America’s Clergy: The Overlooked Champions In The Fight Against Food Waste

Our biggest, overlooked champion is stepping into the ring.

By Gary Oppenheimer

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post blog here.

For the past several years, an increasing number of “foodies,” non-profits (including AmpleHarvest.org), government officials and others have explored tackling food waste, yet at every meeting or conference I’ve attended, one key player was left out of the discussion—the faith community.

Since 70 percent of America’s food pantries are located in a house of worship and 80 percent of Americans describe themselves as people of faith, it became clear that a critical partner – the faith community – needed to be invited to the table to help get excess food to hungry families.

Holy texts are rife with references to food loss and admonishments to glean excess harvest to share with those in need yet we’ve been underestimating the impact of these quiet powerhouses of the faithful across America that have been working for ages to feed the hungry. We have really missed the boat by not encouraging our country’s houses of worship to join us in the fight against food waste and hunger.

While key thought leaders, non-profits, government and increasingly foundations have been working to eliminate the waste of food, I started to also envision America’s 350,000 – 400,000 clergy as vital leaders of this effort within their own communities in the fight against food waste.

Those of us working on food waste and the people of faith showing care for the hungry have not up to now linked our efforts to work together.

We (finally!) fixed that.

In May, AmpleHarvest.org partnered with Greenfaith to create the opportunity to give all ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and other clergy the opportunity to close that gap – to both reduce the waste of food and to help improve the quality of food donated to millions of Americans who rely on a local food pantry.

The weekend of Sept. 23-25 was designated as Food Waste Weekend – an opportunity for clergy of all faiths to learn the about the waste of food, to give a sermon in their faith tradition, and to ultimately encourage their congregants to take specific calls to action.

Food Waste WeekendClergy across the faith spectrum have endorsed Food Waste Weekend. “I think this is a fantastic, modern opportunity for people of all faiths to actualize the biblical injunction to share the gleanings of our fields with those in need. Donating our food surplus, rather than throwing it away, is something we can all be proud of. I hope all houses of worship of all faiths will participate” noted Rabbi Joshua Ratner of Connecticut.

Everything needed including high level and in-depth information about food waste, sermons written from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Unitarian/Universalist perspectives, calls to action for their congregants (such as learning about date labeling, donating excess garden produce to food pantries, and more) are all available at www.FoodWasteWeekend.org. There is even a game show about food waste for a religious school class.

Rev. Ben Collins of Florida pointed out that “Pastoring a congregation with a deep social conscience means issues like hunger, waste, and environmental impact are front and center. They are integral not only to religion, but humanity, which we believe makes the responsibility profoundly sacred.”

While some clergy have the flexibility to determine their sermon topic on weekly basis, others have their topic scheduled months ahead of time. FoodWasteWeekend.org accommodates either although clergy are encouraged to sign-in as soon as possible to start getting the material they’ll need, even if they will postpone the event. Although we’re reaching out to clergy, any person of faith can go to their spiritual leader to urge them to consider speaking out about food waste as one of the root causes of hunger and environmental concerns.

According to Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, “Over 800 million people are going hungry every day. The food we’re wasting creates a massive carbon footprint. We’ve got to change. Food Waste Weekend is an extraordinary vehicle for empowering the people of diverse faiths to address these critical issues. We look forward to congregations around the country getting involved”

As one of the many people who has been actively working to alleviate the waste of food for years, Food Waste Weekend is our way of finally,formally inviting America’s clergy and all people of faith who have been fighting hunger, to the conversation about food waste that’s been taking place far too long without them.

Our biggest, overlooked champion is stepping into the ring. I’m excited to see what we can do together. It all starts with having faith in Food Waste Weekend.

Watch for info on the second annual Food Waste Weekend in early 2017 at www.FoodWasteWeekend.org

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