Who bears the cost of our food in the UK if it takes over 5 times as much energy to provide our food than we get from it and can blight the lives of producers?
Cost to our planet
The cost of our food extends far beyond our own bank balance. According to the 2016 Living Planet report of WWF, we require over one and a half planets to maintain our average lifestyle across the world, rather more than was made available to us in:
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31 (NIV)
Over half of the demand on planet Earth comes from the carbon crop required for our energy demands. The late Sir David MacKay in “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” estimated that each day in the UK we each consume about 195 kWh in what we do and what we have. The biggest items are transport, heating/cooling and all our stuff. Then comes food (15 kWh). Land, fishing grounds and energy demands for our food add stress to our world. Over half of the energy demand for food is for meat, and that is 15 times more than the energy we derive from it!
Cost to the poor
In the UK our personal demands are nearly 3 times the world average. This is close to four and a half times our share of our world. This is considerably less that the demands of a citizen of the USA, and much more than one from China. There are many, many losers. Some of the countries whose demands are lower, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and India are sources for some of our foodstuffs. Their low demands and lower incomes are a real cost to their people.
14Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
In this remarkable, humanitarian passage from Deuteronomy, we are told of God’s concern for proper treatment of the poor and needy, and this is consolidated too in the letter of James:
27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
An unbearable cost
Exploitation can have a very violent face. Human trafficking is thought to be the second largest source of illegal income, exceeded only by drugs. Over a third of the cacao that makes the world’s chocolate comes from Côte d’Ivoire, and thousands of boys as young as 10 years old from there and neighbouring countries are trafficked to harvest these beans. How the prophet Micah would have raged!
8He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God
Cutting the cost
This is so stark! And the responsibility is laid at our door to work out what to do, and then to do it.
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Our own lifestyle choices can make an impact. We can reduce the burden on our world (e.g. WWF) and the exploitation of people (Stop the Traffik) in poorer countries by the type of food we eat, and to use ethical sources (e.g. Fair Trade ). For the sake of God’s people and his planet it must be worth the effort!
Co-authored with Meghan Elkin