If anyone gives up something at Lent, my guess is 90% of the time it is some sort of foodstuff or beverage. This time of year is so often focussed on food. And maybe that is right, because food is such a problem for us in today’s society. People eat too much, or the wrong things. Other people don’t eat enough, or the right things.
Across the world, it is estimated that half of all children under 5 who die, do so because they haven’t had enough to eat – that is 3 million children across the world each year. It is scandalous, because the world produces enough food for everyone – it is just that there are people and countries who eat more than they need, or worse still who throw away food they don’t want. Not eating enough is a problem in this country too, people are dying right now because of it. Malnutrition is listed as a contributing cause on people’s death certificate in over 350 cases each year. And poor nutrition also affects many people’s health and wellbeing. But there is no famine in this country, only that not everyone has access to enough or the right food.
Another problem is that there is an awful lot of food wasted in this country. Every family throws away in a year over £450 worth of food that could have been eaten. That adds up to over 7 million tonnes of food waste, of which about 4.5 million tonnes could have been eaten. That’s just from homes - it doesn’t take into account the waste from supermarkets, which it is estimated comes to about 250,000 tonnes – and only a tiny proportion (about 5%) of that is given to charities.
I believe that God wants us to re-adjust the way we approach food, to change the way we treat food. For that reason, food was a subject of Jesus’ teaching on a number of occasions (generally making an analogy between our relationship with God and having a satisfying meal, epitomised with the statement that He is the Bread of Life). More often, though, Jesus taught about all sorts of subjects while he was having a meal with people. Whether it was a wedding feast at Cana, or the Last Supper, or at a dinner party at the house of a Pharisee, or going round to Zacchaeus’ place for tea, Jesus sets a wonderful example in all kinds of contexts, of sharing meals with other people. Food and hospitality go hand in hand. Jesus is all about hospitality and welcome.
Discussions are advancing in the community here in Blacon for the need for a People’s Pantry. The idea is it would be a place where affordable good (including fresh) food can be readily and cheaply available. It is right that as a church we demonstrate God’s concern for everyone’s welfare and everyone’s health (both physical and spiritual) by being at the forefront of plans to develop this service. It is right that this Lent we change our approach to food, using our fasting to re-adjust our focus. May each of us not only pay attention to our own diet, but also what those around us eat, or do not eat, and let us be encouraged to do something to change it.