"That shalt not toss food."
That was the headline on an NPR report this week on the government enlisting religious groups to help fight America's food waste:
Separation of church and state? When it comes to fighting food waste, the U.S. government is looking to partner up with the faithful.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday launched the Food Steward's Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. It's one piece of the agency's larger plan to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
"We can make leaps and bounds in this process if we tackle this problem more systemically and bring a broader number of stakeholders to the table," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tells us. By engaging religious communities, she says, "we are tapping into incredibly motivated and dedicated people."
Food waste connects to the core values of many faith communities, particularly helping the poor and feeding the hungry, McCarthy notes.
As we've reported, more than 1,200 calories per American per day are wasted, according to U.S. government figures. Loss occurs on the farm, at the retail level and in homes. We consumers often toss out foods because they've passed their sell-by date — but are still just fine to eat — or because we buy more than we can eat before it goes bad.
The Atlantic's Emma Green, who writes on religion and other topics, quipped:
I wanted to make sure I understood Green's point, so I asked her about it. She explained:
Oh! It just struck me as funnily skeptical -- it's the lede, implying that church/state separation is the most important issue.
Overall, I found the story fascinating and was impressed by the breadth of sources — from Pope Francis to evangelical and mainline Christian groups to Jewish and Muslim organizations. NPR even cites action on food waste by a program "founded by the leader of Sufism Reoriented, an American spiritual order."
The story makes one biblical reference:
Many other faith-based groups already have programs targeting food waste.
For example, in the past year, the Evangelical Environmental Network, a policy and advocacy group, launched its own "Joseph's Pledge" program: It teaches churches how to minimize food waste through actions like donating to food banks, planting community gardens and composting. (The program's name refers to the biblical Joseph, who helped guide ancient Egypt through seven years of famine.) About 200 churches have signed up so far, EEN President Mitch Hescox tells us. The goal is to reach 1,000.
But one high-profile advocate against food waste fails to make an appearance in the story. That surprises me.
Yes, Jesus helped the poor and fed the hungry. But he also didn't waste food.
The Son of God feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, is one of the most well-known stories in the New Testament.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Did you catch that? After the meal was over, the disciples picked up 12 basketfuls of leftovers. (That wasn't the only time Jesus' disciples collected leftovers.)
I'm not saying NPR — or one of its Christian sources — had to ask, "What would Jesus do?"
But it surprises me that nobody did.