With COP26 dominating the news, and warnings about our planet’s future grabbing headlines, what can we learn about caring for the environment from the Bible, and what steps can we ourselves take to help?
The Bible and COP
In the Old Testament, God gives some very specific instructions to His people on caring for the land that He has given them. For example, in Exodus 23:10-11 we read:
‘For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.’
One of the key talking-points of COP26 is how poorer nations can be helped at the same time as the environment is protected because they are the ones most exposed to the damaging effects of global warming. Here in Exodus, over 3,000 years ago, the same issues – social justice and concern for the environment – are being linked together by the Lord. He admonishes the Israelites to treat nature with respect, not overworking it, and that this restraint is to the benefit of ‘the poor among [the] people’.
What’s more, all Israelite families inherited a part of the Promised Land. So these instructions in Exodus were applicable to the vast majority – each one could, and should, make a difference. Now we too know that we each have a role to play, especially those of us who have a stake in the carbon-intensive lifestyles of the developed world.
So, what can we do with food to help give the land rest and benefit the poor amongst our global community? Here are six ideas to get started with!
Location, location, location! Where is your food coming from? Your average avocado will have travelled over 5,000 miles to reach the supermarket shelves before you buy it. Not only that, but it also takes roughly 30-60 gallons of water to grow a single avocado, which has led to water shortages in countries like Peru and Chile.
Thankfully, supermarkets are required to put on packaging where items have come from, so, where you can, look to buy things made close to home. And if you are lucky enough to live near a farmer’s shop, then you will know exactly where your food has come from!
Eat with the seasons
You may be thinking ‘these strawberries are grown in the UK so they must have a lower carbon footprint’. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. The emissions made to grow a crop like strawberries in the UK when they are out of season are even higher than the emissions to transport them here from countries like Spain, Israel and Morocco where they remain in season. This is because they have to be grown in greenhouses that require electricity to be kept warm.
Fortunately, there are many great resources on seasonality so you can find out what food is seasonal in the UK at different times of the year. It may mean trying some new meals during the winter months, but discovering some new recipes and food types is a tasty way to help save the planet!
Simplicity is best
Many of us will be aware of the negative impact eating meat can have on our carbon footprint. However, satisfying our cravings for meat with fake meat products may not help much as the environmental cost of using a vegan mince substitute compared to using meat itself is not that different. On the other hand, using lentils or chickpeas, for example, would be far more beneficial to the planet (not to mention cheaper too!).
Grow your own
Now I know this isn’t an option for everybody and you may be sat in your flat right now as you read this wondering how you could ever grow own. But fear not! Simply growing your own herbs rather than buying them from the supermarket would be a step in reducing your own carbon footprint. Herbs from the supermarket come in single use plastics, which are obviously bad for the planet, and can travel a long way to reach us (I just looked at the tarragon in my fridge – it came from Ethiopia but could have come from my windowsill!). Once you’ve got your own herbs growing then you will never have to buy them again.
So much of our diets comes from the same vegetables and animals. Not only is a diverse diet better for the environment but it allows you to try new and exciting food you may never have eaten before. Next time you’re at the chippy why not try pollock instead of cod. For your roast on Sunday, you could have roast goose instead of chicken and serve it with some roast Jerusalem artichokes or kohlrabi. Little steps like this can go a long way in helping to reduce the mass production of a limited range of foods in unsustainable ways and change the minds of the big food suppliers so that they diversify their produce.
When choosing a restaurant to eat at always go for those with a smaller menu as this will mean less waste, and look to see if they mention that they are getting their food from the UK. Steer clear of big chains, especially fast-food ones. In an ideal world I would say only eat at sustainable, vegan restaurants but sadly these are few and far between, so as mentioned previously, choose the less popular food items. If you do find that there are more eco-friendly restaurants opening in your area, I would recommend supporting them.
In summary, there are of course many caveats to all these ideas, and budget particularly will play a big part in how we pursue a more carbon neutral life-style. But be encouraged! As we all start taking steps, even small ones, change will begin to happen. There is no magic solution to suddenly change the world but by following simple steps like these we can start to give creation the space it needs to recover and the poor the chance they need to prosper.