Food and faith

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A new Australian initiative seeks to understand climate change from a religious perspective


What we eat is an intensely personal choice. Food has deep connections to our childhood, our roots and our emotions. The multifaith Australian initiative Food Faith was recently launched in Sydney to address and respond to concerns about the role of food in climate change. A world first, it is part of a global movement toward food sustainability, being mindful about the food you eat and knowing where your food comes from. Hunger, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and a host of other environmental crises, are connected to food.

Leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Buddhist communities have come together through the Food Faith initiative to promote food sustainability. Actions they recommend include limiting food waste, reducing meat consumption, sharing excess food, community supported agriculture, and banning the use of endangered plant or animal ingredients in food and medicines. The group also plans to host regular communal meat-free get-togethers and is developing an edible garden as an interfaith youth project.

Among religious leaders such as Rabbi Zalman Kastel of Together for Humanity, Imam Ahmed Abdo of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and Sister Elizabeth Delaney of the National Council of Churches Australia, is Vijai Singhal representing the Hindu Council of Australia. He spoke to Indian Link about the enterprises the Council is undertaking.

Singhal has been vocal in representing the views of the Hindu faith on this issue at various forums such as the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), the Food Ecology Network and Religions for Peace. These organisations believe religious texts have much to offer in the context of today’s environmental crisis. Environmental issues are mostly sought to be explained in scientific terms and technological solutions are proposed, but religious texts bring the power to move people and to inspire change.

It was in 2006 that the Climate Institute invited various religious organisations in Australia to submit the views of their faith on the problem of climate change. It was then that Vijai Singhal began researching the position of the Hindu faith by studying scriptures and prepared a submission. It was soon evident that all faiths shared similar beliefs in this regard. This marked the beginning of the involvement of the Hindu Council of Australia in the climate change movement. It also began Singhal’s interest in food sustainability.

In 2008, the Hindu Council with ARRCC launched a meat-free day on Gandhiji’s birthday, 2 October. Meat production is known to take a heavy toll on the environment.

Vijai Singhal address the gathered religious leaders

“Most Hindus don’t eat meat regularly and many are vegetarians,” observes Singhal. “We don’t want to convert people to vegetarianism, but make people eat less meat. It has been found that the average intake of meat in the Western world is about 110kgs per person per year, which is over two kilos per week and four times over what is recommended by health organisations,” says Singhal. “This impacts not only the environment, but also causes health problems, which in turn becomes an economic issue too for governments.”

There seems to a flood of similar campaigns lately – Meatless Mondays, Meat Free Week, Meatout, No Meat March – instigated by a range of organisations. According to Vijai Singhal, each of these highlights the issue from their perspective. It could be protecting animals or promoting vegan food, but they all help to promote awareness.

The Institute of Sustainable Future at UTS has recently brought out a book called Meat the Future. It could be an interesting read for those who want to know more about the issue of food sustainability and problems caused by over consumption of meat, suggests Singhal.

The Hindu Council has also launched a Know-Vege campaign. They have been trying to promote serving more vegetarian options for children at school canteens. An interested parent can download a sample letter to send to their children’s schools from the Council website. Here, you can also find information on the hidden meat in vegetarian dishes. Food additives such as cochineal, beeswax, shellac, rennet and gelatine, found in a variety of readymade foods such as ice-creams, jams and jellies, cheese and yoghurt, are animal based. You would need to examine the list of ingredients in fine print closely to discover this!

Vijai Singhal accidently discovered recently that Golden Circle apple juice had an ingredient that came from beef. When a concerned Muslim raised the question with Heinz Australia, the company admitted that the juice contained clarifying agents derived from beef and “would not be halal suitable”.

“I was shocked that fruit juice could contain meat. Unknowingly we consume a lot of meat products,” says Singhal, himself a vegetarian.

The food industry is geared toward mass production and likes to push convenient but unhealthy options upon us, but it is up to each one of us to make a better choice. On 5 June, we celebrate World Environment Day and this year the theme is ‘Seven billion dreams. One planet. Consume with care.’

By making small changes such as meat-free days a couple of times a week, rejecting factory-farmed meat and eggs, and growing our own food, each of us can take that little step to make this world a better place.

Jyoti Shankar
Jyoti Shankar
Jyoti Shankar is a freelance writer and sustainability professional, who is passionate about nature

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