Faith and Food
With the particular help of young church who provided tasty snacks, we thought about faith and food at last Sunday’s service, the date having been chosen to coincide with Earth Day the day before.
Food is at the heart of our central worship service as Christians. It is as least arguable whether the token nature of our sharing bread and wine is preferable to a complete meal, although it obviously suits from a practical point of view in terms of reducing preparation and fitting with a time of day when we don’t normally eat. However we understand Holy Communion, and there are many different views among Methodists, we can probably agree that it is because food is so essential to life that Christ chose to use it as a sign that he is even more essential.
So much for the special meal. As for our daily nourishment, we are accustomed to remember to thank God for it once a year at Harvest Festival. The general decline among those who think of themselves as Christians in devotional practice at home may well mean the majority of readers no longer thank God before their main meal daily. Does this suggest that eating and drinking is a part of life which in our minds is held separate from our life of faith?
In earlier generations Methodists were frequently characterised by non-church people as non-drinkers. Rightly or wrongly that was a moral choice many church members saw as an obligation of their Methodist faith (although technically it never was). We could debate whether alcohol is less of a social evil in 2023 than it was in the 1840’s at the height of the issue. Then and now many teetotallers who make that their stance for religious reasons base
their position on the passage we looked at in the service in 1 Corinthians 10. There Paul argues that those at no risk should nevertheless abstain from particular food or drink if their partaking would pose a risk to others for whom it would be a threat to their current faith understanding.
This is an important passage because it stresses that we all grow in faith but must each act in accordance with what our current understanding of faith requires. It is clear with the example of alcohol that our drinking could create a temptation for a recovering alcoholic. A different scenario common in many family gatherings would be how you behave as a meat- eater if you are going to be dining with a vegetarian; does not common courtesy, quite apart from the faith requirement to love others, in such a situation suggest it is not the time to choose a bacon sandwich?
Much more far-reaching is the issue of how we choose food knowing the impact that our eating habits have on world climate and in turn how that disproportionally harms the poorest. To state the obvious everybody needs to change; hopefully it is equally obvious that our faith in Christ and in God the Creator should mean that we are among the first to do so, and that in such action we can inspire others too. There are many ways of exploring how our food choices affect climate. See for example this BBC news page:
Tour of Exeter City Council’s Materials Reclamation Facility
Fifteen of us met at Exton Road, Marsh Barton on 24 March for this very interesting, informative, eye-opening experience, hosted by Matt Hulland, the Resource Recovery Manager. We knew about Exeter City Council’s (ECC) policy for residents to sort our rubbish correctly. However, we did not know how wide ranging the work of the Materials Reclamation Facility (MRF) is, involving other companies and organisations, to reduce the impact of our waste on the environment. The enthusiasm of our hosts was infectious. After distributing hi-vis tabards and ensuring we would be safe around the machinery, Matt gave us an introduction to the ‘what, why and how’ of the facility. The material brought to the facility is from our green bins and other ‘specialist’ recycling bins around the city. The recycling generates income: aluminium (drinks cans) – £1,070 per ton; plastic milk bottles – £950 per ton; steel cans – £150 per ton (Feb 2023 prices).
The plant was built in 2000/2001. Quarry-type machinery was installed to sort the materials, as at the time there was nothing more suitable available. It was supposed to have a fifteen- year life, but there is currently a procurement process to replace it in 2024 with new machinery specifically designed for the task. The initial sort is by hand, then the material goes through the sorting machinery, and then there’s another sort by hand. The people work a seven-hour day in 2.5-hour blocks, rotating the tasks, as it is such skilled, intensive work.
At the end of the sorting, each type of material is baled ready to be taken to its processing destination. Most of the materials are sent to processing plants in the UK, but the increase in on-line shopping has increased cardboard use, and the UK does not have the capacity to deal with it all. Only overseas companies with a long and trusted relationship with Exeter City Council are used. The destinations of recycling materials are listed on the ECC website.
Exeter City Council has focused particularly on plastics in recent years, which warrant urgent attention due to their environmental impact. There are many different types of plastic, of which seven can be found in the average domestic green bin. Plastic milk bottles are the most valuable and versatile because they don’t have additives like colour, so they are the easiest to process into new food-grade containers – like milk bottles. The surprising thing is that these bottles are easier to recycle and repurpose than glass milk bottles! White plastic bottles like Cravendale are of lower value because of the colouring added to the plastic. However, these are still widely and easily recycled, as are clear PET bottles. Work is being done to ensure the colour tops of bottles are made of the same plastic as the bottle to enable easy recycling.
Marine Plastic Pollution. Exeter City Council is working on recycling with seventeen different groups including Odyssey Innovation and Plymouth University, as part of the Indigo Interreg Project (odysseyinnovation.com/the-indigo-project). This European project aims to find long- term sustainable solutions to tackle marine plastic pollution, such as through developing biodegradable fishing gear. One of the schemes is the placement of bins funded by the Welsh Government around the harbours of the Welsh coast into which fishermen can place their worn-out gear, nets etc. These are then brought to Exeter and recycled. So far 200,000 kgs of fishing gear has been collected.
There is more to MRF than just sorting. Exeter City Council is involved in the innovative reuse of plastic. Various plastics are granulated and repurposed into all kinds of things. For example, red and black drinking vessels are due to be manufactured in St Austell using old, faded seats from St James’ Park. If you purchase goods that claim to be recycled, black plastic is more likely to have recycled content than white. White, clear and colours are separated to maximise versatility and income.
Non-recyclable material. Any non-recyclable material found during the sorting process is taken a quarter of a mile up the road to Devon County Council’s Waste to Energy Facility, which we visited a little while ago. We asked about what happens to ‘soft plastics’ (i.e., labelled ‘not currently recycled’), collected by various supermarkets. Matt told us that, whilst most supermarkets chose to work with UK recycling companies, Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s had chosen not to. Therefore, it is just as well to put non-recyclable plastics into the black bin with crisp packets and other laminated packaging, like Tetrapak cartons (which also could go into orange bins). Till receipts and rail tickets should also go into the black bin.
Food waste. The introduction of this service has been delayed by the need to recruit extra HGV drivers, and the increased cost of the specialist vehicles. The staged roll out was not the original intention. However, it is important as food waste is a major contributor to the climaten crisis. 19,000,000 tons of food is wasted each year in the UK. This mostly goes to landfill where it breaks down into methane and C02 (although not in Exeter, where it goes to the Waste to Energy Facility). The best way to reduce food waste is for everyone to buy only what they will consume. A waste food collection service will further help the planet by turning waste food into soil improver while generating gas and electricity.
Education. Since there is no unified approach to recycling in the UK, ECC works with the University to ensure students both on and off campus know about recycling and disposal of rubbish in Exeter. MRF works with schools and local groups to inform the public of all ages, welcoming them onto the site to see how the work is done. Matt said the net zero strategy may be a bit fanciful, but the documentation is something to work towards. Industry is slowly trying to improve, and ECC is enthusiastic about further innovations for recycling in the city.
Exeter Recycling Tips & Ideas | Facebook
Exeter Journey to Zero Waste | Facebook
Denis the Dustcart | Facebook
A – Z of recycling, waste and materials – Exeter City Council
Destinations of recycling materials
YouTube video of Exeter’s Materials Reclamation Facility