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PRESS RELEASE: First Faith in Food workshop inspires and challenges

November 5, 2010:

Members of the Faith in Food New York workshop learn about the urban farm run by Added Value in southern Brooklyn.

Could faith groups join together to create a trading network to source sustainably produced food?
That was one of the ideas discussed at the first Faith in Food workshop, organised by ARC and co-hosted in New York with the Jewish environmental group Hazon.

The 24 representatives of faith and environmental groups who attended the two-day workshop last week agreed it had been enormously stimulating and challenging. Three key themes emerged:

  • faiths share many common values around the sacred role of food and its role in highlighting our interdependence with the rest of creation;
  • faiths are a great deal more active in terms of providing food than has been appreciated to date; and
  • faiths have a great deal more bargaining power when it comes to purchasing food than they realise.

    Nowhere was that more clearly emphasised than when Rev Al Bailey of the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, revealed his church organises 9,000 events a year at which food is served.

    “As people of faith we share a reverence for creation and a sense of the sacredness of all life. We recognise our responsibilities to care for the Earth, our communities and our neighbours."
    This huge number of events is obviously not typical of all faith communities but many faiths provide food on a regular basis to their communities and some on an even more staggering scale than the New Psalmist Baptists - Sikh gurdwaras feed 30 million people a day in India, for example.

    When we understand the amount of food provided by faiths, it is clear that faiths are in a strong position to demand ‘food with a better story’ from their suppliers than they appreciate. That said, sometimes those suppliers simply aren’t able or willing to provide this.

    Also, it’s not always easy to source healthy, locally produced, sustainable food, especially if you are a small faith community – hence the idea of a trading network of faith groups which all have an interest in sourcing good, healthy food that honours their values. This is certainly an idea we’ll be investigating in more detail, so watch this space.

    UN Assistant Secretary-General Olav Kjorven addresses the Faith in Food workshop in New York
    Faith in Food

    The New York workshop was the first in a series of four workshops planned as part of ARC’s new Faith in Food initiative which aims to bring about a radical change in attitudes among faith communities towards food and the land it comes from.

    It is, at a personal level, about people of faith honouring their values in the food they eat.

    At an institutional level, it is about faiths developing policies to ensure the food they buy, grow or provide – for worship and celebration, and at festivals or in their restaurants and schools – does not harm the environment or exploit farm labourers or cause unnecessary suffering to animals.

    There were plenty of examples of wonderful food-related activities by faiths at the workshop, from faith-run organic farms to community supported agriculture (CSA) schemes, and social justice campaigns. But all agreed there is a great deal more that could be done.

    Reverence for creation

    The workshop included a visit to an urban farm run by non-profit sustainable development organisation, Added Value, which is a shining example of how food can be used to build community and restore a sense of purpose to young people.

    Participants left feeling inspired and energised, having drafted a collective declaration of their intention to work towards creating a more sustainable food and farming system. The declaration said:

    “As people of faith we share a reverence for creation and a sense of the sacredness of all life. We recognise our responsibilities to care for the Earth, our communities and our neighbours.

    “Every faith celebrates food as a divine gift and every faith has something powerful to say about our role in protecting, preserving and respecting the natural world.

    “We will honour our values in the food we eat and we will work to harness the power and influence of the world’s faith communities, starting with our own, to create a fairer, healthier, sustainable food and farming system for all.”

    For a longer story about the workshop, click here. To learn more about Added Value, click here and click here for the press release about the launch of Faith in Food.

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    November 5, 2010:
    Faith in Food: Press Release
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