Roy Lambourne has been a farmer in Marsh Gibbon for his whole life, farming land that was previously farmed by his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, going back generations. He explained how climate change, population growth and global businesses mean 21st century food production is out of the hands of the primary producer and governed by large, international conglomerates.
He reminded the congregation that nearly half of food produced is wasted, with one third never reaching the shops because it is the wrong shape or is marked in some way.
“Agriculture has seemingly lost its significance – less than two per cent of the population are farmers. We are in danger of going far beond the earth’s resources as we meet the demand for food. I have often sat down to dinner and everything has been produced by myself and that is very satisfying. I consider myself fortunate to have spent my life as I have done. I have never been for a job interview, never done a CV or been employed but I have never been out of work and I have lived and worked in God’s creation.
“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven.”
Ruth Valerio is an activist who writes Bible Studies for Tearfund, said: “Food is my theology, it speaks about me and about what I believe. In my early years I was proud of a chicken that I had bought because it was so cheap. I felt I was stewarding my money well.
“I would buy packets of casserole and everything was cooked with two vegetables. Fast forward 18 years down the line and the way that it looks is very different. There have been three main changes.
“I have vastly reduced the meat that I eat. We are not vegetarians but we have made a real effort to reduce our meat consumption and eat a broader range of vegetables.
“I try to produce, grow, and rear as much of my own food as possible. There has been a lot for me to learn. I am part of a big co-operative, keep chickens and have an allotment with friends, so it’s been a wonderful adventure.
“I try to eat my food in as unprocessed a form as possible. Food is my theology because if I say I believe in God the maker of heaven and earth I want to eat in a way that reflects that.
“Food is a gift, something that has been given to us by God.” For more on Ruth see ruthvalerio.net.
The Revd Dr Mike Rainer works Monday to Friday as a public health researcher and on Sundays is an assistant curate at St Matthew’s, Oxford.
“About half the research is about food, school meals, food labelling, and food taxes. I do research that has direct bearing on government policy, sometimes it is directly funded by the Government, some has been funded by the British Heart Foudation.”
Mike says he writes sermons on food and posts them on his blog. “Something I do Monday to Sunday, at work and at church is of course, eat. At church I have bread and wine with fellow Christians and the occasional bring and share meal.
Food is a pleasure that is also somewhat problematic. I eat too much and I don’t have an allotment. I don’t grow my own food apart form a few herbs and I am partial to a Big Mac. I’m not a vegetarian. I also enjoy cooking for special occasions.
“Food is part of my work, it is the subject of my recreation and it is what keeps me alive by providing occasions for conversation and through the Eucharist it keeps me alive spiritually.”
However Mike pointed out that in the UK more than a billion people are obese.
Paul Valentin, the International Director of Christian Aid, gave a global perspective, stating that 868 million people in the world suffer from hunger. “Does that figure really matter and does it express the level of individual suffering if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from?”
He mentioned the absence of nutrients from children’s food and how Christian Aid is working together with other organisations on the ‘IF’ campaign, calling for an end to global hunger. So what does food mean to him as a person? Paul said he grew up in a loving family in Holland that never went short of food, eating seasonal vegetables, at a time 40 or 50 years ago when chicken was a luxury. He said he later learnt about olive oil from the late 1960s, when they went abroad for their holidays. “I can still hear my mother’s voice if I refused to finish a brussel sprout. We never took food for granted and always said grace before and after meals, which felt like a necessary ritual. From an early age I was an avid gardener. When I was eight or nine we had a school garden and my first harvest was of carrots, beans and beetroot.”
Paul studied topical agriculture with a view to going into i
nternational development. “My first three-and-a-half years were in Africa, living amid subsistence farmers. One year the rains failed completely and people fell hungry. They got into debt with traders, women starved themselves to feed their children but the poor are incredibly resilient.”
He spent time in Kenya and the Philippines, living among tribal people who would make a meal of ants. “Many people would only eat once a day and there was very little you could do to increase the food supply.”