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Toxic Charity and Food Justice

How can the world best address scarcity of food for a growing global population?

When I was in college in the late 1960’s, studying geography, Paul Ehrlich’s book Population Bomb and the topic of how to feed the world’s growing masses of hungry people were being discussed. Then there came the green revolution, which saved millions from starvation through the development of high-yeilding agriculture, particularly through the use of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides. Now, AGRA and “a new green revolution” promises to “achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth, based on smallholder farmers.” Or is it just another example of the hubris of Western, white-man’ “grafting a foreign idea on the local, indigenous farmers?”

Saving people from dying of hunger is a good thing, but is this the best, most sustainable way?

Last week, ReddingVoice posted a link to the movie A Thousand Days on YouTube. This half hour film deals with the issues of sustainability, food justice, biodiversity, resilience and spirituality. Indigineous farmers in Ethiopia contradict the claims of AGRA, saying that its all about profits for American corporations. They further claim that the loss of biodiversity will not only destroy a culture that has been sustainable for thousands of years, but will ultimately cause greater poverty when climate conditions are not just right.

Food First brings attention to the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, which came together this week in Ethiopia to discuss strategies for resistance against genetically modified seed, Bill Gate’s Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the new G8 Alliance for food security.

Concident with watching A Thousand Days I have also been reading the book Toxic Charity. I have also taken a second look at When Helping Hurts, where as evangelical Christians, the authors attempt to argue that “poverty is the result of relationships that do not work” suggesting that it is our broken relationship with God that is primary. They also seem to be ignoring our ecological relationship with the earth and the universe. They criticize the worldview of animism and disparage the spiritual connection indigenous people feel with the earth.

In contrast, Thomas Berry in his work on the Great Work of Earth Community suggests that “Humans are for the perfection of the Earth rather than the Earth is here for the perfection of human…humans must become integral with the Earth…this is a very new approach, to the Western world, who have been so transfixed with the glory of the human and with the rights of humans that they have missed the point as regards humans and their relationship with the Earth.” The evangelical notion of God is more supernatural and distinct-from rather than integral and immanent. God is transcendent in the sense of being more than the universe and immanent by being everywhere. Panentheism is a feature of Christian thought in mystical Eastern Orthodoxy and process theology. Progressive Christian, Markus Borg clarifies that panentheism is different from pantheism in his book Speaking Christian.

While I agree with some of the observations of Toxic Charity or When Helping Hurts, my concern is that they foster to an uncaring, tough-love attitude that does not concern itself with correcting systemic social, economic and political causes of poverty and this gives us just another excuse for lack of compassion, advocacy and action against structural injustices. I believe what is really needed is a generous, interconnected awareness.

“A perspective of oneness opens us up to the diversity of things as they are.”

“We are one world. We are one people. We are all indigenous to this planet.”

“What if this reality could change. What would it look like?”