Friday, February 24, 2006

Food Chains

“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6, 7

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, abstinence from rich foods – used up, so as not to be a temptation over the next forty days, on Shrove Tuesday by making pancakes…

Last year, we fasted from meat, only eating it on the Sundays [which are feast days]. But fasting is not just – perhaps not primarily – about not eating, as God makes clear in Isaiah 58. Fasting is as much about what and how we eat, as about what and when we don’t eat.

I’m struck by the thought that whenever I buy and eat fairly-traded food, I am not only loosening the chains of injustice in a literal sense, but also eating with the producers and their families in a mystical sense. [In contrast, when I eat food produced through the exploitation of the workers, I sit down to eat with the fat cats who exploit them…] These people – who I will never meet – share their food with me – a humbling thought; we do wrong to take those who produce the food we eat for granted. And I, in turn, offer my food back to them, because the fair price paid for it allows them to put food on their table.

If you are wondering what to Give Up this Lent, why not consider giving up food produced in ways that exploit the producers, and the earth? As a decision, this might inconvenience you enough [less choice] to reflect further, to pray and to act for justice. You might also consider Giving Up eating on your own [as an individual or a family], and look for opportunities to invite others – especially the physically and/or spiritually hungry – to share your food with you.

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken walls, Restorer of streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:8-12


  1. hey andrew - got any good lent resources?

    I'm looking at doing stuff with our crew around lent and haven't gelled on quite what yet

  2. Jonny Baker and tallskinnykiwi [a.k.a Andrew Jones] will almost certainly both post some resources/links immediately before, and throughout, Lent.

    Steve Taylor, who is also excellent for resources, has already posted some ideas over at e~mergent kiwi [see] - among them, "40", which is very good. But Steve is ill at present, so I'm not sure whether he'll be able to offer anything else there this time around.

    I'm thinking about writing a resource for journeying through Advent and Lent...but that's no help to you this year!

    I'm on the lookout for other resources myself - I'll let you know what I find.
    Every blessing.

  3. Fair Trade is undoubtedly a Good Thing.

    But this worries me - what happens to the exploited workers when people stop buying unethical produce? I mean, do Fair Trade bodies and pressure groups etc do anything to ensure that the pieces are picked up when the supply-and-demand chain for exploitatively-produced food dries up and the exploited workers are suddenly jobless?

    The abolition of slavery was also a Good Thing, but not all slaves actually wanted, or benefitted from their sudden freedom. Many of them just found themselves with literally nothing overnight, which is not always preferrable to having something, however bad the something might be.

    Isn't this what Blair's up to? Britain (and indeed the world) being 'made safer' simply by abolishing criminalising things. It takes all the responsibility off the baddies. Isn't there some mileage in incentivising the villains to do better, rather than penalising them (which could drive them to operate even more unethically), and, by default, their slaves/workers too?

    Maybe I'm ill-informed or naive? I'm certainly no expert. But for sure, nothing is as simple as it appears, and this issue really concerns me.

    Any thoughts?

    P.S. it's been great to read about how God's working stuff out for the Dowsett family. I pray you get a stonker of a job.

  4. Hi Ruth - thanks for your comments - far from naive, they are important issues to raise.

    I do think that companies need to be held to account - by the general public, by NGO campaigning bodies who represent some of the public, and by elected governments who represent the public when they legislate to reflect changes in public opinion.

    Rather than, say, totally boycotting Tesco [£1 in every £8 spent in the UK goes to Tesco], as customers we have a right to ask them to pay a fair price to UK and international farmers. We can use consumer power to change what we are offered - at the moment, there's a marked increase in organic goods - why not more and more fair trade goods too? Companies can change their operating culture. And where they don't, there are ethical traders and NGOs who help farmers set up their own collectives. The more we support such ethical companies, the more they can do.

    We can also influence government decisions. For example, the Make Poverty History campaign is ongoing; and TearFund are currently petitioning parliament in relation to trade legislation. There are links to both MPH and TF on my sidebar.

    You are right that there are no simple answers. Isaac Newton was wrong when he said that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction"...When it comes to [the collection of atoms we call] humans, for every action - good or bad - there are multiple and disproportionate reactions, most of which we can neither anticipate nor control. Even the action of doing nothing - which we might all choose if we allowed ourselves to be paralysed by the fear of what our intervention might unleash - effects what happens. Albert Einstein said, the best critique of the bad is to model the better. That is, perhaps, all we can do; and all that is asked of us...

  5. does cosumer power really make that much difference? i just ask that after what che ahn said last week about disney - the southern baptists boycotting disney films hasn't made any difference; the best way to change disney is to buy it. so to change tesco, pray for the right person to buy it (or at least be a new ceo).

    anyway, i was thinking about going fairtrade for lent, but then i reallised i hardly do anything different - i already get f/t tea. coffee & bananas, & i never really eat chocolate, sugar or cookies. the only thing left to do is get traidcraft muesli.

  6. You never really eat chocolate? No wonder you've been so ill so long! Chocolate is God's medicine of life.

  7. ...and there'd be a case to argue that Disney values were more healthy for America than Southern Baptist ones, too ; )

  8. 'medicine of life'? not if you're diabetic it's not