By: Ellen Teague
“Supermarkets are far too powerful, and faith groups can support the growth in alternative food sources” suggested the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, at the Westminster Justice and Peace Annual Day on Saturday.
In an event asking the question: ‘How does our weekly food shop affect the planet?’ food journalist Sheila Dillon criticised Tesco’s control of 38% of the UK food market, saying “this is way above what the Monopoly Commission says is a monopoly”. She deplored the poor quality of much cheap and processed food, and the low wages of supermarket employees, describing the current model as being “very destructive in stopping people from eating better”. She also felt that the UK government has failed to control supermarkets, putting the interests of “Tesco and their chums” ahead of consumers. “This is why I am now interested in alternatives,” she said, “such as farmers’ markets, box schemes and the Food for Life programme in schools”. She described The Food Programme, which has two million listeners every Sunday lunchtime, as looking at the world through food.
The Westminster Day attracted around 100 participants from around the archdiocese and it took its focus on food from July’s annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network, ‘Our Daily Bread – Food Security, People and Planet’. Another speaker, Christine Allen, Executive Director of Progressio, called for more support for small-scale agriculture and gave the example of Malawi, where government support for organic agriculture has led to more emphasis on composting systems than on imported fertilisers and to raised farmers’ incomes.
“Large-scale technology is not always the answer” she said. The latest Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, was quoted in its call for fair trade and greater financing for agricultural development. Also, the Pope’s annual message for World Food Day, released on 15 October, where he brought attention to “one of the most urgent goals for the human family: freedom from hunger”. Progressio promotes food sovereignty, where communities in the global south are supported in taking control over their food, using a diversity of production methods.
The third speaker, eco-theologian Edward Echlin, himself an organic food grower, touched on themes from his latest book, Climate and Christ, by urging that food be sourced as close to home as possible and be respectful of the earth and community of creatures. He practices what he preaches, growing vegetables and 90 varieties of fruits organically in his garden in East Sussex. He also supports the Christian Ecology Link LOAF principles for sourcing food, that is food which is Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly, and Fairly traded.
Bishop George Stack, the Honorary Chair of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, described the day as “a very vibrant expression of what Pope Benedict said in his recent address in Westminster Hall, where he expressed the willingness of the Catholic Church to enter into a conversation with UK people on issues of living together in unity and with justice”.
The venue was the West Green parish of St John Vianney where parishioners laid on a tasty international lunch which included the West African dishes of ‘Moi Moi’ and roasted goat meat. And over lunch, participants visited resource stalls run by a range of justice and peace groups including Progressio, CAFOD, Columban Justice and Peace and Pax Christi.
Parish priest Fr Joe Ryan, who heads the Justice and Peace Commission, said the day followed on from other annual days on ‘Creation Theology’ and ‘Living Simply’. These have led him to start up a parish garden growing fruit and vegetables and he showed off his current crop of potatoes, carrots and apples. He and fieldworker Barbara Kentish also pushed for more parishes in the archdiocese to embrace fair trade. It was announced that 74 out of Westminster’s 216 parishes are now Fair Trade parishes and the goal is 120, which would mean Westminster becoming a Fair Trade Archdiocese, along the lines of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland. A diocesan environment policy is also being developed.