Calling All Youth Pastors: Stop Wasting Food in the Name of Fun!

Last night I picked up a random book I had gotten a year or so ago. It was a book of youth ministry fails that had been collected from a Facebook group I’m a member of for youth workers. For the most part, it’s hilarious. You name it, it’s happened. And so many of the stories are relatable. It’s amazing the situations we youth workers find ourselves in. Anything can happen with teenagers.

And sure, you could read them and think, “why did they do that?” Well, hindsight is 20/20, and when you’re in the moment, you can forget that some things might not be a good idea. But there is one thing that I don’t have much sympathy for: food waste. And these stories are rampant with food waste!

In the United States alone, food waste occupies half of our landfills. According to Food Aid, 1 in 9 people in the world lives with food insecurity and 1/3 of all foods are wasted. Which brings me to my biggest ministry pet peeve: letting our youth think that wasting food for fun’s sake is okay.

Now, let me be transparent here: I am guilty of using food in games at camp and in youth group. Games I planned and executed. I didn’t see the problem with it. It’s fun to get messy sometimes and a teenager can be hosed down pretty easily. Parents don’t typically mind if they know ahead, so yes, I am very guilty of this.

But it all changed for me when I was a camp counselor. We were having our weekly “talent show” and some of the support staff decided to do one of those acts where one person puts their hands behind their back and a second person behind them puts their arms through and you act something out. Funny, right?! During this particular “skit” there was peanut butter involved (this was in the days before we really paid attention to peanut allergies…), and it was everywhere! And yes, it was hilarious. Nothing boosts a camp counselor’s ego when kids think we’re funny.

Sitting in the audience was a camper, one of my kids) who laughed his head off unlike the others. He thought it was the funniest skit in the world. But what he said on the walk back to the cabin that evening that sat unwell with me. “My parents would never let us play with food. They don’t let us waste anything!” He proceeded to tell me how his father had been in and out of work, how his mom worked multiple jobs and was gone much of the time, and how most nights, they didn’t have dinner because they never seemed to have enough food stamps to cover what they needed. But he did love getting the boxed macaroni and cheese from the local food pantry sometimes.

His parents didn’t allow for food waste because food was not something to be wasted. It was a precious necessity and not a toy, not something to be wasted.

That little boy saw his counselors having a good time. He saw us breaking a rule his parents were strict about. He saw humor in food waste. The problem is, none of us should see the humor in that. We should see the seriousness in the fact that wasting food is a privilege that only some can have.

I long for the day when everyone has enough and the term “food insecurity” is no longer needed. But until that day, we have to be diligent in teaching all of our youth and children that wasting something so important and precious is not okay. We have to get rid of games involving food because when we allow it in church, what we’re really saying is, “It’s okay to waste food. Jesus doesn’t care.”

Like hell Jesus wouldn’t care.

I have no doubt he’d shame us like a southern grandmother after she caught us doing God-knows-what.

So, knock it off. If you can’t find an appropriate and fun game that doesn’t involve food, then stop being lazy and do better research. And if that doesn’t work, you might need to reconsider your career choices.

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