

Beyond the obvious -- the need to feed hungry people -- the story of how Jesus miraculously turned a few loaves and fish into enough food for a multitude was last Sunday's Gospel reading (at churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary).

Few hearing the story last week could have failed to make the connection between the needs of the hungry crowd facing Jesus and his disciples and the plight of millions in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Most will have given to help people in that region, or plan to. But some may have felt like the disciples -- overwhelmed by such tremendous need.

"This is a remote place, and it's already getting late," they told Jesus. "Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."

But Jesus was having none of that. "They do not need to go away," he said. "You give them something to eat."

You give them something to eat. If ever there was a command that transcended time, this is it.

Those words apply to everyone, but they have a particular resonance for people of faith. Study after study has shown the more religious a person is, the more they give to charity.

This doesn't mean non-religious people don't give; of course they do. But the backbone of many non-profit organizations is people of faith -- people who view their support not just as the right thing to do but as a sacred obligation.

But even people of faith can only do so much, especially when needs are so great. That's what the disciples pointed out, telling Jesus they didn't have enough food for such a large group of people -- only five loaves of bread and two fish.

That turned out to be enough. Jesus took the small offering, multiplied it, and all were fed. And not only that; After everyone ate, there were 12 baskets left over.

I wonder: What happened to that extra food?

The text doesn't say. Personally, I like to think the food was put to good use -- unlike how so much food today is wasted.

Globally, it's estimated about 100 million tonnes of edible food a year is wasted, most of it in the developed world. Here in Canada, it's reported that 50 per cent of all food produced is thrown away. That's over six million tonnes of food a year, or about 183 kilograms per person.

Where does it go? Some of it is thrown out when it reaches its best-before date. Some spoils in transit. Between 25 to 40 per cent is rejected by grocery stores because it is cosmetically challenged.

But the biggest culprits, apparently, are you and me. A study in Great Britain found every day people in that country throw out seven million slices of bread, 660,000 eggs, 1.2 million sausages, 2.8 million tomatoes, 1.6 million bananas and 260,000 packages of cheese. Fifteen per cent of the food hadn't even been opened, while five per cent was still within the best-before date.

The same study concluded 61 per cent of all the food waste could have been eaten if consumers better planned and stored their food purchases.

A similar study of garbage in Toronto found one-quarter to one-third of food in the trash was unopened, still in the original packaging.

Talk about your 12 baskets left over!

Abundance, in other words, best describes the world food situation.

There's no shortage of food in the world today -- there's more than enough for everyone. Even the poorest countries produce enough food for their citizens. The problem is most poor people don't have enough money to buy the food they need.

Of course, eating everything in your fridge before buying more, taking only what you can eat at a buffet, or not being so choosy at the grocery store when buying fruit and vegetables won't mean people in East Africa--or other parts of the world -- will miraculously be fed. But considering that almost a billion people in the world don't have enough to eat, the least we can do is be careful with the abundance we have been given in Canada.

That, plus making a donation to help those suffering from lack of food in East Africa.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 6, 2011 J13

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