26th March 2013 | Dave Bookless | 9 comments

A Horse! A Horse! God’s Kingdom for a horse?

It began as a peculiarly British panic about horsemeat contaminating other meat products, and the chance for some very British bad puns. What other country would be so bothered about ‘My Little Pony’ in their lasagne or ‘Black Beauty’ burgers?

Cheeseburger: tell us what you’re really made of… (photo by Evan-Amos)

Yet, #horsegate has become a pan-European scandal of producers, suppliers, and manufacturers, and revealed the complexity of our globalised food system. It’s not just about horsemeat, or a one-off criminal conspiracy, but about the whole way in which food is produced. Most urbanised citizens of industrialised nations have no idea where their food comes from. It is collective denial, because if we really did know we might have to do something about it.

So, should Christians care about what they eat? When Jesus said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them”, did he mean there are no moral issues around food? Not at all, Jesus was contrasting Old Testament dietary rules with the importance of acting and speaking rightly. Producing and eating food is essential to the way God has made us. What we eat and how we eat it speaks about our deepest values and relationships – with our neighbours in a world where millions go hungry, with fellow creatures who are often the victims of our desire for cheap convenient food, and with God.

Yet there is no issue I’ve struggled more to get Christians to take seriously. Many think carefully about the ethics of poverty, of sexual relationships, even of climate change, but producing and eating food – despite being perhaps the most sacred act we daily perform – is always overlooked. We could do with listening to Wendell Berry: “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skilfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.” [1]

I’ve taken the liberty of adapting some food principles that Wendell Berry suggests.[2] Let me know what you think, and how you get on:

God’s Kingdom may not be a “matter of eating and drinking” in terms of ritual purity, but it is indeed a matter of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NIV). Righteousness demands the right-treatment of animals, justice for farmers and producers, and respect for consumers. Peace and joy in the Holy Spirit include being mindful of God’s plans for peace – shalom – throughout creation, and the joy of eating and sharing good food with a clear conscience.

[1] Berry, Wendell (1981). The Gift of Good Land – Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, p. 281

[2] Berry, Wendell (1990). What are People For? New York: North Point, pp. 145-152

Categories: Reflections
About Dave Bookless

Dave has worked with A Rocha since 1997, first as an International Trustee, then from 2001 with A Rocha UK as co-founder (with his wife Anne), National Director, and then Director for Theology, Churches & Sustainable Communities. He joined the A Rocha International team in September 2011. His role as Advisor for Theology and Churches includes providing advice and resources for ARI’s Trustees, Team and national A Rocha organisations, and coordinating liaison with international theological and mission networks and organisations. He is also studying for a part-time PhD at Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation.

View all posts by Dave Bookless

9 responses to “A Horse! A Horse! God’s Kingdom for a horse?”

  1. Definitely God cares both what we eat and where we get it from. I’m focusing more and more, myself, on that intersection of where faith meets food.

  2. Lilo Horsch says:

    Thanks for this post. It makes me say “Yes, Amen!” It brings joy if we start to buy, prepare and eat with more awe for food and the one who lets everything grow.

  3. Mel says:

    Thanks, Dave. Lots to “chew” on! Love Wendell Berry…

  4. Gillian Dyer says:

    So no more tea, coffee, chocolate, HUGE etc even if it’s Fairtrade because it’s not indigenous food and can never be truly locally sourced? This way we can be smug about our green credentials because we’re not contributing to the fuel spent on transporting these food items. We can also leave poverty stricken peoples dependent on the occasional charitable handout instead of giving them the dignity of working and trading their way off their plight. Shall I stop my standing order to Tearfund and other charities, stop promoting Tearcraft (I received @15% commission when I was a rep which I personally donated back to Tearfund) so goodness knows what the other middle men were paid for their work. Far too simplistic on this point I’m afraid Dave.

    • Dave Bookless says:

      Hi Gillian, I think you’re misrepresenting me. I am totally in favour of Fairtrade and strongly support it both personally and in my writing and speaking. What I say above is that we should buy or grow locally where we can – and of course coffee, tea, chocolate and many other products which can’t be produced locally should be Fairtrade. However, Fairtrade also has limits – it doesn’t take account of environmental impact, and therefore can (as with non-native flowers grown in tropical climates) lead to long-term declines in water-tables or soil-fertility that will actually cause greater poverty in the long-term (not to mention the devastating impact of climate change on poor communities and the contribution of air-transport to this). We need food-growing systems that not only provide incomes now but will provide sustainable incomes in generations to come.

    • Júlio Reis says:

      One of the things that European powers did with their colonies was turn them into sources of raw materials, including foodstuffs like cocoa, coffee and tea. These monocultures grew to the expense of something—local ecosystems, local small-scale farming, even at the expense of the existing social fabric, where people had their lands confiscated and became plantation workers dependent on wages. Colonial powers dictated the terms of the trade and the prices for the commodities. Independence has happened, but only nominally—the power relations between countries have not changed that much. Fair trade is much better than unfair trade, but it still is trade: it involves monocultures, long-distance travel, and unequal relations between countries. From an ecological point of view, it’s best if you pick a native herb from a vase or your garden and brew a beverage with it, than to use Fairtrade™ coffee or tea. My own opinion, coloured by the fact that in my country Fairtrade is virtually nonexistent (and I do drink vast amounts of tea!).

      • Maru Barrientos says:

        Indeed I agree with many point all of you mentioned but I have been studying and working many years with Fair trade and organic certifications companies, policies, researchers, farmers of many kinds and styles being from many sides from the consumer, producer, and asessor point of views…. and I could find all kind of styles of thinking and some cases (thanks God not too many!) is hard when you discover that just was a cover without any deeply concious of caring about what are producing or seeking for just to make profitables bussiness in better way that is good but get a problem when is the only focus. But even that with christians and not christian or even if we wish or not we always get in a point we will be faced our convictions with the truth… and make the decision… and is there where the Lord brings Him as truth and hope helping everyone in do not lose the premier focus based in our deeply relationship with him in evertything we do, valid to all areas even in the way we produce our food and trade it. And I so happy to say that there a many good farmers and people really care about the all trading process, about the people and the environment…so there is a hope.

        By the way thanks Dave again for bring us to a such inner reflexion at the light of the Lord´s words.

  5. Wendell Berry – one of my favorite authors! Example to follow.

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