Gather the Fragments. Let Nothing Be Wasted.

God says to us, “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.”

This week’s readings are all about abundance. The Bible talks about food in many ways, but often it’s like this: a god who promises us food that will never run out, enough for everyone.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Elisha asks his servant to feed twenty loaves of bread to a hundred people and finds that there is food left over. In the Gospel, five loaves and two fish feed a crowd, with baskets of leftovers.

“Gather the fragments left over,” says Jesus, “so that nothing will be wasted.”

Capitalism asks us to see food as a commodity, something that is made artificially scarce, but the truth is that we already live in the world described in these scripture stories: a world where there’s food enough for everyone and more left over.

Doing food rescue work changed how I think about our food systems. Through an organization called  “Food Not Bombs” in Chicago, I helped with a project where we picked up food from an upscale grocery store chain that would have otherwise been thrown away, and gave it away to people. We ended up with cars full of perfectly fine produce, baked goods, bread, dairy, and salads.

Food Not Bombs isn’t a food pantry that depends on grants. Most food pantries have specific requirements for who can get food there and how often. They require sign-in sheets or ID cards.

At Food Not Bombs’ distribution, there are no sign-in sheets, no ID checks, and no requirements. Anyone can come and take what they need, no questions asked. That is the thing that often surprises people most! So often, offers of help or assistance come with complex requirements that make seeking help as difficult as not having it. Volunteers, too, are welcome to take food. In fact, it’s encouraged, because everyone has times when they can give help and times when they need help.

Just giving people food seems so simple, but it’s also radicalizing. I realized that the huge amount of food we picked up from the store every day was the same amount that the store threw away every single day. And I learned that every other grocery store was also throwing away that much food — and most of it didn’t get donated, but went straight into trash compactors, to keep people from taking it out of the dumpster.  And that the food that got thrown away by grocery stores was nothing compared to the amount of food that doesn’t even make it to the store.

Capitalism creates the idea that food is a scarce commodity, but we actually have plenty of food to feed everyone.  We just need to redistribute it. To gather the fragments so that nothing will be wasted.

Doing that work with other queer people as part of Food Not Bombs was sacred work, and it reminded me of the abundance that we can find in queer communities.

Every day, I see queer people caring for and nourishing each other: with food, a couch to crash on, free furniture, Venmo transactions. Through friendships, partnerships, roommates, the Internet, I am one node in an enormous web of caring and relationship.

I don’t want to idealize this too much, but in these dark times, it’s good to remember the abundance that’s present.  It’s not perfect, but people do care for each other, without needing institutions that can form barriers between people. In fact, we are filling in some of the many gaps that those institutions don’t reach.

When we care for each other freely, as a gift, we can start creating systems of exchange that reflect God’s abundance — systems that also value people, rather than treating them like bits of leftovers to be thrown away.

Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, July 25, 2021

1 reply
  1. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    The writer is wrong to link Capitalism with hunger since waste is a failure of that system. Most non-distributed food does come from a failure of the ability to get food (not a virtue of that system) where it is needed and many civic regulations that preclude just putting un-saleable goods out for others to take. Depending on your city, health regulations are the culprit not lack of desire to share with the unfortunate.

    What the Church needs to do is set up a nationwide system to get food to people who are hungry, not spend so much time and money to claim God’s grace doesn’t reach to LGBT individuals. Individual parishes or groups such as Food not Bombs need a larger linkage (which takes staff and money to get the excess from fields, factories, as well as stores to the hungry. We are called to be generous and smart about it.


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