In 1943, when he was only 15 years old, my grandfather lied about his age so that he could serve in World War II. Although he told the Navy that his top three choices for service were underwater demolition, special operations, and artillery, they sent him to cooks and bakers school in Shreveport, Louisiana.
By April 1944, he was serving as a baker on a minesweeper in the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines. In 1945, when the war ended, he returned to Illinois, got married, and became a cabinetmaker. Since my grandparents were poor, they decided to run their own farm—not to make money, but to provide for their family.
On the farm, they had an orchard with apple trees, cherry trees, and walnut trees. They had a grape arbor and a rhubarb patch, too. Not only did they raise pigs and sheep, they also had a garden with potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, corn, radishes, celery, and carrots. “I didn’t think of it as ‘organic’, though,” my dad says. “It was all we had. It was all we could afford.”
“We also had fruits that would grow wild,” he tells me. “My brother and I would go out and find blackberries and raspberries. We’d get cut up, of course, by all the weeds and thorns. But then my mom would make the most fantastic pies and cobblers with those berries. That was the best part—the homemade pastries.”
Around the holidays, my grandfather would make cinnamon bread—a specialty that he learned on the ship. “We had a furnace in the middle of the house,” my dad remembers, “and he would set the dough in pans on the vent so that the aroma would fill the house. I still remember waking up to that smell, as it rose up to the attic where my brother and I shared a room.”
Farm of Origin
Although my dad was raised on a farm in Illinois, I was raised on a beach in Florida. Unlike my dad, I didn’t pick my food directly from a farm until I was 20 years old, when I spent a summer on a pineapple farm just outside of Quito, Ecuador.
In this age of globalization, most of us are far removed from the source of our food. As a result, when we think about where our food comes from, we picture grocery stores, not farms. We interact with cashiers, not growers.
Today, however, we can usually find out where some of our food is coming from. In 2002, driven mainly by health and safety concerns, Congress passed a bill requiring retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for fresh beef, pork, and lamb. In 2008, it expanded COOL requirements to include fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
Many of my neighbors, driven by a desire to receive fresh produce and support local farms, participate in community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs). During harvesting season, members or subscribers pay to receive weekly shares of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other foods. Through CSAs, consumers can have direct relationships with farmers; they can even visit the farms once a season.
Weighing the Costs
Beyond food safety, fresh produce, and local farming, however, there are other concerns raised by food sourcing, especially for bakers seeking to integrate their faith and work as they use ingredients like eggs, sugar, chocolate, and fruits. Before we turn to those considerations, however, let’s first address a common objection to ethical food sourcing—it’s relatively expensive.
If, for example, we care about fair trade, then we might pay twice as much for fair trade baking cocoa than we would for regular baking cocoa. Or, say, we only want to use eggs from pasture-raised chickens, which may cost up to five times as much as regular eggs.
But where did we get the idea that our food should be as cheap as possible? Do we not know that, when food is cheap to us, it is costly to someone else? Regular baking cocoa is cheaper than its fair trade equivalent, at least in part, because only a tiny portion of its profits goes to its growers. They are paid such pitiful wages that they have little freedom to advance beyond their circumstances. That’s often the cost of our cheap food. Adding insult to injury, while large chocolate companies pay pennies to their growers, they pay millions to their CEOs.
For Christians, of course, the question is not, “Is it costly to do the right thing—to do justice and love mercy?” (Micah 6:8). We know that answer is “yes.” For Jesus tells us that the cost of discipleship is high (Luke 14:25-33). The question for us is, “Will the cost be worth it?” That is, “If we commit ourselves to ethical food sourcing, will the higher prices we pay be worth it?”
During the Great Awakening in Britain, convicted Christians asked how they should work the gospel out in public life. They turned to the abolition of the slave trade. The wealthy classes were vehemently opposed to abolition because it would mean significant economic losses. In response, the abolitionists in the House of Commons, driven by their passion for the gospel, accepted provisions in the Emancipation Act to compensate the planters by an enormous sum—equal to half the national budget.
“It turns out,” David Brog writes, “that those who predicted that abolition would result in enormous economic losses were not exaggerating. The fiscal impact of abolition was so great, in fact, that historian Seymour Dresher characterized the British abolition of slavery as voluntary ‘econocide.’” Yet who among us would argue that the cost was too high?
So what considerations do pastry chefs and bakers seeking to integrate their faith and work face as they decide where to source their ingredients?
One consideration is human rights. Although several ingredients raise this issue, chocolate raises it most acutely. Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean (cocoa), which grows primarily in the tropical climates of West Africa and Latin America. In fact, five countries—Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Brazil—supply more than 79 percent of the world’s cocoa market.
It’s well documented that child labor, trafficking, and slavery are rife in the chocolate industry. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children are working in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast, and up to 12,000 of them may be victims of trafficking or slavery. Moreover, cocoa farmers’ incomes are abysmally low. “If you were to increase a cocoa farmer’s income tenfold,” says Antonie Fountain of the Voice Network, “he would still be, in the definitions of the global society, absolutely poor.” This is because, in the value chain of the industry, cocoa farmers play a small part. “In the mid-1970s, during the peak in cocoa prices, almost 50 percent of the value of the chocolate bar was the cost of cocoa,” says Edward George of Ecobank. “By 1980, this had fallen to 12 percent. By 2012, it was just 6 percent.”
Of course, chocolate is not the pastry chef’s only ingredient that raises human rights questions. Sugar does, too. The U.S. Department of Labor has found worker abuse on sugar farms in the Dominican Republic, which exports 220,000 tons of sugar annually to the United States. Also, when it comes to fruit, an estimated 80 percent of the “banana families” in Costa Rica, for example, live in slums due to paltry wages.
One aspect of biblical justice is equity. In Isaiah 11:4, we read about the qualities of the coming Messiah: “With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Similarly, Jeremiah says, “He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5).
In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman explains:
Equity is not a simple word to define. It denotes fairness and impartiality. Equity is about ensuring that the poor and weak are not disproportionately burdened by society’s common problems. It is about promoting public policies that do not favor the rich over the poor but treat people equally. It is about avoiding policies that unfairly burden the poor and weak.
How can a pastry chef image God’s equity in the world? When it comes to food sourcing, social movements like fair trade and direct trade have made some gains. Fair trade (FT) is when buyers pay a “fair price” to producers or growers. Unfortunately, though, FT has some problems. Not only is certification expensive for growers, but some also argue that FT is “essentially a marketing scheme that possibly does more harm than good.” Perhaps the superior option is direct trade (DT), where the chocolate maker has a face-to-face relationship with the grower. It’s better, some say, because it’s transparent, allowing the consumer to trace the dollar down to the people actually farming the cocoa.
Ethical Treatment of Animals
Since bakers use eggs, another issue to consider is the ethical treatment of animals. In the United States, 452 million hens are used for their eggs, and almost all of these “laying hens” live in total confinement their entire lives. Since chickens become aggressive when confined, they are usually de-beaked to prevent cannibalism.
It wasn’t too long ago, of course, that many of our relatives interacted with chickens on a daily basis. Now, though, what’s out of sight is out of mind. We don’t care about chickens because we don’t know any chickens. We’d never, though, treat our pets the way that we allow chickens to be treated. And we couldn’t treat our chickens with such disdain if they lived in our backyards and we depended on their health for eggs, meat, and more chickens. After all, Proverbs 12:10 tells us, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.”
Theologian Richard Mouw once visited an association of Christian chicken farmers in Canada. One farmer argued that chickens should be treated with dignity—not human dignity, but chicken dignity:
Colonel Sanders wants us to think of chickens only in terms of dollars and cents. They are nothing but little pieces of meat to be bought and sold for food. And so we’re supposed to crowd them together in small spaces and get them fat enough to be killed. . . . But that’s wrong! The Bible says that God created every animal “after its own kind.” Chickens aren’t people, but neither are they nothing but hunks of meat. Chickens are chickens, and they deserve to be treated like chickens! This means that we have to give each chicken the space to strut its stuff in front of other chickens.
In reflecting on the farmer’s insights, Mouw writes,
God tells human beings to exercise “dominion” over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28). But that does not give us the right to do anything we want with non-human life. The New Testament teaches that “all things were created” both “through” Jesus Christ and “for” Jesus Christ’ (Colossians 1:15-17). It is important, then, that we honor the divine purposes in our dealings with the non-human creation. Dominion is not the same as domination. The old fashioned term is that we have been made “stewards” of the world that God made. We are caretakers. This means that we musttake care in the way we treat the animals. The farmer was right when he insisted that the fact that there are different “kinds” means that we must allow for different kinds of dignity. Chickens are chickens, after all.
The cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised movements have made some progress in this pursuit of dignity. Under federal regulations, “cage free” means hens live uncaged with “unlimited access to food and water and the freedom to roam within the enclosed area during their egg-production cycle.” Since “cage free” still allows hens to be confined and de-beaked, however, some people opt for “free range” chickens, which roam freely outdoors for at least part of the day. Yet this system isn’t perfect, either. My friend Leigh has a chicken coop on her family’s ranch in Alabama. She told me, “You can’t really trust eggs that are labeled ‘free range.’ Since the regulations don’t specify the quality of the outdoor space or the length of time a chicken must be in it, there’s a lot of variety about what ‘free range’ really means.” As a third option, some people choose eggs from pasture-raised chickens, which live and roam free on pastures with large enclosures.
Most of the eggs in our supermarkets, however, are not cage-free, free-range, or pasture-raised. They are produced using methods of industrial agriculture. Are these eggs off limits for those of us seeking to integrate our faith and our baking? This is a difficult question to answer. After all, industrial agriculture has many benefits—innovation in farming and technology, creation of new markets for consumption, participation in global trade. Yet is also has significant drawbacks; it can damage the environment, threaten human health, degrade rural communities, harm workers, and compromise animal welfare.
What can we do? In short, Christians seeking to integrate their faith and work can be informed. We can take the ethical treatment of animals seriously. For God has made us caretakers and stewards of their welfare. That may mean that we never buy eggs from an industrialized farm. Or it may mean that we go to work for a major corporation that produces eggs in an unethical manner and try to effect change from the inside out. In the end, we have to follow our consciences and be aware of the options available to us as consumers and bakers.
Food should be harvested in such a manner that it will allow farms and the environment to continue producing for all future generations. Although sustainability looks at the environment as a whole, those who care about the environment are concerned about two main issues—waste and degradation.
One way a pastry chef can be less wasteful is by sourcing food from closer geographic regions. The farther food travels, the more energy is used and the more greenhouse gases are emitted. As a partial solution, some people have turned to the local food movement and begun making seasonal purchases from farmers’ markets. Yet the answer is hardly that simple. Steve Sexton writes:
Implicit in the argument that local farming is better for the environment than industrial agriculture is an assumption that a “relocalized” food system can be just as efficient as today’s modern farming. That assumption is simply wrong. Today’s high crop yields and low costs reflect gains from specialization and trade, as well as scale and scope economics that would be forsaken under the food system that locavores endorse.
He continues by showing how limiting access to include only seasonal and local foods would hurt the poor the most.
The second issue—environmental degradation—happens through soil depletion, erosion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, ecological impacts, chemical dependence, and resistance to pests. Deforestation can also be a big issue for the pastry chef. Ingredients like cacao can be significant sources of tropical deforestation. Growing cacao under a canopy, however, can enhance the soil, protect it from erosion, and provide for biodiversity.
Caring for the environment is, of course, a vast and complex topic, but a pastry chef seeking to integrate his faith and work can care for God’s creation in his baking. Genesis 1tells us six times that God created the material world, and it was good. In the Psalms, we read that the heavens, the sun, and the sky declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1-6) and that the pastures, the hills, the meadows, and the valleys “shout and sing together for joy” (Psalm 65:12-13). If these natural features can testify to God’s goodness, then God has commissioned us as stewards to protect their witness.
In the Cape Town Commitment, the leaders of the Lausanne Movement write,
We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake. If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationships to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says, “Jesus is Lord,” is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.
In short, although human beings are at the apex of creation, Christianity gives us a high view of the value of the natural world as it reflects God’s goodness. It is a good in and of itself—not merely raw material for our consumption. We exercise “ecological stewardship” as gardeners, as we carefully cultivate the environment. Our changes and alterations must be done with the utmost respect and care for creation.