Monday, 12 October 2015

The Changing Face of Harvest (yes it's another post about food!)

I attended our Holy Communion service celebrating Harvest yesterday, and, coupled with our Harvest Supper the previous evening, was struck by the changing face of Harvest Festival in our country and community, at least.

I don't think it was that long ago that UK residents ate seasonally as a matter of course. Before the rise and domination of supermarket shopping, the fruit and vegetables available were, originally, what was available from the farms; and later, what was available for import. Supply and demand had not reached the point where you could decide what you wanted to eat, and source it. Instead, you chose from what was available, and chose recipes accordingly.

Some households still practice this, but it's increasingly rare in 21st century living. In increasingly busy lives with a reliance on processed, pre-prepared and easy to cook food, seasonal living isn't the easy route. Spending time focusing on what will constitute the daily meal is rare. Even my French friends revealed to me this year that the concept of shopping for what one needs that day and preparing it, is dying a death even there.

So when we celebrate Harvest, we aren't thanking God after Michaelmas for everything safely gathered in at a certain seasonal point. Yes, the farmers have gathered certain grains, vegetables and fruits in the UK, and in other areas of the world. But we grow and source things all year round. So Harvest has taken on a different form - thanking God generically for what He makes available to feed us (physically and perhaps spiritually, too.) I'm not saying that giving thanks is a bad thing, but in the developed world we have moved on from those early days of Christianity where the turnips and the barley were safely gathered and stored and it was especially wonderful if the weather had provided an abundant harvest. (The story of Joseph predicting the harvests and famine found in Genesis always springs to my mind, here!)
Harvest Supper apple crumble in progress

I do, wonder, however, that if we are mindful, and truly thankful for what He provides, that we might give more thought to the seasonal, as well as liturgical, calendar. And now I'm going to get preachy. Our family has the blessing and privilege of having enough. Enough to purchase not only the food we need to sustain us, but extras, too, if we so choose. And, being human, we do sometimes choose. But as the stewards of God's earth, with enough, we spend extra money not only on 'treats', but try and act responsibly in our purchasing decisions. Spending more on free-range and organic produce isn't only something we do to help our bodies. Ethically produced, environmentally friendly and sustainably fished items benefit creation; we are taking care of the lives of the animals that feed us, and food producers. Reducing the grocery shop to a certain amount by getting a good deal at discount shops may be good family stewardship, but it isn't reflecting the true cost of food, or helping others as much as we can.

(Disclaimer: as a former vegetarian and vegan, I do appreciate there is a certain amount of irony and perhaps hypocrisy is killing animals to eat them, then proclaiming that at least they have a good life.)

We still spend our money on utter rubbish for our bodies and the world. I don't set myself up as a holy example. And we don't have to make a great sacrifice in other areas to shop seasonally and ethically. Trying to balance the family budget for a large family can be difficult in itself, let alone when trying to make further sacrifices. Some are reliant on food donations. But I remember we started out just by making a small change or two. Financially, things are not always possible. But sometimes, they don't seem possible, and God makes them so. If we can, I think we should try and return to the old ways, the old Harvest, and:

  • Shop for local produce which supports local producers and cuts down on airmiles
  • Grow our own fruit, vegetables and herbs (I don't practice what I preach here!)
  • Use a veg box scheme which helps the environment and farmers
  • Find out how and where to buy sustainable and ethically fished seafood
  • Buy organic fruit and veg which is better for the environment (and for your body I would say!)
  • Buy organic meat and eggs or the cheaper free-range version which is still better for the animals' welfare
  • Think more about what you are cooking and eating by eating seasonal foods
  • Prioritise food shopping and food preparation more in life (this is hard!)
  • Eat more vegetarian and vegan meals if you can
  • If this is too hard, eat less meat - a good organic chicken feeds six of us for 2-3 meals
  • Buy milk from the farmers and help sustain the hard-done-by dairy industry 
  • Donate good quality food - and treats - to the local food bank. Or volunteer to help there!
  • Donate to charities which help provide clean water and help people grown and source more food in the developing world.
These last two items on the list really represent to me the changing face of Harvest in another way. When I was at school, we took in fresh and tinned items to give to the elderly in the community. They were seen as the poor and needy. This week, my kids' school and our church collected items for our town charity which provides food for the needy. Particularly local families who are signed up for food parcels at the food bank. People who can't manage, locally. In our community. Despite welfare schemes and the introduction of a living wage.

4thSister kept joining our curate and priest on the stage at Harvest Supper

And our Harvest Supper supported Water Aid. Financial donations were collected to provide clean water for those who don't have it. As well as our usual charity contributions we can now say as a family that we have provided two taps! 

I truly believe that giving thanks is not just about being thankful. It is about being grateful for what we have and looking around at what others don't have, and helping out. Sometimes we may be the ones that need helping out, financially or otherwise. But if we are in the position where we can contribute to the welfare of creation - the seas, the fields, the animals, the farmers - then I really believe that we should; that we are tasked by Jesus to do it. Even if we can just pick one small thing to change, it can help have an impact. This should be the new song of harvest home.

[Edited to add - I would also like to publicly thank my husband for working extremely hard using the gifts he was born with to enable us to support ourselves and others.]

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