Last week, I wrote about the call for everyone who eats to view themselves not as consumers of agriculture, but participants. Today, I want to share five principles that guide my participation in agriculture. These ground rules are born out of positive and negative experiences, personal conviction, the examples of my heroes and my faith.
Empathy and kindness are king
Whenever I write something or interact with someone around the topic of food, I’m communicating with image bearers of God. That statement alone diffuses my snobbishness (thinking “Oh, those kinds of people…”) and patronizing (thinking “Oh, those pathetic uninformed people…”). I strive to communicate from a place of appreciation for others, understanding, hospitality and graciousness.
Communicate with thankful hearts
This year, my church is going through the Lord’s prayer, and I continue to be struck by the line: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Too often, I don’t give a second thought to the fact that I have a fridge and pantry full of things I can eat and grocery stores readily available. I fail to see this as an opportunity to engage thankfulness. Complaining about food (kind, quality, quantity, prices, etc.) is easy. And as I write about food, talk with others and create in my own kitchen, I want to remember that the Lord has provided my daily bread (whether it’s Alaskan salmon or an Aldi freezer dinner). It is a privilege for me to talk about food because I live in a city, state and country that provides me with food choices to suit my individual needs and wants. That privilege should provoke a deep, deep thankfulness.
Exercise the imagination before making judgments
As I approach the topics of agriculture and food, I want to presume nothing and understand everything. G.K. Chesterton puts it best:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
Along with that, I never want to make assumptions about someone’s views and/or practices. I want to actually talk to farmers (not about them), understand them and use my imagination to see life, agriculture and the world from their perspective.
Let curiosity and critical thinking rule
I used to think maturity equaled knowing exactly what you believe about everything. But I’m beginning to think the opposite is true. As I grow older, I want cling more tightly to the core tenants of my faith (as nicely summarized in the Apostle’s Creed) and press into them deeply. But I also want to continually examine my views that are not dictated explicitly by Scripture and learn from those who see things differently from me. I think Sammy Rhodes sums it up well (slight edit made for clarity):
One of the best ways a [Christian] can bear witness to Christ is to learn so well from those who disagree so that you can sympathize with their perspective, see things from their point of view, and express it as well as they could. No one will respect your disagreement with them unless they first feel you’ve understood them, even gleaned things from them. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to learn, especially from those with whom you disagree.
Look for the dance between science, economics and social science
Personally, I grow frustrated that the general tone surrounding agriculture implies the social sciences (anthropology/philosophy/theology/etc.), economics and science of agriculture can’t be united. I want to find the places where these subjects come together and push all involved (myself included!) to get out of their comfort zones. My dream? Ag industry representatives taking theology classes and locavores taking land-grant university ag economics classes. For now, I’ll focus on ways that I can personally seek out and encourage that beautiful dance of the natural world, the principles that make production possible and the abstract sciences that narrate it all.
These ground rules guide me as I participate in agriculture. They keep me focused. As I write, peruse social media, read news articles and talk with family and friends, these are the truths that I want to dictate my actions and words so I can live with integrity.