Dionne Gravesande looks at the phenomenon of food in modern-day society. She asks why so many people throughout the world are going hungry, and what the Church can do to ensure people get fed.
In recent months, I have met parents – particularly single mums – in a real state of worry about how they will feed good, healthy food to their children, and not the £1.99 snack box culture we currently have. “The cost of food is ridiculous,” said one mum, and another simply groaned, “My son is eating me out of house and home.”
Are people eating more? Are farmers not producing enough? Are the supermarkets making profit on our hunger? What, exactly, is going on? Gone are the days when we grew our own produce in the backyard and when we picked fresh fruit from local trees. As a child, I have vivid memories of my father planting a whole array of vegetables during the spring, and in August/September he would harvest all, and share the abundance with friends and neighbours. With summer holidays approaching, I reflected on the many UK families struggling to make ends meet, and asked what is the role of the Church in supporting them.
According to Christian charity, Trussell Trust, 13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK. The Trust foodbanks provide a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis. In 2012-13, Trussell’s foodbanks fed 346,992 people nationwide, of which 126,889 were children. These shocking figures show the extent of poverty in the UK, with half a million people now relying on emergency food parcels for help. For me, these stats are outrageous; my heart sank further after reading Jamie’s story. He says, “If there were no foodbank, I’d have to steal something to feed my family.” With overwhelming evidence, the simple reality is that foodbanks help prevent crime, housing loss, family breakdown and mental health problems. A simple box of food makes a big difference.
Food has become an extraordinarily complex and emotive subject, full of contradictions. Cookery books dominate the bestseller lists, and there are whole television channels dedicated to programmes about cooking. Yet stats also inform us that obesity – especially childhood obesity – is turning into a serious national epidemic. So, how it is that children in parts of our country are suffering from malnutrition, if we live in times of enough food for all? Are we confused about what constitutes ‘healthy eating’; confused by the labelling on the food we buy; confused about what the solutions might be? How is it that the cost of buying good, wholesome food is so expensive, and whose fault is it? These questions need answering, and a response is needed from both Church and State.
Churches should recover the ministry of hospitality and compassion. Could it be that our comfortable lives means fewer join us around our dinner tables? And that we don’t open our homes as frequently to those in need, because it messes with our schedules? Whether busy or not, we need to hold ourselves accountable to the ministry of Christ. As believers, we should intentionally seek out those who need our help. Whether you do this as a church or as an individual, the point is do something, maybe consider the Trussell Trust, who partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide.
As for a State response, I have to agree with Rev Dr Kathy Galloway, who recently reiterated, “The great community problem of our modern world is how to share bread.” We know that the gap between the rich and poor, after thirty post-war years of narrowing, has been followed by years of widening, so wide that there has never been a time in human history when it was so great, or affected so many people. Food is a basic sustenance of humanity. “Bread for myself,” wrote a great Russian thinker, “is a physical question; bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question.”
My neighbour’s lack of bread, my neighbour’s struggle for the means of life, is, spiritually speaking, my question. It is for this reason the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign was launched. Nearly one billion people go to bed hungry every night, and three million children die from malnutrition every year. Political leaders need to act on the four big issues that mean so many people do not get enough food.
Enough Food For Everyone
- IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger, and help the poorest families feed themselves.
- IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries, and pay what is due.
- IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land, and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars.
- IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food. For more information, go to www.enoughfoodif.org.
The problem of how to share bread is not a new one. The Gospel reminds us of Jesus feeding the crowds by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has to live with the huge tensions that were erupting round about Him; struggling to find time and space for solitude and prayer; reaching out in compassion to the people who crowded round Him wherever He went, full of need and a reawakened hope. And the Scriptures record that everyone ate.
It is, I think, one of the most beautiful images in the Bible, this picture of sufficiency, of sharing, of a basic need satisfied – no one going hungry, and some left over. Now pause for thought, and don’t just imagine it; be part of making it happen in your communities!
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church Advocacy at Christian Aid