Tag Archives: food

Image Bearers: Guest Post by Meg Hers

One of the things about writing about Downward Mobility is that people have all sorts of opinions about it. I have found myself getting push back from both sides (too self-righteous! you aren’t doing near enough!) and to be honest sometimes I just thought about scrapping the project. But then people like Meg Hers come out of the woodwork, and it changes me.

Meg is an artist living in one of the most marginalized neighborhoods in Canada. She inspires me with her passions, talents, and joie de vivre (plus, I identify with her story of grocery store shopping so much I can’t stand it). She makes me feel less alone, points me back to the prayers I always needed to be praying in the first place. Lord have mercy on me indeed.

 

 

 

I’m new to this whole downward mobility game. One year ago I finished a degree in art theory in Canada’s biggest city and was perfectly set up to work my way up the ladder in the art world. I was fluent in artspeak, the tongue of the high art world, and connected to all the right people. Instead I heard the Spirit whisper in my heart, start tugging in all the wrong directions, and I turned around and moved to one of the poorest and most economically depressed cities in the country. Hamilton, Ontario, is considered the armpit of the province, and is rife with unemployment, and a plethora of mental health and social service agencies to assist its struggling population.  I was offered what is now my dream job, working in a drop-in art studio with homeless and at-risk teenagers. I moved into the poorest neighbourhood in the city with some like-minded folks, chose a bike and a bus pass over a car, and set out on my adventure.

What I’ve realized over the past year is that although I’ve changed my postal code and chosen into a simpler way of life, that doesn’t erase the fact that I grew up quite comfortably in the suburbs. I can spend most of my waking hours at the shelter, in the group homes and transitional housing buildings, but I will never fully understand what it’s like to have grown up under the poverty line. My heart’s desire might be to fully internalize the realities of my neighbours or the youth that I work with, but it remains that I’ve never been abused, or silenced, or pushed to the fringes, and so I am left with this gaping hole of understanding.

The complexity of navigating solidarity with my neighbours always seems to crystallize when I open my fridge. I’m no gourmet, but I appreciate my organic produce, my funky health foods, and eating fresh and healthy meals. Yet I’m not willing to naively convince myself that the fridges of my neighbours are full of the same kinds of goods. In fact, I know that they aren’t, because the legacy of childhood obesity in the city is proclaimed in the papers, and lumbers daily down my street. I know that when you’re struggling to survive at all, like so many families in my neighbourhood, food and healthy meal planning is generally the last thing on your mind. I struggle daily with not knowing how to extend my solidarity with the marginalized to this refrigerated sphere.

So I get panicky and anxious on a pretty routine basis when I visit the grocery store in our neighbourhood. This particular store has a reputation in the city, and those who don’t have to shop there won’t, unless it’s to see the man who brings his pet birds in with him, and is always eventually chased out. It smells really, incredibly bad in the egg section. The store branding involves huge swaths of neon yellow cracked paneling that seems to press against the back of your eyeballs after twenty minutes of wandering the aisles. Even the guy ahead of me in line the other day said that he’d rather have done an extra two years in the ‘pen than shop there.

Yet I won’t stop going, because this weakness that these visits produce in my heart is bringing me back to a space of needing God, and realizing that the world is a broken and hopeless place without Him. I’ve started standing in the longest check-out line (and trust me, they get long), because it lets me watch those coming in the front doors. They’re my neighbors, the youth I work with, and their families, and they’ve endured more than I can imagine. The poverty they have experienced is written all over their faces, speaking through their body language, and is concretized in the items they put on the conveyor belt ahead of mine.

Yet what I find myself chanting under my breath when I’m confronted with the broken people walking in through that front door is the reminder: ‘humanity, humanity’. This grocery store is the place where I am most vehemently reminded that we are all image-bearers, not just the shiny, happy Christians who we tend to imagine ourselves hanging out with in heaven.

There are bad days, of course, when grace-filled attitudes take too much effort and all I want is for someone to drive me to Whole Foods so I can buy imported cheese and overpriced granola bars. They are the days when the legacy of poverty in this city makes my chest tight and I get overwhelmed by how dirty the baby in the cart ahead of me is, and by the fact that most of the kids in the store are wearing pajamas instead of clothes. On those days I find myself whispering ‘maranatha, maranatha’ instead. On those days I want Him to come soon, to soothe my anxiety and solve these problems.

On those days I retreat to prayer.

 

Come Lord soon, come and be our refuge.

Come love the unloved, and feed the hungry.  

Come and give my youth who are standing outside the front doors begging the 25 cents that I can’t, because of the contract that I signed with the social service agency I work for.

Help me to know how to reconcile the way that I chat with them before going in to buy my dinner, walk past them with a timid smile on the way out and then claim to be desiring solidarity with those on the fringes.

Lord, have mercy on me.

 

 

Author picMeg Hers is an artist, dreamer and youth worker living in the post-industrial steel city of Hamilton, Ontario. She lives in intentional community in the East End of the city, and is the studio co-ordinator at RE-create Outreach Art Studio. RE-create is a drop-in art studio space where at-risk, street-involved and homeless youth can come and express themselves. She loves her neighbourhood, riding her bike and trying to figure out how to grow her own food in the community garden down the street. She blogs about wonder and daily life at thehers.blogspot.ca, good art at perfumeanddebtors.wordpress.com, and is on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on the Downward Mobility series, click here. For all the posts in the series, click here.

 

 

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The Great Lent Experiment Wrap Up

the Great Lent Experiment was inspired by 7: And Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. Read it!

So the Mutiny Against Excess is over . . . or is it?

Me and Haley came up with this idea for Lent, and it got a little bigger than I had thought. I have talked to lots of people who let the ideas of doing without and downward mobility influence their lent. It was exciting to even be talking about these issues with so many people.

It really didn’t feel like 40 days, did it? Now that the Easter celebrations are over I can start to process what this Lent Experiment meant to me.

The Easy Parts:


Limiting shopping for food and eating from my pantry/freezer was pretty easy, mostly because we only did this a week at a time. I did get . . . creative at some points. Hamburger helper (sans hamburger) with frozen vegetables and yogurt? Well, a certain little toddler ate it, and so did my husband. I really enjoyed the push to get out and walk to the farmers market every Wednesday at the local co-op. I do feel the roots of the importance of food and how we think about it taking shape in my life. And I’m glad.

Not buying new clothes also got a little easier  . . . It has now been several months since I stopped thrift storing for funsies. I did go to Goodwill one time for my birthday and got a killer dress and a killer pair of shorts. So. There you have it.

Not spending ANY money besides gas/groceries was actually pretty fun too. At first I was terrified, because spring weather in Portland is so so so bad and my baby can barely walk. So, when in doubt we go to a coffee shop and hang out. Since this was not a possibility for 2 of the weeks of Lent, we found other avenues:

1. New Seasons: they have amazing samples and free water! Plus everybody smiles at you and their hand sanitizer smells like lavender. We went here several times.

2. Petco. Or, as I like to call it “the free, tiny zoo”. The baby loved it.

3. The library. Which we already frequented, but during Lent we went there on average 3-4 times a week. I even got the courage to do my first mommy/baby story time activity, and we didn’t die! The baby is fixated on reading books about being “black and unique”, which makes me feel super weird as I read them out loud to her. Ah well.

The Difficult parts:

The no-media week was hard, because I seem to have few de-stressors that don’t involve 20 minutes of TV. Also, you know that feeling when you read TOO many good books and you feel like you might explode? Yeah, that happened. I am still assessing my dependence on media, and I know this is an issue I still need work on.

The Exciting parts:

The no-stress week was difficult (I am unused to the rhythms of contemplative life), but ultimately it turned out to be amazing, and I have continued to use Common Prayer every morning. To really engage in the Scriptures and the prayers for others does take a lot of work, but it feels like such important work. Even though I am easing into it slowly, creating a life where prayer is my first thought and not my last is high on my list of priorities. On good Friday my church opened their doors for a 24 hour prayer session and I actually went! You guys, I want to pray all the time now! And I am not just making this up to sound spiritual. It feels like a real, pressing need. I don’t know where this is coming from, but I am so grateful.

In summary, I am so glad I embarked on this journey. I want my life to flow by these rhythms: prayer, creative free time, doing without, purging possessions, finding joy in the simple.

Did you learn anything from Lent this year? Were you inspired to create new patterns?

If so, I want to know!

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Mutuality: Not Just a Buzzword!

So, part of my angst after the Justice conference spilled out into my newest column.

It feels good to have written it down, and to have a reminder of what my expectation vs. reality often is. But as I was writing, I started to get mired in all that is not right, I could feel the sad stories start to eclipse the hope. Then, the soul-crushing guilt comes rolling in, telling me I am not doing enough, that the good years are behind, that the future is always in flux, never in solid relationship.

 

And then, two nights ago, we left the door unlocked and the refugee kids creep in, looking for a friend, content to just sit and play for awhile.

Yesterday, we go to our neighbors house to have chai and delicious Nepali food, to sit and talk about babies and the sunshine and possible small business ideas.

Last night, a former student of mine, a sweet, nearly toothless Vietnamese man, brought bags and bags of food to school for me. This is the second time in a month; he never says much. Just smiles and shoves the beautiful, ornate, smelly food in my hands and walks away, takes the bus back to his house.

 

And all of this is so unexpected. Nobody wants anything from me. They want to be friends. I know this sounds strange, but this might be the weirdest part of my life right now. I feel uncomfortable with my friendship, like I must offer something more in order to be worthwhile. English class, small business opportunities, a play group. But my friends and neighbors just smile and nod politely and go back to cooking me food (I am racking up a delicious food debt so high there is no hope of ever paying it back–I must cut my losses right now and declare grace in the realm of cooking hospitality).

In a season of questions, I am being blessed by the people I thought somehow needed my help. It is blowing my mind, this mutuality, this risk in only being friends.

 

 

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Food: A mutiny against processed.

image from Sugarboo designs

Go here if you need a refresher on the Great Lent Experiment (AKA our own mutiny against excess).

 

Let me just say this now: I love food.

Before, I never used to think much about it, except that I loved it and needed it constantly. Then came a baby, a health scare (the hubs blood pressure was SKY high), and the overall need to make some lifestyle changes. We did a week long detox diet in January of 2011 (we basically ate whole foods, and no caffeine, sugar, corn, soy, gluten, or dairy) which kickstarted out desire to eat food that was actually food. We watched all sorts of scary documentaries and made decisions about where our money should go. We started off by changing the way we bought eggs, dairy, and most meat. Then, my neighbor told me about a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that she wanted us to participate in.

 

I had never heard of a CSA before, but it is basically a share you buy in a local farm. You pay the money upfront, and then you get your share of fruits and veggies once a week for as long as the season is. What sold me on this particular CSA is that my neighbors (refugees from Bhutan) were the growers. Mercy Corps had started a program where they set up refugees with plots of land all throughout the city where they could grow food and then sell it through the CSA program. It is wonderful, because many of the refugees grew up farming in traditional ways–no pesticides or chemicals for them. So it was a perfect fit for a city that was starting to get really into the organic and local way of eating.

We forked over our money and then began a great culinary adventure. I am not going to lie: there were a lot of beets and radishes and many other things I still am not quite sure what they were. But we ate it, man, and I learned how to cook it. We were forced to eat seasonably, to incorporate vegetables into every meal, to learn how to cook and use and be creative in order to not let things spoil. We ate like the pioneers, and it felt great.

And we learned that what you eat and how you spend your money on food really is a matter of social justice. We are in a win-win-win situation now, since buying delicious, fresh, organic produce directly benefits our neighbors. We are healthier (we both dropped a substantial amount of weight), we are supporting our community, and we now know how to cook parsnips (sorta).

my neighbors!

No matter where you live, this option is available to you. You just might have to search it out. As this week has shown me, if you do without in one area (say, eating chicken McNuggets–just a hypothetical, that is totally not my most favorite food in the world) you will have enough money to buy food from local farmers. The impact of these small purchases might seem silly, but they add up to a more just way of eating.  As Jen Hatmaker writes in 7, we vote with our dollars every day. And that actually counts for a lot more than our votes for a president.

If you live in the Portland area, I would encourage you to check out the Grow Portland CSA program. You will directly be benefiting my neighbors, as well as yourself. I will even come over and show you how to make radish-leaf pesto.

 

As for this week?

The hubs and I are poor, so one of the only ways we “get out” is to go walk and get a cup of coffee. This week? We just  . . . walked.  Imagine that! I did miss my Americanos, I will admit.

I did make a killer clean-out-your-pantry-and-freezer minestrone soup.

We did manage to save some money.

We did not go to the grocery store!

True Confessions: I did buy a cup of coffee for someone (they lived at the Simple Way, OK?) and I also bought my younger sister dinner. I was at the Justice Conference. This is my only excuse.

 

But not going out to coffee does seem to leave some extra cash around, and the hubs and I both want to be more generous people. So instead of going out to a coffee shop to do my writing, I will just hole up in my room for awhile. When its nice, we will just walk and look at the trees. When we are bored, we will go to New Seasons and eat the free samples, and not buy anything. Because we are classy like that. I think we can keep this up for the entire period of Lent.

We will be donating our money saved from this week (and the rest of Lent) here. Please pray about joining us.

 

So how has Week 1 been for you?

I want to know! If you are blogging about it, please tell me in a comment so we can all share!

 

And . . . tomorrow I will post the guidelines for Week 2. 

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The Great Lent Experiment (AKA “the mutiny against excess”) Week one: Food

art by nikki mcclure

Wow, I never thought I would say “Yay! Lent!”

But here we are.

There are some strange winds blowing, and so many of us are feeling more trapped by our excess than gratified. More of us want to know our Jesus and our neighbors and our poor better, and to live simpler lives in order to be more generous. How exciting is that?

So today is Ash Wednesday, which I know people celebrate in a variety of ways. For me, I am eating breakfast with lots of family and having friends over for coffee. It seems like the perfect way to start off–not by focusing on what I am giving up, but rather focusing on true community.

 

So today starts Week 1: Food. (For a recap on the reasonings behind this project, as well as a look at everything we will be attempting, go here). ( PS: This Experiment is based on and inspired by 7: an Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. All props to her). (PPS: You can buy the book for $7 for the next several days! Details here).

 

As a reminder, here is what we will be looking at this week:

Week one: Food
For this week, focus on how much you normally spend on eating: going out to restaurants, getting coffee, and even grocery shopping. Much of the world is living on $2 a day, but we spend much more than that on a single latte. Commit to limiting your food choices and your spending, and at the end of the week you should have cleared our some space in your pantry and freezer, and also be left with a nice sum of money (which we would then encourage you to donate to people in need).

Practical fast:
No eating out/drinking coffee out
Eat from your pantry/freezer
Limit grocery shopping as much as possible. If this means several dinners of beans and rice, then so be it. Enjoy the feeling of solidarity with the majority world!

Eat with your friends/neighbors! Maybe have a last-dregs-of-the-pantry-party next Wednesday?

Prayer focus:
Pray for those with limited access to food and clean drinking water.

 

 

I’m excited to start with food because in the past year I have changed so so so much in the ways that I think about buying, preparing, and eating food. I was always terrified to submit this area of my life because it seemed so difficult and overwhelming: factory farms, famines in Somalia, gluttony, processed foods–you know, all that happy stuff.

But looking back over the past year, it never felt too overwhelming. Small changes were made, one at a time, and now I see the trajectory we are on. One that values all the good things that the good Lord created.

By not eating out (even coffee!) and by not going grocery shopping this week, I am estimating a savings of $50 (this is conservative, I know, but we aren’t really in an eating-out-phase of life). At the end of the week, we are going to donate that money here. Jen Hatmaker (author of the book this experiment is based on) set up this specific donation sight to build an anti-trafficking home in Haiti. Let’s get this place fully funded by next week! If you have your heart set to donate to other places, by all means do that. But it is so encouraging to come together and be in this for a cause much bigger than budgets or “simplifying” our lives.

 

Resources that have helped me think some thoughts about food:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Anything (seriously, any book) by Michael Pollen.

The More-With-Less Cookbook: Suggestions By Mennonites on How to Eat Better and Consume Less of the World’s Limited Food Resources (so awesome!!!!!)

Food, Inc. (a documentary).

Also, you can read about our theology of the kingdom of God and how that is shaping this whole Lent Experiment here.

 

I will probably write at some point in the week about our story with food (it involves high blood pressure, Bhutanese refugees, and CSA boxes), and I look forward to hearing you stories of doing without! Please leave a comment with details about your fast/link to your blog. We can all be encouraged by one another.

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