FROM THE CURATE’S HOUSE — I like cookery programmes on television. I like the kind of competitions where chefs vie to produce sumptuous menus for stylish banquets. I like them because they are not my world at all, fantastical ingredients and techniques that leave me scratching my head. This is ‘cooking for cowards’ — you see, I’m too scared to try and cook with lobster, because the price per kilo would buy me a far less stressful daily latte for a fortnight.
Food is a powerful matter for human beings. The two English words ‘food’ and ‘fodder’ come from the same root word, but to say that our meals are simply fodder for us is not the full story. Since we were hunter-gatherers, food is what brings human beings together into co-operation. We use it for sustenance, for celebration, for the everyday and for the ritual. What we eat and how we prepare it gives core social and cultural information about how we see ourselves and where we belong.
Food reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. We are interwoven into a fabric of farmers, sellers, families and faith. God’s first act after creating humanity was to present us with a menu: the fruit of all the trees in the garden. Fruit might have sufficed to sustain our lives, but God is lavish in his creativity. Every meal is an opportunity to receive God’s good gifts with thankfulness.
Food is central to our humanity. It is no surprise to find that our relationship to food shows signs of our brokenness too. We over eat, we under eat and we waste. In Ghana one in three children shows signs of chronic malnutrition in a country whose main agricultural product is cocoa bean for European chocolate bars. In the UK over the last decade, food prices have risen twice as fast as general prices, at a time when incomes have stagnated, fallen or stopped altogether because of job and welfare changes. This means that half a million people have used some kind of ‘food bank’ provision over the last twelve months, to tide them over an emergency period in which they found themselves unable to feed themselves or their children.
The latte I thought preferable to lobster? For some of our lower income families in the parish, the cost of the daily latte is more than the total budget per person available each day to feed each member of the family. I came across one family recently where the cash per day for food was £1.60 per family member. In reality, the two working parents were skipping meals to make sure their children didn’t have to. One bill out-of-the-blue sent them over the edge financially, and it was with shame and a sense of failure as a parent that mum accepted a voucher for the Community Emergency Foodbank in Holloway. Especially as she was told it is in a church, she put off going until it was too late and the Foodbank wasn’t open again for three more days. Meanwhile, Weight Watchers and Slimming World groups are preparing themselves for the annual September spike in registrations, as people’s holiday photos come back and, not liking what they see, they decide it’s time to take action.
Let me leave you with this piece of ‘food for thought’ from C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory (1949):
How shall we respond?