Tag Archives: consumer ethics

Taking My Theology to the Grocery Store

caged_hens3It’s time for me to eat some humble pie.

For years I have observed food fads from afar, marveling that people have the time and resources to make such a fuss over the labels on the foods that they buy. Organic grocery aisles and upscale health food stores have often struck me as marketing ploys, one more way for the wealthy to spend their excess resources while the poor have to make do with the overly processed, chemically polluted foods that they can actually afford.

Which value will win out: the well-being of the chickens who produce these eggs or the well-being of my children who need to eat them?

I often feel trapped between the responsibility to feed my family well and my meager resources to do so. I’m one of those who show up at closing time to snatch up the clearance foods that are too old to sell. I pick mold off of bread crusts and find creative ways to turn leftover scraps into another meal. And with a family that walks or cycles everywhere we go, I often feel at my wit’s end to keep up with our caloric needs, especially in light of how expensive most protein sources are.

So each time I examine the price labels on the egg aisle, I face a moral dilemma. Which value will win out: the well-being of the chickens who produce these eggs or the well-being of my children who need to eat them? I am ashamed to admit that I have intentionally buried my head in the sand, preferring to walk out of the store with my three affordable cartons of caged-hen eggs rather than to take seriously my responsibility to be a steward of God’s creation.

I tried to keep my theology conveniently contained at home. But God won’t stay in my cage.

He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field… The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.
The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests…
These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
Psalm 104:10-12, 16-17, 27-18

God loves all of His creation. For years I have savored His repeated declarations of loving care for His creatures, inevitably filling in the blank with mental images of myself and my family, or perhaps of oppressed women in South Asia and starving children in Africa. But when it comes to those bits that specifically talk about His tender care for the animals, I’m ashamed to admit that I have largely read them in terms of just how loving and compassionate He is, and then lumped them in with how much He cares about people.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
Psalm 8:3-8

How anthropocentric of me! The world doesn’t revolve around people. Yes, we are the crowning glory of physical creation, the bits of earth that have been fashioned into the image of God and infused with the Spirit of God. We are the ones whom He has raised up from the dust and entrusted with the responsibility of ruling over the rest of His earth, including its dogs and chickens, crops and ecosystems. He has given these things to us to provide for our needs, but with that privilege comes responsibility.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.
Matthew 6:26; 10:29

Jesus had strong words and an even stronger example about what it looks like to rule. Tender nurture. Sacrificial service. And embedded in His reminders of our Father’s loving care for us are powerful statements of God’s loving care for the rest of His creatures. Feeding the birds. Noticing their living conditions. Of course we are more valuable to Him than they are, but that doesn’t negate their worth. It confirms it.

After receiving all of God’s lavish provisions, can I really turn around and stingily refuse some chickens the dignity of a decent living space?

And so as I am faced with the question of how much I am willing to sacrifice for the living conditions of these out-of-sight, out-of-mind hens, I feel just a bit like that ungrateful servant who received much grace but refused to pass it on. My Father has lavished abundant resources on me. Those discounted items at the grocery store are His manna falling from heaven. And that gift-ordered turkey that I can’t fit into my tiny freezer is His extravagant provision, more bountiful than my storage capacity. After receiving all that, can I really turn around and stingily refuse some chickens the dignity of a decent living space?

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ …your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:31-33

And lest I think that in looking out for the needs of the rest of creation my own needs will suffer, God puts my silly worries to rest. Will He who did not spare the turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner not along with it graciously give us all the ethically-sourced eggs we need to dress it?

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