Travel is always a thought provoking experience. As I write this at 4:30am Afghan time, I hear the Muslim pre-dawn call to prayer outside. It makes me think about various world religions. My thoughts also turn to food since eating in a foreign country can be both delightful and disconcerting as I try unfamiliar foods. Since I’m awake, I’m stirred to ponder some of the inconsistencies of mixing food and faith.

  • It’s Lent and today is also Friday. As a Catholic I won’t eat meat today because Lent is a penitential season – but technically the luxury food of lobster would be OK.
  • Strict Baptists don’t drink alcohol – but they follow Christ who turned water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana and who used bread and wine in the ritual meal of the Last Supper.
  • Muslims don’t eat pork or drink alcohol – but in Afghanistan (an officially Muslim country) poppies are grown as a cash crop. Which is more intoxicating?
  • Hindus regard the cow as sacred and thus don’t eat beef – but pork is OK. What makes a particular animal sacred and another not? Are pigs, sheep, chickens, etc. deserving of less protection and honor? What about bunny rabbits?
  • Orthodox Jews keep kosher – but Reformed Jews may not. Still, Jewish identity and bonds are strong even if eating practices differ.
  • Environmentalists don’t drink bottled water – but for a westerner like me, traveling in a third world country, bottled water is the responsible thing to do.
  • In some countries eating dog is considered a delicacy – but in other places pet owners would be horrified.
  • Vegetarians don’t eat meat but vegetables that can’t be cooked or peeled are unsafe for travelers in many third world countries.

Another food thought: Food Insecurity

So far during this Food Stamp Challenge I have not experienced actual hunger. I’ve always had enough to eat – even if it wasn’t what I wanted to eat. Yes, I gave up desserts, chose to drink only water (except for my morning OJ), and couldn’t afford snacks or much meat BUT, eating in a country like Afghanistan is different. Although we’ve had plenty to eat (thanks to the gracious hospitality of our daughter) one colleague we talked with suggested that one of the biggest causes of instability here is food insecurity. I came here concerned mostly about physical safety since it’s a war torn country. Afghanistan is also among the 10 least developed countries in the world. Many people physically go hungry or turn to crime, corruption, or violence to meet the basic need of food. A government or religion that can provide food, can buy the hearts of the people. Getting food, of course is also connected to having arable land, knowledge about how to farm in a mountainous and harsh climate, and tools to work with. It’s not just a matter of dropping food packages from helicopters.

Yet in this country where too many do not have enough to eat, today we will watch a new sport – buzkashi. It’s played like polo where players ride horses and try to grab a decapitated goat and throw it across a goal. Apparently some people can afford to use a goat for recreation. Hmmm.