I have to say that I am not a foodie, and cooking is not one of my favourite things, but this year, food has been a central issue in many situations I have been involved in.
There’s food as a necessity for life. I don’t have to worry where my next meal is coming from, but for so many people in our country, never mind our world, this is a real concern.
They may have to skip a meal to ensure their children eat; or make the choice between heating and eating; or they may have to eat unhealthily because this is cheaper. The causes are many: benefit delays or sanctions, low wages or zero-hours contracts to name a few, and the problem is increasing in this, one of the richest countries in the world.
In addition to practical steps such as community meals and foodbanks, faith and civil society organisations in Scotland are now challenging this situation through, for example, the Food Justice Declaration of the Interfaith Food Justice Network and the Campaign for a Good Food Nation, which organised responses to the Scottish government’s consultation on its proposals for a Good Food Nation Bill. The bottom line of these challenges is that food – adequate, nourishing and accessible – should be a human right enshrined in legislation.
Then there is food as a means of bringing people together. Christians should recognise the importance of this through the examples of table fellowship in the Gospels. This was brought to life for me when I arranged for our parish to host the Glasgow Weekend Club in our hall and experienced first hand how preparing and sharing a meal brought a very diverse group of people together and made it easier for them to talk. I experienced a similar coming together when I was invited to an Iftaar meal at Ramadan and learned so much in the context of a very welcoming community.
The same idea is behind the One Big Picnic in Glasgow’s George Square where groups from both faith and non-faith communities work together to offer free food to anyone coming to the event: homeless, refugees, tourists and ‘ordinary’ Glaswegians. Bonds were created both in the preparation for the day and in the serving of the food.
Then there is the negative side of food: its production, processing and disposal, which we are only beginning to think about. Modern methods of food production can involve land theft, land or water degradation, ill treatment of animals, environmental pollution and even human slavery. Its processing can lead to carbon emissions and waste.
At the recent Glasgow Food Summit, a session was devoted to the environmental impact of food and one shocking statistic emerged that in Scotland alone, food waste amounts to one million tonnes a year and contributes 22% of our carbon emissions. We have to find a solution.
I for one can never look at food again in the same casual way. As someone at that summit said, we have forgotten how to treat food (and its producers) with respect.