Gateshead Foodbank did a presentation at Deanery Synod on Thursday night and showed bits of the DVD they are about to launch about their work. It showed one of the guys who has been receiving help from Foodbank, a young man sponsored by the Probation Service. He was doing a course in South Shields, learning how to work a fork lift truck, and was more or less guaranteed a job at the end, but while he was still doing the course, he didn’t have a lot of money. After his benefits had covered his housing and transport costs, there was nothing left to buy food. So the Foodbank had helped to support him through the difficult times. The local Probation service believe that the Foodbank has helped keep people on the straight and narrow, because they haven’t had to thieve for food. That, my friends, is a result!
Food is a really basic need. You can’t live without it! We are very dependent on those who produce our food, from farmers to factories to supermarkets, take-aways and restaurants. And the politics of food is very complex.
There is the issue of fair trade: Do we buy the cheapest food we can, or do we pay a little extra to make sure the producer gets a fair price? Some people don’t have a choice – if you are struggling to pay your bills, you get the cheapest food you can. And food prices have risen significantly over the last year.
There is the issue of proper care for animals which are part of the food chain: Britain has complied with EU regulations about getting rid of the battery method of keeping chickens for eggs. But not all EU countries have. So there are still eggs in the food chain that have come from chickens kept in cruel conditions.
There is the issue of food miles: food is brought to our supermarkets from all over the world. This has opened up to us a much wider choice of foods that could never grow in Britain, but it has also meant cheaper foreign stuff supplanting the provision of locally grown produce, with the added costs of transportation and using up precious fuel resources.
And that relates to the issue of seasonality. Do you remember seasons, when you could buy different fruit and veg at different times of the year when they came into season? And now you can buy strawberries at Christmas, brought in from far away places, with hardly any flavour.
And over the last couple of years, we have become more aware that people in our country, which is wealthy compared to most of the world, do not have enough money to buy food. We have noticed that the recent changes in the benefit system have put more pressure on people at the bottom of the heap.
Gateshead Foodbank has been open and running for almost a year. It gave out food for the first time on 15 November last year. I volunteer with them once a month, helping to give out food. Other people in the area help with supermarket collections, or organising the food in the warehouse. Churches, including ourselves, have collected food, and I know myself of individuals who have given generously and sacrificially to give food to others. Other people help financially – we as a church have given some of our charity money to Foodbank and others give a little bit each month by Standing Order or Direct Debit – and this money helps to cover the overheads. It has been inspiring to see the way the churches in Gateshead have come together to support this important project.
Celebrating Harvest reminds us where our food comes from ultimately, that God is the source of everything we have, the generous giver of everything we need. As we saw in the Old Testament reading, the Jewish faith built in a harvest thanksgiving right from the early days, to give thanks for all that God had given. And that’s what we are doing today, bringing to mind all that we have received and saying thank you to God. The Jewish people were encouraged to remember the hard times in the past, and how God had helped and supported them through that, and now they were settled and could grow food for themselves. Harvest reminds us of the good times and the tough times. And it reminds us of who God is for us, Creator and Carer.
And because everything we have, every meal we eat, every snack we enjoy, has come from God, then it matters that the process of growing and distributing the food is done in God’s way, in a fair and just way. It matters that we share what we have. It matters that we help those who have nothing.
The Harvest Gospel reading reminds us who Jesus is for us, the Bread of Life, who satisfies all our hungers: physical, spiritual, emotional. We come together each week to eat at His Table; we eat the bread which is his body and drink the wine that is his blood. He feeds us and nurtures us, so that we can be His body in the world, so that we can take his love and care out to our neighbours and to the strangers in our streets, so that we can get involved in Foodbank, or take the vegetables to the Cyrenians.
And there is another harvest, the harvest of our souls. We too are the fruit of the earth, and God is hoping for a good harvest from St Chads, happy, healthy, wholesome people who shine with his love, who can reach out to others, who are confident because they know that God loves them utterly.
When the angel with the sickle comes for you, what kind of fruit can he expect?
Photo: Barley & Weeds by Jeff Lowndes