Friday, 18 November 2011

Food as a moral issue

Food and food econony is definitely in the headlines at the moment; how we feed ourselves , the nation and the world is making the news much more frequently. Radio 4 promoted the toast sandwich this week, an apparently "healthy" snack consisting of a thin slice of toast between two pieces of bread. The fact that this repast was Mrs. Beeton's answer to Victorian austerity was a stark reminder that the kind of squeeze on food bills that the average Briton is facing bears no real comparison to the food poverty of the past, or to that faced in so many other parts of the world. During the Second World War, the food writer MFK Fisher recommended that people should breakfast on piles of toast or a large bowl of porridge, explaining that "You can be lavish because the meal is inexpensive."  It is the same principle as the toast sandwich.
Food shortages and the rising cost of food worldwide provides a grim backdrop to the growing need for practising thrift and avoiding wastefulness. Children still regularly die of starvation and in many parts of the world families struggle to feed their children. This is nothing new, the poor always have and always will be with us and most of us -  I include myself - are quite good at ignoring the fact.
 It is, therefore, positive that we are beginning to be more aware of how we manage food as a resource and that this is being highlighted as an important social, political and moral issue.  We still  need to seriously rethink some of our attitudes to food, for example there have been moves to try to reduce the scandalous waste in British households by axing over cautious "Best before" labels on food and encouraging supermarkets to be more ethical in the way they source and manage food.
An event that took place today in Trafalgar Square , the biblically named Feeding the 5000, aimed to highlight the  practice of supermarkets discarding "imperfect" vegetables by cooking and serving a free lunch made of wonky carrots and other weirdly shaped foodstuffs. The thought that a rather delicious free lunch would otherwise have ended up as landfill, something which happens every day and which damages the environment as well as wasting good food, really should make us stop and think! Just because we are able to afford to waste food - and  a lot of people in Britain still are in that position - does not make it alright to waste food. The reading  this week shows us that we will be judged on the extent to which we have tried to to meet both physical and spiritual needs of others. It is also clear that when we are told :"I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me", it is simply not going to be good enough to say that we were too busy enjoying our riches, building our careers, stuffing our faces, or generally looking after ourselves to notice...


  1. Very well said, Sue. Growing up as I did in a fairly large working-class family just after the war, food was definitely not something I ever saw wasted. The lessons learned then sank so deeply that I still cannot bear to see food wasted. I hadn't heard of Feeding the 5000 before, so thanks for telling me. I will investigate further, as it's something I too feel strongly about.

  2. This post and Perpetua's comment on it resonated with me on every point.
    We are such a terribly wasteful society, rightly named 'the throw away society', but those of us who have known lean times and scanty pickings can never really belong to such a world.
    I wrote a post a year ago called "Waste not, want not" which dealt with wastefulness as a way of life, it is an attitude which has to change and soon, before it is too late.
    I would not want to return to the austerity which governed my youth but the pendulum has swung too far.

  3. Thanks to both. I remember that post, Ray.
    Sue!(blog is again rejecting comments under my name...)