Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness
Making healthy food choices
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider the variety of food available and to make thoughtful choices about what we eat.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
- You will also need to be familiar with John Keats’ ode, To Autumn.
- Optional: you may wish to show the YouTube video ‘Oliver! (The Musical) (1968) Food Glorious Food’, in which case you will also need the means to do so. It is 2.58 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ly7PONiKGUs
Leader: We find ourselves at the beginning of autumn. In John Keats’ ode, To Autumn, he describes this as a ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. He was drawing attention to the fact that on the one hand, in autumn, we start to sense the oncoming winter. Days are shorter, temperatures are cooler and life seems to slow down a little. On the other hand, it’s the time when, in a British climate, much of the harvest takes place. Cereal crops are golden-brown, apples and pears are ripening and blackberries are clustered among the prickles.
In the past, autumn was the time for harvest festivals in many rural communities around the country. After the corn had been cut, the fruit had been picked and jams, chutneys and pickles had been bottled ready for the long winter, it was time for festivity. There were parties, games, dancing, extravagant meals and church services full of thanksgiving to God. Autumn was the time to be grateful for the food and drink now in store that would sustain the community during the long winter ahead.
Nowadays, of course, it’s different for us. We can enjoy strawberries and cream on Bonfire Night if we wish, ripe apples in the middle of January and blackberry crumble at Easter time. Chilling and freezing techniques mean that we can eat whatever food we want, whenever we want. In many ways, there is no obvious time to celebrate the harvest. We can be grateful and celebrate the harvest every day of the year. Some people do this by saying, either silently or aloud, a short prayer of thanks called a ‘grace’ before every meal. It’s simply expressing a sense of gratitude, either to God or in more general terms, for the food we enjoy.
But how easy is it to enjoy what we have before us?
Reader 1: How can we enjoy food that’s been genetically modified? If the genes of the plant or animal that we’re eating have been modified, what’s that going to do to our own genes? I don’t want to be modified accidentally.
Reader 2: I find it hard enough counting my five a day. Do chips count? How big should the portion be? What about a glass of orange juice? Does it need to have the bits in?
Reader 1: Then there’s the question of dairy products. If livestock - chiefly cows - are responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, how can I responsibly have milk in my coffee, cheese in my sandwich or steak with my chips?
Reader 2: That brings me onto fats. There are saturated fats, unsaturated fats and trans fats. Which kinds are good for me and which are bad for me? Or doesn’t it really matter? The advice I get keeps changing and I can’t keep up.
Reader 1: Sugar and salt aren’t straightforward either. Sugar gives me energy, but a sugar rush sends me hyper. If I have salt, it makes me a nervous wreck. If I don’t have enough salt, I get cramp in my legs.
Reader 2: And what exactly is processed food?
Readers 1 and 2 together: We’re utterly confused!
Time for reflection
Leader: I wish I could give you a simple formula, but I’m afraid I can’t. One reason for the complexity of the issue is that there are tensions among big business, science and the needs of the world.
First, there is the fact that we need to farm efficiently to feed the rapidly growing population of the planet. We can’t go on as we are. A more plant-based diet would help to achieve this, but individual choice is hard to change. How many of us would be willing to give up or reduce our consumption of bacon butties, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie?
Second, scientists are trying to find other ways to increase harvest yields by the use of chemicals and genetic modification. Some of the results are remarkable, but the potential problem, as with all scientific advances, is that we can’t yet be sure of the side-effects. There are certainly benefits to be gained, but at what cost?
Finally, there is the influence of big business, the giant food-producing companies whose main aim is to make profits for their owners and shareholders. They enable us to enjoy tasty meals cheaply, but sometimes conceal the consequences of their production methods and the effects of the ingredients that they contain. And we haven’t even mentioned the effect of advertising.
In a perfect world, I’d suggest that we all grew our own vegetables, kept a few hens and bartered with one another, but that’s a luxury few of us have the time or resources for. However, we might want to consider consuming more fruit and vegetables and eating less meat. Cooking meals from scratch puts us in control of the ingredients that we use. Organic produce is less likely to contain harmful chemicals and is often tastier, but is also often more expensive. Maybe we need to eat fewer highly processed convenience foods, or use them as an occasional treat. There are lots of choices . . . maybe we will feel better if we make some changes.
Thank you for the variety, taste and benefits of good food.
Remind us of our options as we make our choices every day.
May we eat enjoyably, responsibly and healthily.
‘Food, glorious food’ from the musical, Oliver. A version (2.58 minutes long) is available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ly7PONiKGUs