“Spiritual Dimension of Food Security” is a complex theme.
When one is unwillingly hungry or malnourished, there is not much room for spirituality: the body hurts, the mind is obsessed by the lack of food, the soul has little or no room to thrive. Body and soul are one, and only heroes or extraordinary characters can develop a beautiful spiritual life when lacking adequate food. This happens, although it remains an exception. Hunger is a burden imposed on the poorest of the poor that defeats the purpose of spiritual enhancement.
We used to talk in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) about four dimensions of food security: availability, access, use and stability (of the three previous dimensions). Each has in itself a spiritual dimension. Food must be available, in sufficient quality and quantity for all in the area where one lives. Food production and marketing should be practiced in a spiritual manner; farmers and traders have a responsibility in this. Food must be accessible; that is affordable at a reasonable price, particularly for those who need it most, the poorest. Food prices need to be regulated – believing that ‘markets could work for the poor’ is, in my view, irresponsible and anti-spiritual. And the food must be nutritious, or of a quality that warrants proper use by the organism. We know how much good food grown and cooked with attention and love can do for both the body and sour. Sharing a meal is a sacred act. Food is, sacred; we are what we eat. Our bodies are sacred; we should not be obliged to eat ‘junk food’. Food should not be seen as just a commodity traded on markets, ignoring its spiritual quality and content.
If these four dimensions or preconditions were met, everyone would have the opportunity to live a healthy, and active life, could interact happily with other living beings around, and reach a sense of belonging, recognition, accomplishment.
The spiritual dimension of food security derives in my view from the commitment of those who are healthy and food secure to help the hungry in becoming food secure, and more generally to change the course of strongly unequal social organizations, political systems and ill-conceived policies that tolerate abject forms of poverty. This entails the application of spiritual values and forms of action aimed at changing the state of things. FAO, under its food security agenda, is promoting social protection systems, decent employment in particular for women and youth, family food grants, emergency food supplies, sustainable, small scale and gender-sensitive bio-intensive food production and marketing, participatory rural development, access to land for the poor, for women, etc. All these actions can be sound, and this is what FAO tries to promote and enact through programs and projects. But all this could only remain good ideas, if actions are not animated and inspired by compassion, empathy, enthusiasm, and many other values that make societies responsible and accountable for their weakest members.
(Dominique Bordet, Senior Officer in the Technical Cooperation Department, FAO (Retired). He continues to conduct yoga classes at FAO.)