I’ve recently returned home from a few weeks away. As we all know, coming home means that things need to be done again. My task for this morning (after Bible Study at the Care Home) was grocery shopping.
To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of this task at the best of times. But it always needs to be done. I try to be intentional about what I purchase, and where. I’m one of those folks that you see in the aisles, reading every label. I’m one of those folks who prefers to shop in the smaller, local store, rather than just stock up when I’m in the city.
Why do I read the labels? Why does it matter? Because I care about what’s going into my food. Partially because I am a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) – by choice. Partially because I have food allergies – I’m allergic to wheat. Now both wheat and meat can sneak into unlikely products, so a quick read prevents any potential problems for me. I also read labels to find out where my food was grown or produced, so I can support local farmers. And, finally, I read food labels to decide if it’s healthy or not – if I can neither pronounce nor identify an ingredient, I tend not to eat it.
So my food shopping takes me longer than it does most people. But it’s worth it to me, because I know that I am making informed choices about what I eat. I’m making informed choices about supporting local economy, about what I will and will not support about food additives, and corporate social responsibility, and environmental impacts, and fair trade… the list goes on. But it’s intentional, because of who I am and what I believe.
God calls for us to live in community, and to love our neighbour. I believe that this can be much more difficult in today’s globalised society than we realise. And the grocery store is a perfect place to examine how we understand ‘community’ and ‘neighbour’. We’re invited to consider how our purchases impact other people and places around the globe – and I believe that these are part of my community. And as part of my loving my neighbour, I need to know how my food purchases impact God’s people and God’s creation.
I need to know that if I purchase fruit that’s exotic or out of season, it has likely used more weight in fuel than the fruit itself just to ship it; and that it was picked over a week ago and has been travelling. When I buy coffee or sugar, I need to know that if it’s not certified as fairly traded, that it likely was grown and picked by folks living in slave-like conditions. When I buy non-organic fruits and vegetables, I need to know that it’s common practice to cover the plants with all sorts of chemicals during their growth to enhance their size or colour, to increase uniformity in size and shape, to preserve shelf life; without regard for the long-term condition of the land or the sustainability of the farm or the taste of the food itself.
I need to know that making these purchases can be damaging. To people, to the earth; to my community, to my neighbour. I need to know that I can do better, as a Christian, as a member of the local community.
And so I shop in the local store, with a smaller selection and sometimes higher prices – and people I know, and local options.
And I read the labels, to be sure that what I’ll be eating is actually healthy food, and that it has been provided with respect for it’s producers.
And often I do without the fancier treats, like strawberries in January or overseas snacks – and I know that I am more in sync with what the earth is capable of providing in this part of the world at whatever season it is.
And I celebrate the nourishment I receive, not just in the physical form of what will go into my body, but also in the spiritual form of knowing that I have made choices that celebrate my place within the community, and which demonstrate a love for my neighbour.
And I give thanks to God for the blessing of that nourishment.