Welcome to the inside of my fridge. This is just one shelf in the door – the full horror of the experience would be too much to subject you to.
This is a household containing four averagely-responsible adults. Between us we owned seven tubes of tomato paste (I found another one after taking this photo). Seven.
On the same day there were four jars of mayonnaise in the fridge (and I can’t stand the stuff, so I know for certain none of them was mine), and three bags of carrots, all weeks out of date. The kiddy-pack of yoghurt drink beside the tomato paste was far out of date (presumably because none of us had suddenly had a toddler in time for them to drink it) and the carton of soya milk was left over from a dinner party weeks ago – because none of us went vegan in time to finish it up.
The amount of food the four of us waste in an average month is shocking, and I’ve been feeling convicted about it ever since writing this post for LICC.
Stockpiles and shalom
In my article I talked about grain mountains, stockpiling food in advance of Brexit, famine, and the biblical concept of ‘shalom’. That word is often translated ‘peace’, but not just in the sense of quietness and calm. Shalom encapsulates a deep, all-embracing justice, when every part of life is operating in harmony with God’s design.
I raised some questions in my post to help readers think through what shalom might mean for their kitchens:
- Do I/my family eat for nutrition or for indulgence?
- Do we make time to appreciate our food, acknowledge its source, and enjoy the process of sharing a meal?
- Do we steward our excess well – whether that means freezing leftovers or inviting those in need to share in all God has blessed us with?
I was deeply challenged by my own questions. As a single person who works from home, I can basically eat whatever I want whenever I want to. If I’m too lazy to cook, I can go to a takeaway, eat out, or just pick up my phone and have a meal delivered in 20 minutes. I can have my main meal at 11am, then cereal at 3. I’ve got better over the years, and these days often even incorporate vegetables into my meals – by choice! But in general, my eating is driven by my appetite, not by any kind of healthy nutritional plan. I barely notice what I’m eating most of the time, even if it’s what I’ve been craving all day. I just shovel it in and get on with my life. And my fridge is constantly full of rotting leftovers that I really did intend to eat the next day, but I fancied something different, so left them, and then forgot them.
For most people in the world, such an attitude is inconceivable. I’m pretty sure that when I was growing up my parents didn’t have the luxury of leaving food to go off, if we even had leftovers in the first place.
So after writing that article, I went downstairs and gathered up all the wrinkly tomatoes and hairy carrots that had been sitting in the fridge for far too long (apologies to my housemates if you were keeping any of those as scientific experiments or something), and made a big pan of soup that I froze in batches. I then actually gave some thought to my week: when I would be in, what I might fancy, how I could make the leftovers from one meal into something interesting for another.
Great intentions, but already, just a few weeks later, my standards have slipped – I’ve got most of a loaf of bread going mouldy by the bin, and a few too many different packets of leftovers on the go. And I can’t say I’ve exactly savoured every meal.
But why does it matter? The thrust of my article, although I was asked to be a little less confrontational than I’m expressing it here, was: ‘how can you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye when you’ve got a plank of wood in your own?’ There’s a lot of ‘virtue signalling’ in the world today, with people being publicly outraged by large-scale injustices, without getting their own house in order first (this relates to clothing and book purchases, too, as I’ve written about before).
The dark secret
But also, the choices we make about our food reflect deeper truths about who we are and how we see the world. If I eat what I want when I want, it trains my body to expect instant gratification, rather than patience. When I eat at my desk, and barely taste what I’m shovelling into my mouth, let alone savour it, appreciate it, and thank God for it, I signal that I take it for granted. I act as though I deserve good, plentiful food, and can expect it always to be there, on demand. When I let it go to waste, I proclaim that I am selfish, self-absorbed and entitled. The gifts God gives me today I might very well throw away tomorrow (or next week). All his design and work in creation, all the creativity he gave to mankind, all the effort put in by farmers, pickers, drivers, factory workers, packers, shelf-stackers, checkout staff, cleaners, administrators, security guards, bankers (wow, when you start to think about who has been involved in the network of people getting, say, a chicken drumstick from egg to my fridge, the list is huge!)…all of that has been worthless, because I fancy sausages today.
This year, I have grown tomatoes for the first time. After months of tending them, buying bigger pots and more compost, and canes, and garden twine, and plant food and… one has finally turned red. One. I’m hoping its example will convince the others to follow suit soon. I can’t believe the amount of effort it has taken to get them to this stage. If they ripen and I bring them in to share with my housemates, and they get left on the side, shrivelling, wrinkling and eventually turning mouldy, I will be devastated. All that effort, wasted! And that is just one fruit! How must God feel when I treat his creation like that day after day after day?
So what is the solution? Trying to do better hasn’t helped. My human effort is useless. Mainly because I am dealing with the symptoms, not the cause; the ‘branch’ sins not the ‘root’ ones as Catherine Parks calls them in her excellent book Real (which I’m currently reading and will review here soon. In short: buy it!). I need to really grasp what the root is (laziness, entitlement, selfishness, thoughtlessness) and understand how serious it is in God’s eyes. Then I need to repent, ask his forgiveness, and turn away – with his help – from that root sin. I’m sure that when I do I will find its branches reaching out into many more areas of my life, that will also require changes of habit and approach.
Who’d have thought that a peek inside my fridge would have led to such deep and challenging revelations about my heart? What do the contents of your fridge tell you? And what are you going to do about it?
A note for my email subscribers: Over the coming weeks I’m going to try to update the blog with some of my past posts from other sites – I’ve been very lax at getting my Think Theology and LICC posts up on this site, and need to fix that. To ensure that I don’t flood you with emails, I’ll try to make them live one at a time, but will back-date them to when they were published. Hope it doesn’t get too confusing!
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