A farmer came to talk with me after the service at the church I was preaching at last Sunday. I always like talking with farmers, not least because they always bring me up short. Here I’m forced to bring my theoretical thoughts and musings into contact with the realities as experienced by those who are actually at the front-end of growing and rearing our food and dealing with the supermarkets. Talking with farmers always reminds me of how little I know.
One of the things that hit me again (as it did when I talked with some potato farmers a month or so ago, who had just ploughed a whole season’s worth of potatoes back into the ground) was just how much we are at the mercy of the weather. The weather this year in the UK (and elsewhere too) has been bad for growing crops, to say the least. Too little rain, too much rain, too little sun, too much sun… And things will be tough next Spring because our current wet weather is meaning that farmers can’t get their seed in the ground.
We live in a very complicated world and our global food system reflects that, as it spins its tangled web around us. As I’ve been thinking about food and this mini-series that I’m doing here, there are five questions that I keep coming back to and I want to share them here to get your thoughts. We need to pool our wisdom if we are to find the most helpful ways to live in our beautiful and abused world.
- Proverbs 12:10 says, literally, that ‘a righteous person knows the soul of their animal’ (a much nicer version than the bland NIV translation). Issues of what today we would call ‘animal welfare’ are an integral part of being in a right relationship with God. Such issues can’t be ignored by all those who wish to call themselves Christians, let alone by anyone else. How can we say that we worship the Lord of all Creation and then buy meat, eggs or dairy products that have directly abused a part of that creation? What a difference it would make to our food system if the millions of Christians in the UK, let alone the many millions around the world, determined only to buy animal products that had been reared well.
- There is a real conundrum in how we balance human needs with those of the wider creation. The idealist says that it is possible to have outcomes that benefit both and that we needn’t play off one against the other. And of course that is what we should work for. Theologically speaking, the human and the non-human creation are intricately linked and what benefits one benefits the other. Theologically speaking as well, though, we live with the impacts of the Fall and so we will not always be able to find such ideal solutions. When that is the case and we are forced to choose, who or what comes first?
- Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 makes the wonderful statement that there is, ‘nothing better than to be happy and to do good; that everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work: that is the gift of God’. I am constantly aware of just what a good diet my family and I are able to enjoy (healthy, varied, colourful, tasty) whilst millions elsewhere don’t eat and drink nearly enough. In that situation, what is an appropriate level for me to eat and drink at? What is ‘enough’?
- Science and technology bring out the best and the worst in us. They do an awful lot of harm, but also a wonderful amount of good. Things such as GM crops have the potential for both. How do we discern between the good and the bad of technology. How far are we to be co-creators with God?
- Finally, when we think about food, what does it mean to affirm that Jesus is Lord? If we believe that Jesus is Lord of all, then that presumably also means that he is Lord over our food too. I wonder how much we think of it in that way. I sometimes think that I can trace my theological development as an adult by tracing the sort of food I was eating at any given point along that line. Our food betrays our theology. What does what you’ve been eating this week say about what you believe?
One final question: what do you think??