LOAF – a sideshow of a sideshow?

This article, written by Rev Stephen Levett, first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of Green Christian Magazine. (Fame at last!?). To find out more visit www.greenchristian.org.uk

Lawrence of Arabia, famous for involvement in the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War One, somewhat sardonically described those war time goings on as a ‘side show of a side show’. Whatever may have been achieved in the Arabian campaign was ultimately of marginal importance; the activity that really mattered was going on in the trenches of Europe.

This year, inspired by a rather faded old Green Christian poster in the coffee bar area of a church encouraging us to think LOAF (Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fair Trade) in our eating, I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a resource for use during Lent. Preparing the material I found plenty of good theological and biblical underpinnings for taking LOAF seriously as an integral part of Christian discipleship. For example shopping local as an expression of loving our neighbour,(certainly our neighbourhood); buying organic as an interpretation of offering a Sabbath to the land as found in Leviticus 25; animal friendliness as a way of valuing something God sees as good (Genesis 1) and Fair Trade as an application of the justice the prophets repeatedly called on God’s people to display (eg Isaiah 58).

That faded poster…

Throughout Lent I took opportunities to preach on these themes. However, in the post Easter period after addressing a matter unrelated to LOAF someone said to me ‘I’m glad you have got back to preaching the gospel.’ Clearly this person thought all this LOAF talk is a sideshow, even a distraction from the real business of Christian living. I myself have been left with the nagging question – is LOAF simply a side show of a side show?

Personally I am convinced that I, and most other Christians, need to undergo what Pope Francis (in his encyclical, Laudato ‘Si) calls an “ecological conversion”. We are undoubtedly facing a climate crisis, and a biodiversity crisis. We need to be reducing our carbon emissions. The question is what part does LOAF play in addressing these issues? Is it a sideshow distracting us from areas where we could make other changes for better gains or greater reductions? Bigger ticket carbon-reducing items include to stop flying, drive an (electric) car less, change to green energy, get rid of plastics and biggest of all – don’t have children!?

In terms of reducing carbon emissions LOAF is good, but not in itself enough. And in these critical circumstances, if you salve your conscience by satisfying yourself with doing a few good things but not the best, could the good actually become the enemy of the best? However, let’s also remember that shopping locally reduces travel miles and reducing meat consumption is also undoubtedly critical in reducing C02e emissions. Putting LOAF principles into practice is definitely part of combatting climate change; likewise buying organic is a good start in helping to protect biodiversity.

Next, how to answer those who say whatever actions we take as individuals in the UK is irrelevant; the real decisive action is down to the UK Government, and even moreso the decisions of big C02e emitting nations like the USA, China, India, Russia? My answer is that when there is a surge from “below” this can play a big part in challenging those “above” to act more boldly in public policy. The so called Green Surge in some recent elections, the Extinction Rebellion and Youth Strikes for Climate Emergency protests, and the response of some legislatures to declare a Climate Emergency are encouraging signs.

Finally, for my part am I all talk and no action? Currently I’m still driving a petrol car, enjoying meat, and often shopping for bargains at Aldi! Despite my growing convictions regarding the importance of LOAF and other initiatives for authentic discipleship, wholeness of the community and good of the planet, is it practically still a side show in my own life? If I’m honest the answer might be yes, but I hope I’m moving in the right direction. I find I’m now often thinking LOAF, so conversion has started in my mind. I find myself almost weekly in our local independent Zero Waste shop, and end up spending about £20 a week on animal friendly and organic products I never even considered before. So repentance has begun in my wallet. Perhaps conversion always takes a while. I’m hopeful I will yet become a Green Christian!

Rev Steve Levett

© 2019 Green Christian and published on this website with their permission

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