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Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit’s address to the Seminar on Food and Water for Life (Hong Kong, 4 May 2019)

Food is central to life and our faith. It is a blessing and a gift of God, in the form of the abundant creation which we depend on for our sustenance. Food is also a reflection of the quality of our relationships with each other- our caring for the other and the sharing of resources and the hospitality we show each other. Food is central to our worship life, our liturgy and the Eucharist, which helps us to be one with God and with each other.

04 May 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Food is central to life and our faith. It is a blessing and a gift of God, in the form of the abundant creation which we depend on for our sustenance. Food is also a reflection of the quality of our relationships with each other- our caring for the other and the sharing of resources and the hospitality we show each other. Food is central to our worship life, our liturgy and the Eucharist, which helps us to be one with God and with each other.

The great commandments are clear – and demanding.  Love God with all your heart and your soul and your will. Love your neighbor as yourself. Today we know that we cannot do this without loving God’s creation and steward the integrity of creation. We all live from nature.

The word 'Companion' is derived from Latin - 'com – panis' which literally means 'with bread' or sharing bread. The word 'Compassion' comes from the Latin 'com' and 'passus', (past participle of the deponent verb patior, patī, passus sum) ; together it means 'suffer with' or sharing in the suffering. We strive for friendship and companionship that are holistic, sharing in each other's joys and pain. A dynamic relationship with an active desire to alleviate the other's suffering, hunger, and needs.  We see Lord Jesus as a compassionate companion. Deeply aware of the suffering of others, he actively participates in liberating the world with his life and message. He teaches us to see God in others and within us and to reflect God in our lives. With his life, death, and resurrection, he demonstrated that we can all partake in this companionship and compassion and that we cannot limit these gifts to the narrow boundaries of the identities that we have created.

But food, that binds us together as communities and people of faith, manifests the great contradiction that humanity faces today. Although the world produces enough food for all, and great strides are being made in science and technology, the number of hungry people in the world is growing.   821 million or one in every nine people in the world are hungry. Limited progress is also being made in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk. Hunger has been on the rise over the past three years, returning to levels from a decade ago. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.

What can we do as people of faith, to overcome hunger, by addressing the root causes? I believe that it is only by getting our congregations and people of faith, to reflect on the critical questions on issues related to food, in the context of our faith, can we bring about transformations of societies and sustainable change to overcome hunger and inequity.

It is in this context that we developed the Ten Commandments of Food to address the existential challenge of hunger and inequity in this world in an innovative and spiritually engaging way. It helps individuals and groups look in-depth into each commandment and to read it through the lens of the Bible in the current context and to opens up discussions, to reveal challenges and opportunities, and help communities to take specific steps to make a difference in people's lives. We are grateful to the Amity Foundation, which has translated The Ten Commandments of Food and the accompanying advocacy tool into Chinese.

1. Give thanks for the food you eat.

We follow the example of Jesus and thank God for providing our daily sustenance, and we acknowledge that all things come from God (Romans 11:36). We recognize God as the source of everything we have and praying before meals help remind us of that truth. Our eating reminds us of God's goodness and makes us deeply thankful for it. "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8).

2. Eat food grown as close as possible to where you live.

There are significant economic, environmental, health and social benefits in consuming locally grown food. Food that is grown closer to home is fresher, loses fewer nutrients during transportation, and often tastes better. Purchasing food locally supports local farmers and fisherfolk, we ensure the sustainability of livelihoods of local people and prevent migration.  Locally-grown food has fewer transportation emissions associated with it.

3. Strive for all people to have knowledge about and access to affordable, nutritious food.

For far too many people and especially for those living in low-income communities, healthy food is simply out of reach. To break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, people who are poor and hungry have to be assisted through social protection to enable people to overcome poverty, hunger, and undernutrition.

Early Christians gave access to food a very high priority. The disciples assigned seven deacons with impeccable credentials for food distribution after questions were raised regarding the fairness of food distribution, and allegations rose of discrimination experienced by one group of widows with regards to receiving food rations. Stephen, the first martyr among the followers of Christ, led the group assigned to oversee the food distribution. (Acts of the Apostles 6: 1-4)

As disciples of Jesus, let us overcome ignorance and injustice.

4. Eat mindfully and in moderation.

The Bible points us to depend on God, each day for our sustenance, to have the energy and dynamism, to work to extend the reign of God, today, here and now. We look to God, not to gratify a mindless appetite, but only for the necessaries of life, and that not for many years, but from day to day. The Bible is also very clear against overconsumption, gluttony, and drunkenness and guides us to follow purpose-driven and disciplined lives. (Genesis 25:29-34; Proverbs 23: 20,21; Proverbs 28:7; James 5:5)

5. Do not waste food.

One-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. On average, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals- so a third of the water is wasted too. Apart from the waste of a tremendous quantity of resources used in food production, we need to consider greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production of food.

'Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. (John 6: 11- 13)

6. Be grateful to those who grow and prepare food for your table.

Women and men who till the soil and work the fields, and (most often) by women who, lovingly and selflessly prepare the food we eat. But most often we take the food placed on our tables and the people who work to provide it, for granted. Women not only prepare the food, but they also are responsible for 40–60 percent of the total agriculture.

The Bible testifies to the unsung role of women in preparing food. The hospitality of Sara and Abraham and Sara making and serving food for the three angels (Genesis 18:1-15);  the widow in Zarephath who prepared food for Elijah, from a context of absolute poverty (1 Kings 17:7-16), and the accompaniment and caring for Jesus by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, (Luke 8:1-3) are all key examples. Today, let us acknowledge the role and contribution of those who grow and prepare our food.

7. Support fair wages for farmworkers, farmers and food workers.

According to the International Labour Organisation, 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery globally, while 24.9 million people are affected by forced labor. Besides, around 218 million children work, many full-time. They do not go to school and have little or no time to play — a substantial proportion of these people and children involved in agriculture and fisheries.

The Bible is explicit in challenging the injustice meted on the poor, by those who have power and wealth (Book of Amos, chapter 5 & 8; James 5:1-4). We have to be e are not aware and alert we may be benefitting from and supporting this injustice and violation against God and humanity.

8. Reduce the environmental damage of land, water, and air from food production and the food system.

How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds have swept away, and because people said, "He is blind to our ways." Jeremiah 12:4

The world is facing an existential crisis and ecological devastation of catastrophic proportions. The words spoken by Prophet Jeremiah, two thousand five hundred years ago, addressing one nation, is applicable for the whole world, today! The devastation caused by humanity, with a lack of accountability to God and creation, as described by the prophet is being scaled up to globally.

We need to join Prophet Jeremiah who is deeply disturbed by the situation, indignantly asking- 'God, how long will the land and creation suffer, and this injustice continue?'

We need action today. We need to scale up the good initiatives that are already happening and encourage such transformative work to spread across the world.

9. Protect the biodiversity of seeds, soils, ecosystems and the cultures of food producers.

Earth's ecosystems demonstrate diverse and complex biological communities living in balance with their environment. The world's forest area decreased from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015. Human activity is also primarily responsible for the decline by nearly 60 percent of global populations of all monitored vertebrate species from 1970 to 2012. Smallholders and peasants make up almost half the world's people, and they grow at least 70% of the world's food. While peasants breed and nurture 40 livestock species and nearly 8,000 breeds, as opposed to the industrial food chain, which focuses on far fewer than 100 breeds of five livestock species. Corporate plant breeders work with 150 crops but focus on barely a dozen. What remains of the world's declining fish stocks comes from 336 species accounting for almost two-thirds of the aquatic species we consume. The market forces are edging out smallholder farmers and artisanal fisherfolk.

The disregard and destruction to the genetic diversity of plants and animals, both in the wild and domestic will cause a grave danger for the future of the resilience and the survival and adaptability of human civilization, in the face of climate change and ecological destruction.

Let us not stray away from the will of God (Genesis 2 to 4) and the reaffirmation of God's blessing (Genesis 5: 1-32) on humankind. After the deluge and destruction, God established a new order in creation, building on God's relationship and enterprise with Noah. But it is clear that the 'covenant' that the God establishes is not exclusive with humankind but includes 'every living creature of the earth' with the human beings as a third party (Genesis 9: 8-10).

10. Rejoice and share the sacred gift of food with all.

•    Let us be aware of the needs for food in our neighborhoods and work to contribute and share and extend hospitality and open our homes to others.

•    Let is join or initiate campaigns to overcome hunger and volunteer time and efforts.

•    Let us advocate and work together, with people with a shared vision to overcome the injustice of poverty and inequality.

What we eat; where we source the food from; how we cultivate food, raise animals and fish; how we manage our environment; how we deal with inequity and injustice related to food - are all existential issues for humanity. But they are also profoundly political and deeply spiritual decisions, which will influence the present and future of humanity, creation and our world.

May our faith, hope and love guide us in the right path!

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches