"Are your potatoes the frozen imported ones, or do you cut and fry your potatoes?"
The waiter looked offended. "It is the imported frozen ones."
As the waiter walked away, Ifemelu said, "Those frozen things taste horrible."
"He can't believe you're actually asking for real potatoes," Obinze said dryly. "Real potatoes are backward for him. Remember this is our newly middle-class world. We haven't completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow's udder."
This scene takes place in Nigeria. I read it last week, in the excellent novel Americanah, while reading the comments on my last post about Whole Foods and the Developing World.
That post was one of my most read and shared ever, much to my surprise. And a bit intimidating to me, since I really am not an expert on this subject....I just have questions. I was glad to see that other people do too.
After thinking this through some more this week, I came to a few conclusions:
1. Pesticides, food processing, GMO's, pasteurization, growth hormones, etc. just may be a necessary (hopefully temporary?) evil--to greater or lesser degrees. Like my love affair with Permethrin. Sometimes I feel like the whole foods movement wants us to believe that people had it right hundreds of years ago, and we've just screwed it up with our food processing and chemicals. In reality, people in developed countries have far greater life spans than in developing countries. (In Tanzania, it's 60; in the United States, it's 78). I realize that sometimes we are exchanging some bad things for other bad things. What's the greater good? What's the lesser evil? I don't know. I'm glad there are experts grappling with these questions. We live in a fallen world where there will never be perfect solutions, but God has also granted us tremendous creativity. Examples at the end.
2. I'm going to do my best to feed my family healthy food, but trust God with the rest. In Tanzania, and in the ministry God has called us to, we can't eat organic food and clean meat. The only way that would happen is if we grew everything ourselves, and I'm not willing take away our business from all the farmers and shopkeepers we support, when there's 40% unemployment here. (Even when our gardener does grow food, it's for the purpose of supporting himself.) There's also plenty of times when we need to be willing to eat what they eat--which means meals that are mostly starch. But I must balance being as healthy as I can, with the life God has called me to. I think that philosophy can apply to every Christian, everywhere.
3. Just like so many issues in the Christian life, this is going to look different for everyone--and that is okay. I have a few friends whose health improved dramatically when switching to whole/clean foods. I completely understand why it's worth the added expense to them. The same questions apply to everyone: Am I being a wise steward of the resources God is giving me? Am I really thinking through the issues or just following a fad? Are my choices affecting the ministry to which God has called me? There are different kinds of right answers. Am I making an idol out of being healthy....or an idol out of junk food....or simply being judgmental on those who come to a different conclusion?
4. Remember Africa. Remember the developing world. Whatever issue you are passionate about, don't come to conclusions until you've thought about the implications for everyone--not just Americans.
Finally....know that there are many people out there who are breaking new ground in this area....and it's really exciting! I've previously mentioned our good friends, the Tanners, who are starting an exciting new sustainable agriculture project in south Tanzania, where they will not only be farming but also training Tanzanians to do it themselves. Just this week, my other friend Victor told me about a new integrated farm he is starting in Tanzania, where he will be raising fish, chicken, and crops which will co-exist in a symbiotic relationship, each providing what the other part needs. This kind of creativity excites me!
Thanks again for all of you who weighed in. I loved reading your comments. Keep up the great thinking!