April 21, 2014
Rev. Stephanie York Arnold is a pastor at Birmingham First United Methodist Church. She is passionate about serving in a downtown church because it provides her the opportunity to truly embrace a diverse group of people and live out her church’s mission statement to be an OPEN place for ALL. Stephanie is a graduate of the University of Alabama and Memphis Theological Seminary. She and her family have been residents in Birmingham since 1999.
You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But lately I have been disturbed enough by my growing awareness of an issue that I want to be honest and share part of my monthly budget with you, a complete stranger. I hope what I share will spur us all to get honest about what we think is just in a world that produces more than enough healthy whole food to feed everyone on the planet.
I spend around $1,000 - $1,200 a month to feed my family of four. I average around $250 - $300 a week in grocery bills. I shop largely at Publix, local farmers markets and some specific items at Whole Foods. I like to buy local and organic if possible. I buy lots of fresh fruit/veggies and meat, because research shows a whole food, protein rich diet is healthy, nutritious and what my body needs to thrive. I love cooking. I love trying new things. I love teaching my kids about healthy food. I love sharing a meal around the table with those I hold dear in life. I am fascinated with research about what is healthy and how my body metabolizes nutrients. Food is a major source of community, joy and pleasure in my family’s life.
I am also sickened by the fact that I can do all that above because whether I like to think I am or not I can be classified as a wealthy, educated, employed, white woman who lives “over the mountain” in Birmingham, Alabama. If I was not educated I likely wouldn’t have a well paying stable job that allows me to afford to live in the largely white over the mountain area which has access to premium grocery stores. And if I didn’t live in one of the over the mountain communities I might live along with our more color diverse 88,000 Birmingham neighbors (including 23,000 children) in the 43 square miles of food deserts in the Birmingham metro area, but I certainly wouldn’t live near a store like Whole Foods.
Things I find myself thinking as I stand in line at the grocery register watching my nutritious food flow down the conveyor belt are: Do I consider off brand PB&J, Dollar Store nachos and Orange Crush healthy dinner options for my family? Would I ever feed my kids Honey Buns for breakfast and then send them off to take a standardized test that translates into college acceptance letters? If these things aren’t good enough for my children why are they acceptable for someone else’s just because they may not be as wealthy, educated, employed, live over the mountain in Birmingham, Alabama or be as white as I am? Oh, I know we don’t think of it this way and it is terribly confrontational to consider what lies beneath the surface of our system and our choices. It is so much easier to not see others need, hear their cries, or see obesity as the face of hunger and lack of nutrition in Alabama, but we are called to see our own humanity wrapped up in the humanity of our brother and our sister. We are called to love our neighbor both next door and across town. And now you know. You know your brothers and sisters don’t have equal access to the earth’s abundant healthy food. The question is what will you do?