The Global Nature of the Food We Eat
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To explore students’ understanding of the traditional concept of a harvest festival (SEAL theme: Empathy).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
- Find images of a church decorated for a harvest festival and a cargo plane and have the means to display them during the assembly (check copyright).
- Have available the TrueTube video Food Air Miles and the means to show it during the assembly (available at: www.truetube.co.uk/film/food-air-miles). It is 3.05 minutes long.
- Also have available the song ‘Harvest for the world’ by The Christians and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
Leader In the northern hemisphere, autumn has traditionally been the time for harvest festivals.
Display image of decorated church.
In the past, churches would be decorated by local people with fruit, vegetables and flowers, often grown by them, to celebrate the fact that enough had been produced during the spring and summer growing seasons to last them through the long, hard winter ahead. The people had enjoyed plentiful supplies of seasonal produce, such as strawberries, peas and beans, tomatoes and salads. They had also pickled and preserved, dried and packed enough for the months to come when very little would grow.
The key idea behind the harvest festival was to celebrate that there was enough food and it was God who should be thanked for this.
Display image of cargo plane.
Nowadays, I think this might be a more appropriate image to illustrate our attitude to food. Our key idea has changed. No longer are we limited to the growing seasons where we live. No longer are we limited to choices based solely on food produced in the UK. Today, it's about being provided with what we want to eat, when we want to eat it.
Watch this short animation, which illustrates what I mean.
Show TrueTube video Food Air Miles.
The sandwich neatly illustrates a key idea. Day by day, we can decide exactly what we fancy eating. It doesn't matter about the season, about the success or otherwise of the harvest, because the cargo plane will always bring us what we require. We can have ripe cherries at Christmas, new potatoes in October, apples in May because somewhere in the world they are being grown. We can enjoy mangoes, kiwi fruit, mangetout and butternut squash, all of which was impossible for past generations to experience in this country.
Over the past 50 years, we have experienced a food supply revolution. As a result, the autumn harvest festival seems to be a bit irrelevant in its traditional form. We no longer focus on the success of the growing season nor barns and larders being filled as, in the words of the traditional harvest hymn, ‘all is safely gathered in’. Nevertheless, festivals of all kinds in themselves are an important resource in terms of building communities and encouraging us to consider some of the key issues in life. For instance, for Christians, the festival of Easter focuses on death and rebirth, while Christmas promises light and hope in the middle of a long, dark winter. Harvest festivals take us back to basic human needs, considering what we eat and drink day by day. It's a good idea as communities that we don't take these things for granted.
So, how might we celebrate a contemporary harvest festival? Here are a few ideas.
Reader 1 Harvest is, first of all, about being thankful for the variety of food we have available and the pleasure we take in eating it. Many Christians say a short prayer before their meal, silently or out loud with those sharing the meal, perhaps, thanking God for the food they're about to enjoy. It's about focusing on being grateful for what we do have. It's like acknowledging that, in life, your glass is at least half full rather than half empty.
Reader 2 Harvest also reminds us that we are part of a community, locally and – these days – globally. As the video showed, even the simplest meal can contain ingredients from many other countries all over the world. Food can expand our horizons.
Reader 1 Global thinking, then, encourages us to consider the complexities of the food supply industry. Farmers in other countries may be poor. They may be paid only a small amount for their crop so we can buy it cheaply in our shops. They may be exploited by landowners whose only concern is to produce a large profit. Trade is not always fair, but perhaps we can do something about that by encouraging our parents and carers to purchase fairtrade products.
Reader 2 The importing of wheat, chicken and other raw food materials into the UK from abroad has an effect on farmers in this country. It's difficult to compete with these cheap supplies, so many can find it hard to make a living. Again, we might be able to encourage those who make our meals to buy locally.
Time for reflection
Leader The simple harvest festival celebrated by previous generations has become much more complicated. As our global experience grows and our options increase, so the choices to be made become a little more difficult. At least we've been encouraged to consider some issues and maybe this will lead us to make some good decisions.
Thank you for our favourite foods and the taste, variety and pleasure eating can bring.
Remind us to think of those who have been involved in its delivery and preparation.
Help us to develop an understanding of what happens and the effects of food production around the globe and make good decisions to ensure everyone enjoys food as much as we do.
‘Harvest for the world’ by The Christians