Propped up against the wall of my tiny kitchen, absentmindedly chain eating Entenmanns’s chocolate chip cookies, I was engrossed in an article from the Catholic Worker about the life of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorist order of priests.
As I shot my hand into the box for yet one more cookie, I was confronted with Bishop Liguori’s response to famine in 18th century Italy: “When people are hungry, everyone should fast.” Caught red-handed in the cookie box, I paused and looked from my hand to the paper and back again. There was no way to hide it; Alphonsus had busted me as Part Of The Problem.
For me, gluttony begins at the supermarket. Aisles upon bright aisles of choices, options, and supply. Health food, junk food, international food, frozen food! Produce—fresh, frozen, or canned! Juices and soups from individual size to economy jugs. Do you hate to work with wet lasagna noodles? No problem. Just look for the no-boil kind in aisle 12. How about that prepackaged, precooked spaghetti and sauce that’s come out recently? That’s right. Aisle 12.
As if the plethora of real food choices weren’t enough, we now have the “fat-free” high fat items. Having recently needed to hold back my “eww gross” impulse when offered fat-free heavy cream by a well-meaning friend, this category stands out in my mind. Fat-free heavy cream? I thought she was joking, until I pulled the carton out of her fridge. I’d seen, and tasted, a similar oxymoronic culinary delight—fat-free cream cheese—once before and held little hope for this new incarnation. Scanning the ingredients list I stopped once I got to the corn syrup which they put in to make up for the flavor lost by the fat removal. Yuck! Just give me the grease and let me die young, thank you.
But even premature death by arterial fat may seem a luxury in a world and country where people routinely go hungry. Close to home, men and women hunt through garbage bins, and I have friends who daily feed soup to some of New York’s estimated 37,000 homeless people. The other night, I got deja vu watching a BBC report of the growing crisis of famine in Ethiopia. Wide angle shots showed the dust rising from the parched earth, the crops withered, and a mass of young mothers with children grouped under the shade of one of the few trees. I wondered how many of those women were young children themselves during the famine of the 1980’s.
Jesus, when confronted with the hungry crowd on the mountain, told his disciples not to disperse them so they could find food for themselves, but rather to give them something to eat , in spite of the sparse supply of loaves and fish. Is this what we, as the Body of Christ, as the presence of Christ on earth, do in our own time? Christians are people who celebrate God in the breaking and sharing of bread. But do we share our bread with those who need it?
In the New Testament’s only graphic account of the Last Judgement , Christ tells the sheep who are to be saved, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.” He never said, “I was hungry and you read about it in the paper while eating chocolate chip cookies.” Even the fat-free kind.