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Lent Reflection 1: Journey in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

Week 1: Journey in the Wilderness

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor”
(Deuteronomy 26:5)


  • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm 91:1-2, 9 -16
  • Romans 10:8b-13
  • Luke 4:1-13


We have a curious set of readings for this first Sunday of Lent. Biblical scholars believe that Deuteronomy 26:5-10 is a script for someone making an offering of what was called the “first fruits,” a religious practice for farming communities. Following the first harvest that the Israelites reaped in the Promised Land, they were to gather a basket of select produce from the fields and carry it to the priest. When the priest laid the basket at the altar, the person making the offering would then say the following:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).

These verses fit well with this somber season. Lent is, if nothing else, a time of looking backward and a time of looking forward. In its 40 days, we remember how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. In it, too, we look ahead with longing to the breaking of the Easter dawn and the unveiling of the promise of God, who by grace offers us a future we could never earn.

With Lenten memory, we recall the journey of our biblical ancestors, the Hebrews led by God from slavery to freedom through generations in the wilderness, and we too reflect on what being descendants of oppressed slaves whom the Lord brought “out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” means for us today. The formulaic verses of Deuteronomy recall this history, reminding the worshiper with their produce just how far God has carried God’s people, from the “wandering Aramean,” Jacob, through Egypt, and to a new life and new covenant with God.

The danger inherent in this journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is difficult for us to capture today. Even without the threat of Pharoah’s army, to wander in the wilderness without permanent shelter, a stable source of fresh water or the means to grow food meant risking death from all sides. The lament of the people is understandable. They cry out to Moses, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt … for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). The Hebrews, led by Moses, were dependent on God’s response to their complaint: manna, a bread-like substance, rained down at night to fill them.

For our ancestors, the wilderness may have seemed like a trial to be endured and, if lucky, survived.

Perhaps that trial isn’t as hard for us to relate to that trial as it might seem. How often do we experience life as having more risks than rewards or more trials than triumphs? With rates of hunger around the world skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, natural and unnatural disasters wreaking havoc, and conflict uprooting lives, the world can often feel like a wilderness to be endured and, if lucky, survived.

The witness of our biblical ancestors is critical for us during Lent. The history recalled in the ceremony of the offering of the “first fruits” in Deuteronomy reminds us of two important truths as we begin this season. The first truth is that God is not the source of suffering. Even as the wandering Hebrews saw their time in the wilderness, at times, as a grueling test administered by an exacting God, it was God who journeyed with them. God responded to their cries with sustenance and protection that enabled them to survive.

The second truth might best be summed up in the popular quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Even when the way seemed uncertain for Jacob, the “wandering Aramean,” he was never alone as he sought a land to call his own. God was leading him somewhere as surely as God had greater things in store for the Hebrews than a mere flight from Egypt.

These truths lie at the foundation of the church’s witness today — even as so many of our neighbors face the uncertainty of survival in a world where as many as 811 million people are undernourished. In the Chiredzi District of Zimbabwe, Emma Mangwende gives voice to this uncertainty when she wonders, in her words, “how to survive as an old lady looking after seven grandchildren.”

What would being grounded in these truths look like for us — a church accompanying neighbors with challenges like Emma’s?

We can start by responding to the realities of hunger and poverty now and working with companions and partners with a vision for the future. In Zimbabwe, Lutheran Development Services (LDS) embodies this vision, working with Emma and other residents of the Chiredzi District to implement new models of farming that conserve water, preserve soil and increase yields. This work reflects the LDS vision of “transformed, robust and resilient communities living a just, peaceful and dignified life manifesting God’s love.” It is a testament to the two truths revealed in the story of God’s journey with God’s people in the readings for this Lent.

As we respond to hunger in the world, we do so knowing that God has provided abundantly to meet our every need, even as inequities and injustice prevent so many of our neighbors from enjoying the fruits of God’s creation. Our response — and our Lenten confession of the ways we have fallen short in responding — bear witness to the truth that inequities ought not to be. Amid risk and uncertainty, the work of neighbors such as Emma and LDS and of congregations in the United States and around the world is a testament that, even now, God is giving life to a promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” a world in which hunger and poverty will be no more.

This Lent we look back, remembering the ways God has been with us in our journey, and we look forward, longing for the fulfillment of God’s Easter promise. And we work, trusting that the God of our wandering ancestors is being revealed still today in our neighbors as we find our way through the
wilderness together.


  1. Think of a time when a situation seemed particularly uncertain or challenging. In what ways was God present with you?
  2. How might the church’s work alongside people facing hunger and poverty bear witness to God’s promise for the future?
  3. Imagine you had to rewrite the offering prayer from Deuteronomy 26:5-10. What would you include? What moments or events from your life or the life of your community would be part of your prayer?
  4. How does (or should) being descendants of “a wandering Aramean” such as Jacob shape the work of the church today?


God of our yesterdays and tomorrows, you guided our ancestors through the wilderness to freedom, a new home and a future with promise. Turn our hearts toward our neighbors who face uncertainty, insecurity and risk today. Inspire within us compassion for their needs, gratitude for their gifts and a holy yearning for justice, that all may experience safety, security and hope in our world today. In your name, we pray, amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting

“That We May Live Together”: From Challenges to Opportunities


Supported in part by ELCA World Hunger, the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan is a nine-month service leadership training program that draws people from around the world, allowing them to live and work together as they learn agricultural skills they can take back to their home communities. ARI also invites guest lecturers from Japan and abroad to teach sustainable development, organic farming and more. 

Through this model, ARI empowers leaders from around the world to build community, embrace diversity, value rural life, see the dignity of labor, promote food sovereignty and live in harmony with nature. Graduates return to their home countries equipped to work in sustainable development, build relationships with local leaders and transform their communities. Participants also receive ongoing support from ARI in identifying funding and leadership opportunities.  

As the impact of COVID-19 began to ripple around the world this spring, countries closed their borders and airports and flights were changed or canceled. Out of 26 students who’d planned to participate in ARI this year, only seven arrived in Japan; the others encountered travel restrictions and other challenges.  

Four ARI participants from Sierra Leone were at the closest Japanese consulate — in Accra, Ghana — applying for visas to enter Japan when Sierra Leone closed its borders and the government in Ghana ordered a nationwide lockdown. The participants obtained their Japanese visas, but the airports and borders were closed, so they couldn’t leave the country.  

This is when ARI reached out to its graduates in Ghana for help. John Yeboah, a 2018 graduate, answered the call, providing safety, food and lodging for the travelers. He escorted them from Accra to Kumasi by bus and took care of their needs while they awaited travel news.

Modeling what he had experienced during his training in Japan, John even worked with ARI to start the participants’ training right where they were. He led them in morning exercise, time-management techniques, leadership training and coaching, and discussion and reflection sessions.  

Participants from Asian Rural Institute are pictured

John Yeboah (second from left), a graduate of the Asian Rural Institute in Japan, is pictured with the four students from Sierra Leone and two local farmers at a pig farm in Kumasi, Ghana.

For the first few weeks, COVID-19 restrictions prevented Ghanaians from traveling to their fields. Eventually, restrictions were loosened, allowing the group to begin the agricultural portion of their unexpected training program. Following the ARI curriculum, they practiced growing crops such as cabbage, beets, carrots, chili peppers, okra, lettuce, spring onion, mint, spinach and cucumber on John’s organic farm

ARI staff have called John’s work a testament to the impact of the ARI training program on a community. With his display of servant leadership and his ability to adjust in a time of crisis, John turned a challenging and stressful situation into an unexpected time of learning and bonding for the Sierra Leone participants. Despite the difficult year, John and people like him around the world are demonstrating adaptability, ingenuity and Christ’s love for the neighbor.

Because of the work of God bringing people together across borders and through challenges, a farmer from Ghana guided students from Sierra Leone in a training program established by an institute in Japan, with funding from congregations and individuals in the US. Truly, John’s story, made possible in part because of gifts to ELCA World Hunger, reflects ARI’s motto: “That they may live together,” no matter the distances that keep us apart.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Boundless. View the full publication here. 

Advent 2020- Week Two Study Guide


This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2020 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. You can also download the corresponding advent calendar here

Advent Week Two



Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
II Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8


Even as we enter this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, our focus for this year is on the nearness of God. While our biblical ancestors awaited the coming of God’s promised Messiah, they still knew that God was never far from them and their plight.

The Gospel of Mark, like the Gospel of John, does not include a story of Jesus’ birth. Instead, it opens with a very different scene — the appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the Promised One and baptizing disciples in the river. John declares, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (1:3). His message echoes the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 of the approaching dawn of God’s promise to set all things right.

Both the original prophecy and John’s repetition are clear about what we are waiting for — the “day of the Lord.” The preparations the gospel enjoins are not preparations made amid absence, like the preparations that might be made for a visitor. The prophecies, instead, are precursors to an event. The message is not that God is coming at some time in the future but that the day is on its way.

This is an important distinction. So often, we view the future with expectant hope that God will come and set all things right. This kind of forward-looking hope is important. But this yearning for the fulfillment of God’s promise must be tempered by the faith that sees God already at work in the world as it is. We are not waiting on God; if anything, perhaps God is waiting on us (II Peter 3:9). John’s message is a reminder that, even as we await the final fulfillment of the promise, God is already at work, weaving the threads of God’s promise for us in our midst. To “prepare” is to “make straight” the ways, that is, to be about the ministry of the church now, participating in the work of justice and the full and final reconciliation God is making possible, even as we long for the day to come.

This message of active anticipation can be seen in a story of communities living around two different rivers, thousands of miles from the Jordan. In El Salvador, families from eight communities are working to restore the quality of the water they depend on from the San Antonio River, the Nejapa Aquifer and the Jiboa River. Through a project of the Sínodo Luterano Salvadoreño (Salvadoran Lutheran Church), the families have joined together to decontaminate the water from the tributaries to the rivers so that it will be safe to use for drinking, bathing and farming.

Miguel Angel Calderón Barahona is president of the La Granja Communal Association, one of the community groups working on the project. For Miguel, the project has meant more than just improving the water. “My life changed from the moment I decided to be part of this project,” he says. As a leader, “I have had the opportunity to reach beyond my perspectives as a member of the community [and to] reach out to other communities, see the needs in those communities and be able to be part of [their] development, as well.”

Part of the success of the program has been the ability to organize the people in the communities. That work began with an effort to improve the road to San Salvador, a route beset by fatal accidents. In working to improve the safety of the road, the community laid the groundwork and built the relationships that will now help them ensure access to quality water. Through the current project, Miguel says, the community has organized itself even more strongly, and now “the community at large is going to take a different course, and hopefully, it will be the path of success in our community.”

Reaching their goal has meant doing the hard work of preparation: petitioning communities and schools, building relationships and forging partnerships. The “path of success” is laid by the many small steps the communities take now that will lead to big changes.

We, as church together, know this. What is more, we know that even as we yearn for the day when all will be able to partake in the fruits of God’s good creation, God is at work now, through the efforts of people such as Miguel and his neighbors in Nejapa, El Salvador and other communities working for access to clean water around the world.

Preparing for the day to come means more than hoping for the final fulfillment of God’s promise. It means seeing, even now, that God is at work among us, and joining in this work. While we anticipate the event, we are not alone. In fact, we have never been alone, even this year. As we physically isolated from one another, God never isolated from us, as was evident in the many creative and courageous ways ministries adapted to ensure that the work of the church would go on — and that all would be prepared for the day to come.


  1. Where have you found God at work through the ministries of your church this year?
  2. How is working to ensure that all have clean water, sufficient food and resources to meet their other needs part of the church’s “active anticipation” of God’s promises for the future?
  3. What is a “path of success” for your community? How is the
    church helping walk with neighbors on that path?


Ever-present God, through sickness, violence, discord and injustice we have yearned for the fulfillment of your promise. Make us, your church, a sign of the day to come, that we may reflect this hope to others. Knit us together with one another and with our neighbors, that none may feel alone or isolated from your life-giving love. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

End Hunger? The Single Most Important Step

This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post Impact site:

A few years ago, I was at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, for the Borlaug Dialogues, an annual international conference on food security, agriculture, and food science. Representatives from NGOs, businesses, local communities, and national governments offered their solutions to hunger around the world, from encouraging young agri-entrepreneurs to shipping fish heads to Africa. There was no end to creative (and, at times, dubious) solutions to world hunger.

What is the right answer? Maybe, like many at the Borlaug Dialogues argued, the solution is to increase agricultural output, since we have too many people and not enough food. On the other hand, some argue that we already produce more than enough for everyone, so food waste is the real issue. Maybe the answer lies in the science of GMOs that can “save the world from hunger, if we let them.” Perhaps the solution is more straightforward—give hungry people peanut butter. Or, it could involve transforming economic opportunity through social enterprise, the “only” solution to global poverty according to the author of that article. And so on and so on.

About the only thing most folks seem to agree on is that the answer isn’t more relief but more development. Figuring out which path toward development to take, though, is another matter. Even the best routes aren’t perfect. Increasing agricultural output doesn’t address rampant food waste. Developing more GMO seeds doesn’t address lack of clean water or lack of jobs. Microlending can provide huge benefits, but it doesn’t work everywhere and doesn’t work everywhere in the same way.

But there is a single step we can take to end hunger for good around the world and in our own communities: listening to one another. Too often, the “solutions” to hunger and poverty come down from the “top,” rather than rising up from the ground. Those of us in developed countries are moved by the problems we see in developing nations and bring our own solutions to bear in communities that are not our own. At its worst, this feeds the sort of “savior complex” on prominent display recently in the controversy over Louise Linton’s new memoir. At its best, this top-down model proffers solutions that simply don’t work.

The kind of meaningful listening that builds relationships between and within communities helps solutions arise that are effective and sustainable. This model “challenges one-sided, top-down, and donor-recipient approaches…and emphasizes the need for developing mutual relationships in which all are considered teachers and learners,” says Rev. Dr. Philip Knutson, the regional representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Southern Africa. Knutson warns that without cultivating relationships through listening, development projects can lose sight of context and “may be short-sighted, benefiting some but excluding others.”


Fyness Phiri of Chithope Village

Fyness Phiri of Chithope Village

When listening is authentic, though, programs can respond to a host of needs, including practical needs for economic empowerment and personal needs like recognition of self-dignity. In Malawi, the Evangelical Lutheran Development Service (ELDS), supported in part by the ELCA through ELCA World Hunger, is working with women and men to build community and overcome the challenges of hunger and poverty. (ELDS is the diaconate arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi, led by Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe.) Fyness Phiri, one of the participants in the “Livelihoods Improvement and Empowerment Project,” recalls, “I was one of the poorest people in the village…before ELDS introduced this project.” Fyness used to ask her neighbors for money to buy food for herself, her husband, and their four children.


At a community meeting in 2013, Fyness joined other women to start a village savings and loan group. After some training and community-building meetings with ELDS, the group gave out its first loans. Fyness and the other women were able to start small businesses and purchase seeds and fertilizers for their farms. Eventually, the start-up money helped Fyness produce enough food to feed her family, pay back her loan, and sell some of her surplus at market. “Since I joined the project,” she says, “my life has completely changed. I have food in my house, and I’m able to send my children to school. Because of the knowledge [I’ve gained], I will be able to continue and help others even if the project phases out.” Because ELDS invested in the community and the relationships formed among the women, the impact is not only sustainable but replicable.

Extension worker Chesterman Kumwenda demonstrates how to use a treadle pump.

Extension worker Chesterman Kumwenda demonstrates how to use a treadle pump.

Microlending worked wonders for the women in Fyness’ village, but for Charles Chikwatu’s community, the problem was not access to funds but lack of water for their fields. Charles and other participants worked together to learn how to use efficient treadle pumps to increase the land they could tend for maize and tomatoes. The benefits of the new method are huge, Charles says: “I easily find money through sale of my crops [and] I have managed using the money from irrigation to send my children to secondary school. I have also started a grocery with the money from this farming.”

New irrigation systems wouldn’t help Fyness, who didn’t even have money for seeds. A village savings and loan wouldn’t have helped Charles’ community address lack of access to water. But by listening closely, ELDS helped Fyness, Charles, and their communities transform their own situations.

And because of this, the benefits extend far beyond the immediate needs for food, according to Knutson. “[C]ollaboration between individual members in a community has enabled the individuals and the community to gain in knowledge and confidence to leverage other benefits enabling them to start new business and advocate for government support for local clinics and other rural development projects,” he says.

New, creative solutions to hunger and poverty abound, and many offer much promise. When these are employed in the context of relationships where participants become leaders and vision is built from the ground up, effective action can take root and grow. Sometimes, the answer is reducing waste. In some places, the answer is increased production. With some groups, the answer is enterprise. But in every time, place, and case, the best response is to listen.

Photos: Gazeli Phiri and Dickens Mtonga, courtesy of ELDS

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is program director of hunger education with ELCA World Hunger.  He can be reached at



Not trash, but dinner

“All those delicious Brussels sprouts, rotting!” I griped to my brother about a neighbor’s garden.

He shrugged and said, “Get used to it.”

In rural western Washington, not everything gets harvested. Something is always left over. There may be no time to cut something or no place to store it. Too much or too little rain. Too many or too few warm dry days. Nobody to pick. Or nobody to buy, if a crop tastes good but looks horrible, or because the same crop ripened elsewhere first—like potatoes in Idaho, this year—and the supermarket buyers have already filled their contracts.

So I’m glad the word gleaning has busted out of the Bible color plate of Ruth in Boaz’s field and is elbowing its way into national consciousness.  When I promised my mother in March  that the fruit trees on our farm wouldn’t just rot on the ground, I didn’t know I’d discover a national movement to connect what’s left in fields with food pantries and soup kitchens. After I tracked down Harvest for Hope of Skagit, which organizes and dispatches gleaners in our valley, I read Nancy Michaelis’s blog about Ample Harvest, matching gardeners and food banks on the national level.

Not the image I remember, but the right gleaning story!

This fall I’ve been living by Ample Harvest’s slogan: “No food left behind!” On a bike errand, I stopped to pick a bag of carrots declared too homely to sell by their growers. Every couple of days I help myself to zinnias and sunflowers whose flower farmer stopped cutting and told me, “Enjoy!” Gleaning for Harvest for Hope, I made new friends and froze a fall of beans for me. Harvest for Hope accepted the 12 pounds of beans I gleaned from my landlady’s garden and will accept the last of the apples from our family tree. (Thank goodness, because apples are the zucchini of Washington state: so plentiful you can’t give them away.)

At one end of this gleaning stand the field, the farmer, and the willing volunteer. At the other end must be cooks and canners—people who can prepare and preserve food—as well as food pantries with freezers, refrigerators, and efficient distribution systems. Without this important element, the beans I glean in Mt. Vernon will rot somewhere else. Fortunately a couple of activists helped persuade US food pantries to retool themselves to accept and distribute fresh produce. Goodbye, commodity cheese. Hello, beets and carrots.

“Canning is the new knitting,” someone said recently. And just in time, because almost everybody has forgotten how. Food preservation classes are popping up everywhere as people like me decide to recover the lost skills of freezing, canning and dehydrating. Or how to use every single scrap of a vegetable, as the New York Times feature  “That’s not trash, that’s dinner!” demonstrates.

Now if only I can convince my neighbor to let me glean her Brussels sprouts…

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity


Planet Earth — megastore or garden?

I have been thinking a lot about the food production and distribution systems in the United States, and was so happy to read Anne’s recent post on our national food culture here.  It’s always comforting to know that others are wrestling with similar issues and ideas — after all, isn’t that one of the reasons we have this blog?

One of the aspects of food production I reflect on is how disconnected we are from the “roots” of our food, and how we can best rebuilt that connection and help those suffering from hunger and poverty.  Both my husband and I come from a long line of small town/suburban backyard gardeners (and some farmers), and I honestly never thought too much about this as being “different”.  When we settled down and bought our first house in a Chicago neighborhood, we were on auto-pilot as we planted a garden and started a compost bin.  We had a tiny yard, but enough room for a few tomato and pepper plants.  Many of our neighbors did too.

As more of our friends also bought first homes and settled in, I began to notice that not everyone planted a garden.  Call me non-observant or naive, but I hadn’t really noticed this before.  Hmmmm.  One of my suburban-raised friends confessed that although she does feed her kids fresh vegetables, she hadn’t grown up eating them and certainly not growing them.  The affordability of purchasing fresh vegetables is a topic for another blog post, but this was not the issue for my friend.

Growing vegetables can be very cost-effective, and doesn’t require vast parcels of land.  One way that domestic hunger can be relieved is through more home gardening — both through donations of fresh produce to food pantries, and through knowledge transfer from experienced gardeners to others — some of whom may be suffering from hunger and poverty.

I recently found this fascinating article “For God So Loved the Dirt . . . by Norman Wirzba in the April 2011 issue of Sojourners Magazine that I wanted to share (you’ll first need to complete the Sojourners online registration process, but it will be worth it).  The author discusses the theology of “God’s garden” as described in various passages in the Bible and how it contrasts with a resource utilization/consumer view of the Earth.  I love the imagery of God as a farmer in overalls, digging in the dirt — does God have dirty fingernails like I sometimes do?

Wirzba’s assertion that local economies enable us to see how our actions may help or harm others is really interesting.  I don’t believe that most people intend to hurt other people, but it’s hard to gauge your impact on someone you never see.  In our global economy, I don’t have to look my farmer in the eye — even if my purchasing decisions might be harming his/her family.  I’m not suggesting that local food is the only “answer”, just that it forces us to really see the other person.

The author concludes with a vision of religious institutions moving away from seeing the Earth as a megastore where you might find a good deal, and instead building the connections between God’s garden and his/her people by transforming parking lots and lawns into gardens.  Although he doesn’t explicitly discuss it, I imagine the author may agree that donating some of that produce to a local food pantry might be nice too.

Looking through the archives, I found that I blogged about this last year here, and that some congregations are already started to dig up their lawns and grow food.  I really like the concept of faith congregations building community around gardening — sharing food, building bridges, and teaching each other.  Are there more congregations doing this since last year?  I hope so.  Could this idea work in your congregation?  Does this article challenge some of your assumptions?  I look forward to your thoughts.

Erin Cummisford

Shopping for a GMO free meal

As the genetically modified food debate continues, I thought I would add my two cents through a bit of an everyday experiment. Yesterday, I went to the grocery store in search of a GMO free meal. I wondered how hard it would be to find these foods, how expensive they would be and what I would discover along the way. A lot of food crops in the United States are genetically modified. Corn, soy, canola and cotton top the list. You may not normally think of cotton in relation to your food, but check many candy bar labels and you’ll find cottonseed oil. I tried my hardest to not buy any foods with ingredients like “malodextrin” (usually a corn product), because I couldn’t guarantee that it didn’t come from a genetically modified plant. Perhaps this sounds a bit overboard, but it was my intention to be thorough!

I started with two main assumptions. 1: Organic foods are not genetically modified. I looked this up through the USDA Organic web site. According to their National Agricultural Library, “Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” 2: Foods in the USA do not require genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such.

So off I went!

I pulled in to a big chain grocery store, grabbed my reusable shopping bags and headed in. Before I left I decided what I wanted to eat that night. I thought that if I had a goal in mind, I would be better prepared to get serious about my ingredients. I started in the produce aisle. Shopping list here: greens for salad and two pears. Admittedly, this wasn’t that difficult. I grabbed some organic Spring Mix for salad and a couple of organic pears, stopped at the nut display for some organic walnuts (who knew you could buy organic nuts??), checked out the refrigerated salad dressing and moved on. To the non-refrigerated salad dressing aisle I went.

My goal was vinaigrette, either raspberry or balsamic. Admittedly, I had no idea if these were really worth worrying about when it came to GMOs. What I found were ingredient battles like corn syrup vs. evaporated cane juice and salt vs. sea salt. There weren’t any balsamic vinaigrette options with an organic label. I thought that was good, all organic might be boring. I ended up with a roasted hazelnut and extra virgin artisan vinaigrette. I was sold by the sea salt, evaporated cane juice, lack of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, and blaring capitalized word “VEGAN” on the back label. Although there were those two ominous ingredients that I couldn’t verify…who knows what “natural flavor” means and I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of GMOs in the canola oil. Well, we can’t be perfect.

On to chicken! It took awhile but I finally found the organic chicken. Why, you might ask is this important to my GMO free meal? Well, it’s really more about what the chickens ate than anything else (that and my will to eat meats without added hormones and antibiotics.) The label on this meat said, “100% organic vegetarian fed diet.” Okay, no, I’m not a farmer and yes, I know that chickens are technically omnivores, but in this case my goal of no GMOs continued – none in the chicken feed, none in my chicken!

Next, brown sugar. Although I already had sugar at home, I wanted to make sure that every little part of my meal had been scrutinized. So, for my candied walnuts, I thought I should start comparing sugars. Once again, I ran into the issue of my limited knowledge…are GMOs an issue with sugar? I decided not to take any chances. I bought an organic store brand of light brown sugar that clearly said on the label, “…made from organic sugar cane grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or genetic modification.” Bingo! Two more ingredients and I would be ready to start cooking; bread (or rolls) and gorgonzola cheese.

I thought bread was going to be tough. Rumors abound about GM wheat crops. So I searched high and low to find some super organic bread. It had all sorts of reassuring ingredients, down to the organic soybean oil (and that one is rather important as 89% of soybean crops in the US are genetically modified). So far, however, all of my online research claims that there is no genetically modified wheat currently being grown for sale anywhere in the world. Very good to know!

Last, but not least was the cheese. I ended up with Amish blue cheese. Yum!


What did I learn? First off, that there are a lot of ingredients in the food that we commonly eat. I ended up with foods containing fewer ingredients nearly all of which I could pronounce. Second, there were unexpected ingredients that I didn’t anticipate having to think about. For instance, I didn’t anticipate the need to check out the soybean oil in bread. Third, I noticed that sea salt, organic cane sugar and vegan labels were common place on much of the food I bought, whether or not it was labeled “organic.” Also, the organic brown sugar I used to candy the walnuts smelled rich like molasses, amazing! While it took me longer to shop, as I read the labels so thoroughly, and was more expensive than conventionally grown foods, for me, it was worth it.

In the end I had a very scrumptious dinner that also felt great to eat. It was full of color, somewhat low on the food chain and involved all of the food groups.

And that is my experience shopping for a GMO free dinner. Also, if you haven’t deduced my meal yet it was a lovely mixed green salad with blue cheese, pear slices, candied walnuts, chicken and a slice of bread with a little extra blue cheese on top.

Thanks for reading!


The cow’s surprise

Two weekends ago I visited a local creamery with my siblings, friends and our significant others. There were six of us in total and after tasting multiple delicious cheeses and taking pictures of the cows behind the fence, we were lucky enough to visit the milking room. We stood in a line along the wall, not seven feet from three huge cows being milked by one of the family members who runs the farm. As we asked him questions about the cows, the taste of the milk and the creamery in general, we were in for a very “natural” surprise. As three cows transitioned out of the milking room, three new ones came in, and without time to react we were all splattered with the brownish green leftovers of the cow’s lunch…if you know what I mean. (Don’t worry, everything collecting milk was completely clean and sanitary!) At first I bolted out of the room, saving myself from more splatters (it had already hit my forehead), but then I laughed and thought about the reality of the milk I drink and the cheese I eat.

Cows are animals. They live and breathe and eat and, well, splatter the milking room.  I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that that day I had come a little closer with my food and drink. Everyday people all over the US and the world milk cows and goats for milk, cheese and other dairy products. Everyday they feed their animals and prepare to sell their nutritious foods at market. Everyday we play a role in consumption and conservation through our food choices.  Are we buying local, organic and/or fair trade? Are we aware of where our food comes from and how it is made?  I know that I now have a greater respect for my cheese and the farmers who see it through from grass, to cow, to cheese cave.

~Lana Lile

Fresh fruit, fresh perspective

Blueberries ripening in my front yard.

A few days ago I was standing in my kitchen looking for a snack. Having just gotten back from vacation, there were no fruits or vegetables to be found and I was craving their nutrition. My first reaction was disappointment and my second was the need to add my favorite fruits to the grocery list. Bummed, I found another snack and moved on.

About a half hour later I was reminded to check on the blueberry bushes outside to see whether or not the birds had gotten underneath the netting. Blueberry bushes!!! Just 20 feet from where I stood, craving fresh fruits, are two blueberry bushes full of wonderful, colorful, scrumptious fresh fruit. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. It gets better…

While I was outside checking on the blueberries I noticed that an apple had fallen from one of our apple trees. Although it is a bit early in their season I picked another low slung, reddening apple to check its tartness and enjoy a burst of homegrown fruit. As I picked the apple I realized that it had been awhile since I had pulled nutrition from the earth myself, and realized just how far I had gotten from my food. I had one of those “aha!” moments that happen from time to time as I ate the juicy apple and contemplated not having to go to the grocery store to buy fruit, but instead eating from the earth in my own front yard. Apple trees take time to prune, initial purchase money to buy, other necessary care depending on the year and often much of the low fruit is lost to the neighborhood deer, but I also had a sense of God providing as I picked that apple.

Never have I felt further away from my food than in that moment. The act of picking fruit, however, reminded me of how Creation works to nourish us if we respect and care for its processes.

~Lana Lile

What Not to Eat


I recently watched the documentary Food Inc. and it blew my mind. This documentary goes deep into the United States food industry to show viewers where our food actually comes from. This movie aimed to show how the way food is grown and produced is hidden from consumers, and the realities of the origins of everything we eat shocked me.

One point the documentary argues was that our food comes from what we picture in our mind to be a typical American farm. The film states that much of our food does come from farms, but large corporations often own the animals on those farms, and thus have the power to control how our meat is grown and produced. The result of this is overpopulated farms, with animals living in unhealthy conditions (both for them and for us once we eat them!). Cows are fed corn when they are meant to eat grass, leading to a build up of E. coli in their system, which then is cleaned with ammonia. Chickens are grown in a manner that leaves them too large to walk. Also, many people who work in food producing factories are mistreated and underpaid, and the farmers who grow the food often end up with debt from standards that the corporations force them to uphold. Food Inc. argues that this system is harmful to our animals, our health, and the people who work hard to put food on our tables.

Another important topic the documentary discussed was the government’s relationship with the food industry. The government heavily subsidizes corn, wheat and soy, which can be harmful to our health, especially for those in poverty. Food Inc. points out that we can buy a double cheeseburger for 99 cents, but we cannot buy broccoli for this price. They argue that the reason for this is that calories in the double cheeseburger are cheaper due to heavy government subsidies.

The documentary goes in depth on many other issues related to the food industry, and toward the middle of the film I began to wonder if there was anything in the refrigerator that I would be able to make myself for dinner! Thankfully, they showed success stories of farmers and producers who grew their products organically and safely and still were profitable. They stressed the importance of buying foods grown locally to reduce your carbon footprint. They also discussed past successes in the food industry, such as the push from consumers that led Wal-Mart to stop selling milk products with rBST. They are confident that if consumers treat their dollars as votes, we will be able to tell the food industry what we expect from our food, and the system then will change to benefit our environment, our animals, our workers, and our health.

Food Inc. is an eye-opening documentary that depicts one point of view of the food industry, and I would recommend it to anyone. I learned a lot and now think about food in a different way. While it does give some suggestions about how you can have a positive impact on the food industry, I was still left with questions about how I should act on this issue, so if you watch it I suggest going to their Web site for more ideas. Also check out their blog.

So, I leave you all with some questions. Have you thought much about how your consumption affects your health, other human beings, animals and the earth? Has it changed how you eat? Do you have suggestions for those who wish to take action on these issues? I would love to hear ideas from all of you.

-Allie Stehlin