Pope Francis: A Consumerist’s Confession


This is not one of my humor pieces.

This is serious:  I have a confession to make.

It is  extremely difficult to admit. I feel ashamed of myself and I want to change, and though I’m not Catholic, Pope Francis has something to do with it.

What are you thinking? Is it akin to what’s-his-name texting naked chest pictures? Lying, cheating, adultery? Plagiarism? Greed, avarice?

Actually, its worse:  While the world is hungry, I waste food.

It’s not like I don’t know better.

My parents and grandparents knew food scarcity. They lived through times of  government-imposed food rationing, standing in line for hours for basics like flour and a small bit of sugar.  They knew how to make a head of cabbage and a ham hock feed a family of six for days.

Dorothea Lange photo of Migrant Worker

This is not my mother, but she resembles her. She was only two when this shot was taken.
Dorothea Lange’s photo of Migrant Mother, life in the Dust Bowl…borrowed from:

My parents and grandparents taught me: Eat what is on your plate. In my ancestral memory there are people who knew the value of a meal. There are Cherokee people, hunters who ask forgiveness of the animal they pierce, careful to use every part, thankful for the imparted life-gift. There are Irish people, farmers of barren land who serve potatoes a thousand ways. There are Scots who, weary from heavy tax burdens, travel across the Big Pond and eke out a meager existence in a new but free land. My ancestors taught me: Work for, respect and be grateful for what you have, freedom is worthy of its cost. Do the best you can with what you have.

In my younger years, I knew a little of hard times too. A single mother working as a grocery checker, my daughter and I lived on much less food than we do now. A chicken leg was enough meat for us both: I, the thigh, she, the drumstick. Casseroles and spaghetti were steady fare, stretching a dollar as far as possible. We ate our leftovers before they spoiled. We ate lettuce with brown (gasp!) edges. One or two weeks we lived on cabbage soup–to this day she hates soup! Yet never were we really hungry. We always had enough to stop the pangs and sleep through the night.

Cabbage Soup

Not soup, again????

Things are different now. Despite the current economy, I live with plenty. My current struggle is to not overeat. Meals are quick, easy and ample. It’s not unusual to order dinner on the phone and, voilà, it arrives at my door. I eat chicken breast, not thigh; in fact, everyone in the family eats chicken breast–we don’t even buy the rest of the bird. Someone else carves the bones and skin off for me. It is common for my family to grill steak (not hotdogs), and not just any steak, but sirloin (bigger than we can eat) or even filet mignon.

Filet Mignon

Borrowed from Omaha Steaks! Yum.

There is nothing shameful about having plenty. I work hard, make mostly good decisions, and, by God’s grace, reap the benefit of many years of responsible living. What is shameful is a frequent byproduct of having plenty: Fairly large portions of daily fare  go down the garbage disposal. Trash and recycling days find me throwing out wilted vegetables, rotten fruit, sour dairy products, molded bread, stale cereal, spoiled leftovers, freezer-burned ice cream and half-empty water and soda bottles. Things are different now, yes. So different it makes me cringe.

I confess: I waste food.

Enter Pope Francis.

Though not Catholic myself, this man captures my attention. Finally, a man more like Jesus, who lives among regular folk, and chooses a path of relative austerity. He deflects attention from himself to the needy.

Pope Francis recently attended a United Nations Food Conference in Rome, where he called for new strategies to address world hunger. He asserts there is enough food in the world to feed all, but economic issues and power in the hands of a few affluent parties derails the nutritional needs of the poor. He decries big business’ exploitation and consumerism, such as over-sized portions in restaurants, and claims that throwing away food is like stealing from the poor.

Ouch, Pope Francis.

While I can’t fully agree with your simile (theft implies intent), I hear you.

I hear your outrage with the apparent numbness of this materialistic society as we hoard, use, and waste while children suffer, starve and die.

I hear your desperation to reach our conscience and activate it, even if your method was a bit of a guilt-trip.

I appreciate the sort of man you are, for in making news with your different style of leadership, you are bringing world hunger back into the spotlight, and to the forefront of my consciousness and conscience.

I am thinking about this challenge you gave us, to find new strategies to address world hunger. Here is what I have learned thus far, and what I think about how to begin change. For, after all, confessions are only a beginning–it is metamorphosis that matters.

A Little Background Data

Over seven billion people populate our planet In 2013.  More than ten percent (807 million) do not get enough to eat on any given day. Malnutrition is a particular problem among children, with over 101 million children effected. Malnutrition renders a child less able to fight other childhood diseases and is, therefore, the underlying contributing factor in over a third of deaths in children. Hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), is number one on the list of the world’s top 10 health risks. Hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

What Might We Do About It

Global organizations dedicated to reduce world hunger analyze the problem and potential solutions. Their collective knowledge suggests it is better to bring reproducible nutrition to the hungry than to simply supply short-term food and water. The acute problem and the chronic problem both need attention.

The occupational therapist in me agrees: Far better to equip a person with independence than to do their work for them. A person’s self-efficacy, self-value, mental health and role in family, community and world, all thrive when able to do a task as independently as possible. Ask any two-year old.

Yet finding a practical way for me – or for most busy consumers – to find hungry people, bring them fish and teach them to fish, all while maintaining livelihood and family roles, well, is not likely.

How, then, can a person such as me – or you – find a way to reduce world hunger? I see no readily available, easy answer to this question. I believe each person has a role and talent they can bring to bear in taking on this challenge. Pope Francis, blessed with an extremely influential post in life at this time, employs this voice to call upon world governments, corporations and consumers alike to find strategies, to do something. Many people dedicate their lives to this cause, or set aside a portion of their income to make regular donations. Some people are outgoing, quick thinkers who can easily size up a problem, come up with solutions and set a team to work on it. Others quietly do their best to be thrifty, conservative with goods and waste, and volunteer their time to feed the hungry.

As for me, I am the sort that wants to start at home. I want to change how much my family buys, how consistently we actually consume what we buy, and what we do with our leftovers.  I admit, I am not likely to take this on as my major life cause. My life is full, busy, and I have more things on my agenda to do each day than I can ever complete. I hope that doing a little something more, I can make a difference. It’s not enough, I know, but its a start.

Here are some of my ideas to get me started; will you add to my ideas, share yours, and help this expand into a miracle? Maybe not as notable a miracle as when Jesus turned a few fish into enough to feed multitudes, but an important miracle nonetheless. Some of my ideas, please add to the list:

  • Buy less at a time so food won’t rot in the refrigerator.
  • When you know you just went grocery shopping and there are plenty of fresh vegetables at home, don’t go out for dinner.
  • Put less on my plate and go back for seconds only after waiting 15 minutes from the start of meal.
  • Invest in better storage devices with lunch-portion sizes and freeze rather than refrigerate leftovers, with a marker for use-by dates.
  • Learn how to compost, then set up a compost system to put waste food back to work in the garden.
  • Keep a container for food waste that needs to go in the compost next to the garbage disposal.
  • Research organizations that claim to help fight hunger in the most effected nations (Africa, Asia) and donate to those who are using good strategies.
  • Place a food-wasting $fine$ jar by the trash can and charge a penalty each time you waste food. For adults, it could be a loss of what one might spend on self, like lose one pedicure (ouch). For kids, perhaps give up one part of allowance or do an extra chore for a dollar to add to the jar. Use the collected fines as donations for above organizations.
  • Find out where my local homeless and hungry people are and see if they would like regular deliveries of leftovers and/or nearly spoiled food I doubt I will use.
  • Discover what local outreach organizations for the hungry are doing to “teach” the hungry in my area “to fish,” and get involved in that process somehow (see the link below on NoKidHungry to dine out to end hunger, this organization also teaches low-income families how to shop and prepare low cost nutritious meals).
  • Order the kid’s meal at drive-through windows instead of those super-sized monster lunches.
  • Better yet, pack a lunch with leftovers–keep a water bottle in the freezer to throw into the lunchbox to keep things cool

I know this will not solve the world hunger problem. It may not even allay the problem in my community. Maybe it will help a bit. Maybe, if we all practice responsible food management and reach out to help in some way, it will help a lot.

Dine out to help hungry kids:


http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/post2015/sites/post2015/files/files/Chair%20Summary%20Informal%20consultation%20CFS%20FinalDraft.pdf http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-twoworlds/1839 http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/reports/tf_hunger.htm


6 responses »

  1. I loved this. It is so important to learn to live with less. It makes life simpler and shifts our focus to the things that really matter, and I also believe that it helps us to cultivate empathy for those who have less than us.


  2. Well, I agree that there is far too much waste! We see the produce guy going through and tossing any undesirable fruits and vegetables in the trash. Some of those stores allow me to salvage them for my animals, but honestly many of the foods are perfectly fine and I have been known to cut off any bad spots and can the good parts. The spots then go to the chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, pig and dog. I rarely throw food away any more. The exception is mold. And that is a rarity here. We also advertise in the local FB and freecycle for unwanted garden leftovers and over ripe fruits on the ground. My animals are fat and happy!


    • Welcome, Sue! I love your ideas! Though there won’t likely be any goats in my back yard, at least not soon, I’ll check to see if there’s a freecycle nearby. Come to think of it, I have been known to take leftovers out by the woods and then, later, I hear something back there eating at night, I don’t know WHAT. . . deer, squirrel, we even have wild hogs, turkeys and once I thought I saw Sasskwatch (forgive my spelling). Glad you stopped by!


  3. Joan you have done a wonderful job writing about what I think about so often. I grew up with parents who both came from large families and suffered the depression. My own family, at times, struggled. I hate to think of all the people in the world, especially the children, going hungry. We all need to reevaluate our waste. Thank you.


    • Thanks for your feedback, Carol. Have you found any specific strategies that help? I know this is not a new concept, but it can’t be old hat yet since we haven’t solved the problem yet, right? So far, I’ve made some progress in these simple ideas but not enough. . .


I would love to hear your responses and appreciate lively discussion! Please be patient as your comment comes to me first for approval before appearing below. Thank you!

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