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54 | Loaf Principles
by Edward Echlin
Christ's example, especially his shared meals
and his Last Supper, shows that eating and drinking glorifies
God. Zambian Jesuits defended food's sacredness recently,
at a Vatican conference on genetic modification: 'there
are other and more suitable ways to feed a hungry world
than adopting genetic engineering of crops. Food is not
merely another economic commodity governed in its production
and distribution by the laws of the market. Since it is
essential to life, it is both a sacred entity and a global
For sustainable food, use the Christian
Ecology Link LOAF Principles:
As God's representatives, responsible for the flourishing
of the whole earth community, we live sustainably locally.
We conduct a cosmic liturgy, as 'the explicit voice of creation's
praise', in the words of Pope John Paul II. We praise God
best, through our food, when we know the growers, the farms,
plants, animals, markets, and retailers in our locality.
Living sustainably locally, with both wild and cultivated
nature, especially in buying, growing, preparing, sharing,
and consuming local food, is the best, most holistic way
to serve God and neighbour. We're sometimes told, by big
business and their politicians, to permit TNCs (transnational
corporations) to tinker with genes, seeds, soil, plants,
and animals, in order to 'feed the world'. We best feed
the world, however, by encouraging local use of local food
grown everywhere according to local wisdom.
Local food eliminates the climate damage of air and lorry
food (and tourism) miles. Local food exposes the two lethal
fallacies of current globalisation: 1) that industrial,
'out of the bag' agribusiness can continue indefinitely.
In fact it cannot; and 2) there will always be abundant
food to import, through fossil fuelled air and lorry freight.
In fact there will not.
But how in practice do we support, purchase, and eat local
food? As a general rule, follow 'the proximity principle'.
Avoid air freight. As an example of import folly, I have
seen Egyptian potatoes on sale in Dublin -- in the heartland
of the spud! Buy potatoes, sprouts, carrots, cabbage, strawberries,
apples, pears, and all the vegetables and fruit that thrive
here, from our own bio-region. Find local greengrocers,
butchers, cheese and fish shops. Some still exist!
Attend your monthly Farmers' Market, buy food and drink
from local growers. Encourage veggie boxes. Even supermarkets
now supply some British apples, beef, fowl, and Scottish
organic salmon. Read the labels and - follow the proximity
principle. During the spring 'food gap', when freshness
is scarce and expensive, you may have to source from southern
Europe - but 'thus far shall you go and no farther'. We're
proximity principle people.
Finally, and importantly, grow some of your own. Most people
can prepare, or borrow, a 3ft by 20ft sunny raised bed,
where you can deposit compost, and intensively grow and
rotate a surprising amount of supplementary fruit and vegetables.
Transporting one kilo of apples from New Zealand adds one
kilo of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. Fruit from local
trees emits none, indeed the leaves absorb some. Growing
fruit and vegetables teaches children - and their teachers
- the restraints and tenderness demanded if human life is
to endure much longer on this planet.
Once we get the 'locally produced' right, the rest of the
LOAF breaks smoothly. Organic growing works with and not
against nature, organic growers resonate with the rest of
the soil community, supplying humus, leaf mould, other organic
residues, and harvested rain to the soil. Organic growers
feed, nourish, cultivate, protect, and encourage the soil
- for soil is a teeming bio-diverse community, which includes
humans, God's responsible representatives, as large soil
But again the practical question - how to purchase, and
encourage, organic food? If near farms, buy from farm shops,
like Westfield Organics, Fadmore, Yorkshire; or Norwood
Farms, Norton St Philips, Somerset. If, like most, you're
in megalopolis, try local wholefood shops. Investigate the
'veggie box' system in your area. Enjoy boxes of seasonal
organic food delivered weekly to a designated agent, such
as a health food shop, or directly to your home. Some supermarkets
source organic fresh and processed food. Some have received
commendations from the Soil Association. Sainsbury's say
they try to source most of its meat and dairy products from
the UK, and also pledges to take no extra profit from organic
food. The same company pledges to take no extra profit from
organic food. When sourcing supermarket organics, follow
the proximity principle. Better to buy some British apples
than airfreight organics from Australia or Israel. But tell
your customer relations representative that you want more
British organic apples. And plant some fruit of your own.
Our fellow sensate creatures are so closely related, so
interdependent with us, so vulnerable to human actions,
that we owe them special care, vigilance, restraint, and
attention. Some people who use the LOAF principles are vegetarian.
Others, anxious about the calves and chicks, are vegan.
Most try to eat local, humanely reared and culled meat and
fish, eschewing intensification, lorry transport, and distant,
impersonal abattoirs. Abattoirs still need improvement and
local re-instatement, even in Britain.
Fish farming requires surveillance. All industrial fishing
plunders the seas, destroying whatever gets in the way,
scrapes sea-beds, demolishes reefs, and, in brief, destroys
marine life and habitats now and for the future. Some fish
farms pollute the sea, decimate small fish as food, and
contaminate wild fish stocks. Local fish merchants often
know the sources and ethics of their suppliers. Some supermarkets
sell organically farmed fish.
Following the proximity principle, trying to be organic,
and animal friendly, we're already partly fairly trading.
There will always be food that cannot be produced, in quantity,
in northwestern Europe, including bananas, citrus fruits,
dates, cocoa, olives, pineapples, cranberries, tea, and
coffee. Here too the LOAF principles apply. Traidcraft now
supplies fairly traded coffee, tea, chocolate, and bananas.
Green and Black sell organic, fairly traded chocolate. Avoid
the big, white, chemical saturated, monocropped 'Cavendish'
bananas sold through supermarkets by a few rapacious food
Some developing countries need currency to purchase pharmaceuticals,
medical equipment, alternative energy technologies, and
laboratory equipment. And we need foods only they can supply.
Source, following the proximity principle, only sustainably
grown imported food, and with just wages. Processing should
be done by the exporting people, and be paid for by importers.
There remain differences about how much trade is 'really
necessary', and how rigorously the proximity principle need
be applied. There is agreement that the LOAF principles
are right: food should be fairly traded.
Jesus celebrated communal meals often with his followers.
There is special praise of God in sharing sustainably produced
meals, complementary to the praise of mountains, rivers,
fields, and animals. Living sustainably locally symbolises
our future when living water flows from the Lamb's throne,
with monthly fruiting trees on each bank, and leaves for
the healing of nations.
Edward P. Echlin is Honorary Research
Fellow in Theology, University College of Trinity and All
Saints, Leeds; Chair of Catholic Concern for Animals; author
of Earth Spirituality, Jesus at the Centre (John Hunt, 1999);
'The Cosmic Circle, Jesus and Ecology' (Columba, 2004) and member of the Henry Doubleday Research Association,
the Soil Association, and Christian Ecology Link.
Issue 54: Spring 2004