Food and drink
Food and drink have an increasing influence on the environment and the climate.
Our diet can have a disproportionate influence for good.
The Unseen Guest
Jesus said ‘Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). He also turned water into wine. And He celebrated the sharing of a meal with his disciples in the Last Supper; we still commemorate this in the Eucharist of the Bread and Wine.
Here are just a few of the many dilemmas concerning what we eat:
- Methane emissions from cattle, nitrate fertilizers, water use in agriculture, transport and refrigeration all contribute to climate change;
- Feeding animals to eat them needs more vegetables and takes more land than growing the greens to eat ourselves – adding to food shortages;
- Too much of our food is wasted – whether due to passing its sell-by date, or from being left in the bottom of the fridge;
- Non-Fairtrade food is implicated in injustice – do we consider the source of our chocolate Easter eggs? Have you tried Divine Chocolate? – available e.g. from Traidcraft
- Intensive farming practices are cruel to animals; though UK farm animals enjoy generally better welfare standards.
Many environmentalists think that the growth in meat-eating worldwide, especially red meat, beef most of all, lies at the heart of unsustainability.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report on what would be needed to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees (now considered to be more or less the safe threshold). They advised that meat eating needs to be significantly reduced worldwide.
Human beings, the livestock to feed us, and the crops to feed the livestock, are driving out the competition, squeezing wild animals and ecosystems into smaller and smaller remnants of the earth’s surface.
This is also a major contributor to deforestation. All of these things add to the causes of climate change. To say nothing of our gross over-fishing of the oceans.
And that the fish and seafood we eat can be assumed to contain remnants of our own plastic waste!
Together with animal welfare issues, it’s not surprising that the vegan lifestyle is growing in popularity year by year.
Rules of thumb
So what can we still eat? These are difficult judgments for individual minds and consciences.
Mnemonics we can use include the LOAF acronym (Local, Organic, Animal-friendly, Fairtrade) of Christian Ecology, and the 70/50/30 principle (70% fresh, 50% local, 30% organic).
The Diocese of London is a Fairtrade diocese. Yes we should minimise food miles, but many crops aren’t grown in the UK. If we want to partake of tea and coffee for example, we have to import – so let’s buy Fairtrade.
Organic food and farming
Organic food, employing materials and practices free of synthetic or inorganic chemicals, is championed by the Soil Association.
Permaculture and Biodynamics
Permaculture goes further, ‘working with nature to make a better world for all’.
Biodynamics is described as ‘an inspirational international movement that promotes a uniquely holistic approach to organic agriculture and gardening, and food and health’.
‘The world’s largest database of food plants’ is provided by Food Plants International – a Christian not-for-profit organisation that aims to provide information about edible plants with the objective of helping the hungry make use of natural resources available in the wild.
Food growing in the Diocese
The Diocese encourages appropriate use of land for food growing.
Food growing projects in the Diocese include Southall Community Garden in the Willesden Episcopal Area, where native vegetables and a fruit tree are grown organically, with native flowers to attract wildlife – there is also a small artificial pond. To learn more, contact Christian environmental charity A Rocha.
There are also community gardens at St Peter Bethnal Green and St Michael and All Angels Ladbroke Grove.
And let’s make sure we pick our own fruit trees (with a safe ladder and a head for heights). Often they produce small fruit – which would be rejected by supermarkets, either for this reason or just because they don’t look as perfect as plastic fruit! Let’s not waste our own.
Genetically modified (GM) food
This is a controversial area which every Christian should think about very carefully. In the end we all have to make up our own minds about GM – but there are reasons to be wary.
Churches and people
G M Food.
A Rocha UK
Faith in Food
Food Plants International
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Environment and Sustainability, front page.