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ARC holds Faith in Food workshop in London - the biggest yet

April 9, 2011:

A cow gazes over the fence in a Devon field. But the dairy herd at Bhaktivedanta Manor enjoy the most respect and the best living conditions of all cows in the UK. Picture by William Warby

An organic farmer for 30 years and director of the UK-based Soil Association for 15 of those years, Patrick Holden has always had a profound sympathy for the organic movement’s spiritual roots.

But it was an “extraordinary experience” at the Bhaktivedanta Manor Hindu temple and community in Hertfordshire two years ago that proved revelatory.

Bhaktivedanta is the UK headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and its farm runs entirely without slaughter or fossil fuels – the only one in the country to do so. Patrick had been invited to a meeting with the Manor’s resident Hindu community who told him “it is clear to us that if you consume food that has a violent story behind it, that is not faith consistent”.

“That meeting led me to think more deeply about the fact that these ideas are connected across all the faiths,” he told ARC’s Faith in Food workshop at MIC in London last week.

“And that if you could harness the power of faith communities to address the oncoming crisis in agriculture – if non-violence towards food and nature should inform right practice in relation to buying and eating food that has a less violent story behind it – this would be an extraordinarily potent way of delivering change.”

Since that meeting, Bhaktivedanta Manor has taken a major step forward in helping Hindus to live their values in the food they eat. It has launched its cruelty-free Ahimsa milk as a truly faith-consistent dairy product for Hindus.

Sita Rama Das, director of Bhaktivedanta's development charity, the Lotus Trust, who attended ARC's Faith in Food workshop along with Bhaktivedanta's farm manager Syamasundara Dasa, kindly made some of that milk available so that participants could experience its delicate and delightful flavour for themselves.

Faith-consistent food

The workshop brought together more than 60 delegates from Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish and Muslim faith groups and secular organisations in London last week to debate the issue of how to achieve a more faith-consistent and sustainable food and farming system.

It was the fourth Faith in Food workshop we have held around the world in recent months and it was co-hosted by the Methodist International Centre - the first ethical hotel to win the Social Enterprise Mark last year and shortlisted in this year’s prestigious Sustainability Awards.

Delegates heard about the growing ecological crisis in agriculture caused by the industrialisation of agriculture over the last 60 years or so. Patrick Holden, who left the Soil Association last year to set up a new global organisation, the Sustainable Food Trust, told the workshop we had been depleting our soil fertility, our fossil fuels, our mineral fertilisers and our water reserves to a critical extent.

"We must address the fact that we, particularly in the West, are using far more of our fair share of resources to both feed and fuel ourselves, and the damage we do in other countries that have a need far greater than us for those resources, in taking from the plates of others” - Helen Browning, Soil Association director
“There is a really powerful need for thinking about what faith groups can do to move towards a more secure and resilient relationship with our food,” he said.

Fall in biodiversity

These concerns were echoed by the new Soil Association director Helen Browning who said the environmental challenge also included the fall in biodiversity – “one of the great unrecognised real issues of our times”.

But over all these issues was the issue of fair access, reasonable consumption and social justice, she added. We had to address “the fact that we, particularly in the West, are using far more of our fair share of resources to both feed and fuel ourselves, and the damage we do in other countries that have a need far greater than us for those resources, in taking from the plates of others”.

The workshop also heard from Joyce D’Silva of Compassion in World Farming, who made a powerful plea for the welfare of farm animals to be placed at the heart of faith purchasing policies.

Around 60 billion chickens are reared worldwide every year for meat and eggs and most spend their short lives in misery, she said. Meat consumption is predicted to double in coming years with all this implies for both increased suffering and increased global warming.

“it seems to me so obvious that if you believe the world stems from a divine being, then every creature in it is of value and has inherent value, not just instrumental value, and you have to treat it with care and compassion,” she said.

“For a faith group to have a celebratory meal and not to have this as part of their considerations for what they buy for that meal would seem extraordinary to me.”

For more information on ARC's Faith in Food initiative, download the Faith in Food leaflet here.

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