May 5th, 2015
“So let humanity look at their food…” (80.24)
I had a simple breakfast: a piece of toast with cream cheese and honey, a banana, and a cup of coffee with milk. But the story of my meal spans two continents.
The bread – a basic white bread produced by Whole Foods – is made primarily from wheat. I don’t know where the wheat comes from, perhaps the Midwest. But God made it: “How we poured down water in torrents, then we broke open the earth, splitting it [with sprouts], and caused to grow within it grain.” (80:25-27)
The cream cheese – a small tub of Philadelphia brand – is made primarily from milk. I don’t know where the milk is from, perhaps from the East Coast. But again, God made it: “Do they not see that We have created for them from what Our hands made, grazing livestock, and they are their owners? And We have tamed them for them, so some of them they ride, and some of them they eat. And for them therein are other benefits and drinks, so will they not be grateful?” (36:71-73)
The honey is from Montauk, the town farthest out on the tip of Long Island. Guess who made it? That’s right – God. “And your Lord inspired the bee, saying, ‘Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct. Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.’ From their bellies comes a drink of different colours in which there is healing for people. There truly is a sign in this for those who think.” (16:68-69)
Assuming all of that was from North America, let us turn to Central and South America, where the production of commodities for consumption by North America has had a profound effect of the structure of society. Equal Exchange, the company from which I bought the coffee beans, recounts the history of coffee production in Guatemala in no uncertain terms. Drinking coffee from Guatemala in New York City reminds one of the verse of Qur’an: “God presents the example of a town that was secure and at ease, with provisions coming to it abundantly from all places. Then it became ungrateful for God’s blessings, so God afflicted it with the garment of famine and fear, for what its people had done.” (16:112)
Next to Ecuador, where my banana was from. Ecuador produces more bananas than anywhere else in the world. Most are produced on large plantations, but I ate one that comes from a small cooperative also connected to Equal Exchange. In English we have coined the term “Banana Republic” to refer to a country whose political system has been manipulated by American fruit corporations (Dole, Del Monte, etc.). The more that workers on massive banana plantations want fair wages, the higher prices that Walmart has to pay for the millions of bananas it purchases, which means less profit for shareholders. So companies do what they can to keep production costs down.
I hope that my coffee, bananas, and honey have no injustice in them. The story is often told of how Imam al-Nawawi (d. 1277) would not eat the fruits of Damascus because he was worried that the land on which they were grown was perhaps acquired or cultivated improperly. I have tried to follow his lead. But I don’t know where the wheat or milk I consumed was made. Perhaps the wheat was grown on land stolen from Native Americans through a broken treaty. Perhaps the cows that produced the milk I drank were kept in terrible conditions. It is things like this that make me fear God, for God is Just (al-‘Adl). He could ask me about it, and what would be my response? “I was too busy to look into it,” doesn’t seem like a good response to prepare for the Last Day. My breakfast was a lot fancier than many of the breakfasts of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him and his family. If anyone deserved a nice breakfast, it was him. And yet, God reminded him, “Then you will be asked that Day about the pleasures you enjoyed.” (102.8)
May God allow us to be more just in our usage of that which He has granted us, and may He forgive us for the evil we perpetuate in the world, and may He increase us in awareness of the myriad blessings that He bestows upon us every day, ameen.