Text Size

Search Articles

More By This Author

More From This Category

Article Information


By Helen Watson White in All Sorts

providing food for all is a theme of many Old and New Testament stories and fairy tales and is the aim of many community food banks nowdays

Hunger, like childbirth, is a great leveller. The grand and the ordinary, judge and jury, old and young -- everyone has to eat. Every culture that I know of assumes this: that someone who has food, usually a woman, will arrange to share it with others who need it -- close family, visitors or complete strangers. Hospitality: it's a Maori thing, and a Kiwi thing. It's also a religious thing, a service to others that's sacred in most traditions -- Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and so on. When I became a student (again) in the 1990s, at the same time as my sons, we regularly enjoyed the $3 meal offered by the Hare Krishnas in the OUSA Clubs and Societies room on campus. Fellow- student cooks, male and female, served rice and vegetable dishes from big steaming pots, and even added pudding; it was good. These days, $3 will buy one person's vegetables and fruit for a week, on a scheme
based at All Saints Church (fruitvegedn@gmail.com or 479 2212), which has widened to include distribution centres in St Kilda, Caversham, Green Island, Mosgiel, Kaikorai and Pine Hill. $6 will buy a week's pack for a couple, $12 a weekly family pack.
The universalist Baha'i faith makes a connection between fellowship (which often involves eating together), and the unity and equality of human beings. In the Exodus story, God provided the people with manna in the desert and water from the rock; 'they asked, and he brought quails' (Psalm 105). It wasn't just the leader Moses who needed feeding; hunger affected them all. It seems so straightforward. People need to eat and drink, and they are provided for, in a world where God is in charge. But what happens when the spring or stream dries up? After Elijah is fed by the ravens in a different desert, God orders him to go to a certain place where a widow has been instructed to feed him. 'Bring me a little water in a vessel,' says Elijah, and then, 'Bring me a morsel of bread'. She can manage the water, but suddenly the story stops, right there. She can't do the bread: 'As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.' She's ashamed -- she's got no baking in the tins! That's not the worst of it, though. With this tiny amount of flour and oil, she says, 'I am just now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.' (1 Kings 17:12)
There's a drought. The wadi, a stream which fails in the annual dry season, this time has dried up completely. The widow is already weak and exhausted; it's all she can do to prepare her and her son's last meal. Elijah repeats his request, saying 'Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.' He's sure there'll be enough for, as the Lord says, 'the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends
rain on the earth.' Sure enough, she did as Elijah asked, so that 'she as well as he and her household ate for many days.'
Sounds like the folk tale, doesn't it... The Grimm brothers' Children's and Household Tales tells a very similar story:
"There was a poor but good little girl, who lived alone with her mother, and they had nothing left to eat. So the child went into the forest, where an aged woman met her who was aware of her sorrow, and presented her with a little pot, which when she said 'Cook little pot, cook,' would cook good, sweet porridge, and when she said 'Stop, little pot,' it ceased to cook. The girl took the pot home to her mother, and now they were freed from their poverty and hunger, and ate sweet porridge as often as they chose. Once, on a time when the girl had gone out, her mother said, 'Cook little pot, cook,' it did cook, and she ate until she was satisfied. Then she wanted the pot to stop cooking, but did not know the word. So it went on cooking and the porridge rose over the edge, and still it cooked on until the kitchen and whole house were full...and the next house, then the whole street, just as if it wanted to satisfy the hunger of the whole world..."
Is God anywhere in this story? Yes, if you want to find good in everyone, God in everyone, as our masthead says. God is in the girl's wish to help her mother, in the forest (i.e. in Nature) in the compassion for the hungry family felt by the 'aged woman' (possibly a witch, whose only 'magic' lies in her doing good as a herbalist and healer); God is in the bounteous overflowing pot of goodness, and in the ambition that the whole world might be fed.
As John F Kennedy said, 'The war against hunger is truly mankind's war of liberation (World Food Congress, 4 June 1963). I am sure God is behind this weaponless war.
-- Helen Watson White