Last month, while eating delicious Italian food in Italy, I began to wonder what Italians (they weren’t called that then) ate 1,000 years ago.
We all know that common ingredients like tomatoes and corn were unknown in Europe before 1492. They are native to the Americas. Add to that list squash, potatoes and peppers. Marco Polo may have imported the noodle from China in the late 13th century (or not). It is hard to imagine not having coffee in Italy, but it was unknown there until the 16th century. Let’s not forget to mention chocolate.
The food of Italy and, in fact, all of Europe, would not be what it is today without the foods from the Americas and Africa.
Likewise, the food of the Americas is not what is was before 1492. Mexican food did not have any dairy products, hence no crema or cheese. There were no flour tortillas. No olives. No pan dulce.
No matter what you consider the best cuisine in the world, it has ingredients from all around the planet. Each contributes something unique and essential. It is hard to underestimate, for example, the importance of the chili, either sweet or hot. That small ingredient, native to either South America or Mexico (depending on who you believe) has enriched food around the planet.
The point of this reflection is not to make us hungry, but to get us to reflect on what Catholic Social Teaching (CST) says about how interdependent the world has become and how action or inaction by a few can impact the whole planet.
The whole world is facing an enormous challenge with climate change. When we look at this through the lens of CST, we will want to think in terms of the principles of Common Good, Community, Participation and Solidarity. We all share one planet, and as the bumper sticker proclaims, “There is no Planet B.” God loves each and every person, no matter where they live or what their religion or economic status is. God’s dream is for each us to love one another and commit to working for the mutual good of all. Let me emphasize that God does not prefer one nation over another, not even our own.
Most of the people reading this article live in relative comfort. If it is 110° F outside, we turn on the air conditioning, drink lots of water and stay inside. If we have to go out, we go in our air conditioned car with a cool drink in the cup holder. We forget that most people do not share in these privileges. We forget that many of the things we do to keep comfortable on a warming planet actually contribute to making it warmer. (And yes, I am aware that I contribute more than my share to the problem, especially by flying to Europe.)
We forget that we are actually a global community. As we saw in the example of cooking ingredients, we are in interdependent relationships that encircle the planet. The things we need every day come from around the world and the decisions we make every day have an effect around the planet. We remember St. Pope John Paul II’s call to live in solidarity because we are all “responsible for all.”
Nothing that you or I do on a personal level will reverse climate change. But that doesn’t mean we can do nothing. We can make choices every day to reduce our own use of fossil fuel. We can adjust the thermostat one or two degrees to use less air conditioning or heat. We can consolidate our trips in the car with a little planning. We can reduce the amount of paper and plastic we use and (hopefully) put into the recycle bin. We can live more simply. These things, like adding a bit of chili pepper to what we are cooking, can help us wake up to the situations of our brothers and sisters who lack the things we take for granted.
While we may be experiencing the effects of climate change in strange weather or alternating drought and flood, others are experiencing the loss of their home, their land, or their livelihood. For most of us it might be extremely inconvenient, for others it can be devastating. And for our children and grandchildren, well, let’s just say that life is not going to be so easy.
So while we do little things, let us not forget about the big things. Let us live in solidarity with those who do not share our privilege. Let us listen to all the voices, they all have something to say. Let us educate ourselves about public policy and its impact. Let us recognize that change in our lifestyle is going to be necessary and it is not necessarily going to be easy. Let us vote with a global conscience for the Common Good, in solidarity with the people of the planet.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tucson, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.