OK, we’ve all made jokes about eating horse meat. We all recognise there’s a serious issue about labelling and fraud. There may well be a serious criminal conspiracy at work, and I’m sure more raids and arrests will follow. But are there deeper issues which we particularly as Christians should think and pray about? I believe there are.
First of all, there is a question of power. In the complex world of food production it is the endplayer in the process – i.e. the supermarkets who hold the whip hand. If you want any proof at this, look at all the stories in the past few years about the prices get paid for their milk. Here is the most recent one which shows the issue still hasn’t been settled. It’s little wonder suppliers are tempted to take shortcuts or engage in dubious practice.
Secondly, there is a question of stewardship. OK, we can say the Bible was written in an age where agricultural practice was a lot simpler. But we ignore at our peril it’s teaching about taking good care of God’s creation. We need to ask questions about how our food is produced and care a lot more about how it ends up on our plate. Should we be content for meat to be slaughtered in Romania, processed in France, packaged in Luxembourg and sold as a ready meal in England? And if not, what is the alternative? We tend to write off food issues as being a rural concern, but they are something that affect us all, city dweller or not.
Thirdly, there is a question of justice. Speaking personally, I love going round farmers’ markets. I enjoy the idea of the slow food movement. Foxes notwithstanding, I find keeping chickens emotionally satisfying. But food produced in this way is expensive. It is those with least who buy the most processed food, if nothing else because you have a fixed meal at a fixed price, and that’s important when every penny counts. Some of the answer lies in the commendable initiatives to teach cooking and make it part of the school curriculum. But we have to deal with an attitude that for too long has not really cared that much about what goes into the diet of the poorest people, or blamed them for the choices they have made.
And fourthly, there is a question of governance. We are all sinners, we are all affected by self-interest. That is why in a matter as important as food, we need independent, enforceable food regulation. Yet at this article in the Guardian shows, not even this current scandal seems to be slowing the move towards self-regulation. We live in an age of cutbacks where the role of government is being slimmed down. I hope I am proved wrong, but this could turn out to be a serious false economy.