Food for Thought: Being an Ethical Consumer Isn’t About Us

In Mark chapter 12 we read of Jesus sitting near the Temple and watching people putting their donations in the money box. Many rich people came along and gave large sums of money. We then read of a poor widow who comes along and puts in “two copper coins, which were not even worth a penny” (vs. 42). When Jesus witnesses this, he says to his followers that the poor widow “gave more than all those rich people….she gave all she had” (vs. 43-44). Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 9 vs. 7 Paul writes “Each one should give as he has decided in his heart to give. You should not be sad when you give, and you should not give because you feel forced to give. God loves the person who gives happily.” (NCV)

These passages were what came to mind when I was praying about how to approach this post. In a social media dominated world where we are bombarded with politics, protests and petitions we can often feel cornered and condemned by passionate people telling us how we should be living. Many graphic change campaigns run, and run very effectively, on guilt-tripping, finger-pointing and shocking members of the public into thinking about their actions and the consequences, and changing them. Where these types of campaign may work very well, it cannot be denied that using that kind of psychology doesn’t come without its problems, and we can often end up feeling overwhelmed by a sense of either extreme of insignificance or pride when it comes to making changes to the way we live.

This isn’t the love and joyfulness in serving that Jesus calls us to display. Food for Thought Week isn’t a campaign aimed to criticize, condemn and throw blame upon Christians about their food choices. Jesus did not come to condemn us. The fundamental core of the Gospel which makes it stand out from other religions is the message of grace. We cannot earn our salvation by following laws, doing good deeds and striving for holiness. Salvation is a free gift, the price for which was paid by Jesus Christ, the Son of God who gave himself as a ransom for many. We are washed clean by Jesus alone, not our works. There is no 11th commandment; “thou shalt be vegetarian”….that’s absurd! However, as committed followers of Jesus who have chosen to accept His salvation and enter into a relationship with Him, our hearts and minds are renewed, and His love makes us want to be obedient to Him; because it is a joy to serve, not because we have to. But as the passages in Mark and Corinthians point out, this act of service looks different to each of us.

“The Lord God put man in the Garden of Eden to care for it and work for it.” (Genesis 2 vs. 15). Unfortunately, as human beings we haven’t done the best job at caring for and looking after the beautiful earth and its creation that God has blessed us with. In an age of environmental issues such as global warming, shortage of resources, over-pollution, deforestation and species extinction, as lovers of Christ it is therefore an act of service to be conscious about the food we eat and its impact on the environment, as much as it is to serve one another, fight for justice, and honour God through giving financially.

Interestingly, I could go on a tangent here about the cost of ethical consumerism and honouring God with our money, but I’ll save that for another time. These passages spoke to me in light of Food for Thought Week for an entirely adjacent reason. Sadly, in the broken world that we live in, where our food comes from and how it is produced isn’t the only issue surrounding food and nutrition. As someone who struggled with anorexia nervosa for five years, before being healing by the grace of God two years ago now, food has been, and to a certain extent still is, an area of great importance and sensitivity. I know for sure that I am not alone in this in Oxford. Whereas I see myself as completely healed and recovered from the eating disorder in my past, it would be highly foolish of me to become complacent, and I know that for others this tension around food is a lot more current.

As an eating disorder survivor, and someone who through my experiences now supports a number of individuals in similar positions, I do not label myself as a vegetarian or a vegan. For me to place rules around what I do/don’t eat, and place such labels on myself is something that, given my own past, and given the current struggles of many people that I work with, I do not want to impose. I generally do eat a mainly vegetarian diet. But I do eat meat sometimes, too. My circumstance does not mean that I cannot and will not engage in trying to improve the effect of my consumption on the environment; it just means my situation and my efforts look outwardly different in comparison. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

But there are things that I can do to contribute to a fairer and better world. Some non-negotiables are: always buying Fairtrade bananas, coffee and tea; always opting for free range eggs; free range, organic meat, and line-caught fish. I regularly opt for vegetarian alternatives, especially when I am unaware of the source of the meat in a restaurant or café.  Our intentions should be to make ethical choices, but without compromising our mental or physical health. If we don’t have our health, we cannot work for the Kingdom to the best of our ability. If we let guilt and shame become more powerful than grace, we cannot serve God in the way He has called us to.

Faith isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus. Being an ethical consumer isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus. He knows your heart, your mind, your past, your future, your struggles, your strengths and your weaknesses and He wants us to live free from temptation and experience a life of fullness in Him. Jesus often calls us to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable in our walk with Him, but vulnerable doesn’t mean unwise. Jesus does knew that the widow didn’t have large sums of money to contribute, but her contribution, though outwardly appearing  insignificant, was hugely valuable to God’s Temple, because Jesus saw her heart. Jesus wants our hearts, and wants us to decide wisely and be guided by Him in how we should use our testimonies and our callings to serve the Kingdom. The Scriptures are laden with verses about asking God for wisdom when it comes to pursuing His call as a servant. If you find yourself in a position this week in which you feel conflicted around the area of food for whatever reason, I urge you to bring your heart to Him and pray, and seek God’s wisdom on your situation. God can use us wherever we are, in whatever stage of life we are in and service is not a competition. It’s just you and God; ask Him to lead the way in the choices you make, because He sees the whole picture.