Last fall, my wife, daughter, and I traveled to Nashville to give a talk at a large youth workers conference. We finished late, and looked for a place to grab a quick meal before calling it a night. Our family tries not to eat at restaurants that serve on throwaway plates—not always easy when we are on the road—but Emma sighted a Panera up the hill, so we went there.
It was just before closing time. We each ordered a sandwich. While the sandwiches were being prepared, we noticed that one of the workers was loading a whole glass case filled with brownies, cookies, and slices of chocolate-lovers cake (we were hungry, so they looked especially good) and placing the desserts in large plastic containers. Next he emptied eight bagel bins into two large trash bags. Then came the loaves of fresh bread—there were at least twenty of them, baked with an array of grains and fillings—enough to fill another large trash bag. A pregnant woman at the table behind us worked efficiently, dumping all the coffee into a five-gallon bucket and cream into a thermos. When I asked where all this food was headed, she replied, “To the homeless shelter.” The items were collected and out the door before we finished our sandwiches. Not a crumb of Panera’s breads were wasted. They went to the orphans, the widows, and the least among us. The bakery’s leftovers were gleaned for the homeless Ruth and Naomi’s of Nashville.
Could Panera have maximized profits by selling their wares at fifty percent off during the last hour of business, or selling them as “manager’s specials” the following day. Yes, but they chose not to. Instead, they honored the millennia old principles of gleaning.
Today the vast majority of us are not farmers. Yet the principles of gleaning and caring for the poor are as timeless as the book of Ruth. Panera is one example of a modern day Boaz, the farmer who allowed the homeless Ruth to glean in his fields. How might we continue in the faithfulness of Boaz and make sure we create room for more grace and less waste?
Food and farming are integral parts of the creation story. Check out this free tip sheet for ways to care for God’s creation while enjoy the gift of food. And we are giving away 1 free copy of the Blessed Earth Film series! Leave a comment and we will randomly select a winner from those who comment below.
Matthew Sleeth recently hosted a conversation with internationally acclaimed poet, farmer, and activist Wendell Berry on why the church must take a leadership role in caring for God’s creation. You can watch the video by clicking here.