I love lunch

I write “I love lunch” optimistically, full of faith and hope because if I’m honest lunch is usually the weakest contender in ‘meal of the day’. (It’s normal to review the day’s meals and compile a leaders board, right?)

Too often I’m out of the house, unprepared, grabbing something on the fly, pacing the streets of Teddington in search of anything that isn’t an overpriced panini.

But I am hopeful, because I have just invested some birthday money in an exciting book: River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whatsisface.  Part of my journey on living within limits brings me to the question of food.  Is meat-eating basically a terrible environmental catastrophe in the making?  (Pretty much, at current levels anyway). I posted on Facebook, asking for recommendations of books that might convert me to the green side, and received all kinds of responses.  These ranged from “Don’t do it!” to diet book recommendations (once I worked out people weren’t just calling me a ‘skinny bitch’ – it did seem unlikely), to a handful of ethical reflections and then the practical advice of my friend Dave: “Honestly, get the Hugh Fernley-W book. Skip the theory, and get some good recipes!!”.  And so I did.  And I’m cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Saying that, I was hoping to write this post earlier, only the night I returned, recipe book in hand, to greet my organic veg delivery and get cracking, I was devastated to discover that the veg had been delivered while my husband was asleep, and so they had been rescued by our faithful next door neighbour Frank, except he had now gone out for the evening.  I was grumpy and there was no vegetarian food to photograph.

But here was today’s lunch:

Ribollita. It’s a kind of hearty soup.

It’s called ribollita and it was great, although perhaps not the most appealing meal to have photographed?

Anyway, we’re now officially veggies from Monday-Friday, and so far I haven’t even eaten meat this weekend.

The other reason to blog about lunch is because of this BRILLIANT new film about a project my friend Rachel helps to run, called LUNCH.  “There are children around this country who are only eating if their school provides them with a meal” she says.  1.2million children in the UK are registered for free school meals, but there is no provision for them in school holidays.  That’s where this nifty and amazing project comes in.  Get involved.

Lunch from Matt Bird on Vimeo.

Advertisements

An adventure with limits

As you read this I will be on holiday.  Woo!

The plan for last few months has been that we will jet off to somewhere sunny – catch the last rays of southern Mediterranean sun.  There’s something about the sunshine that just makes me happy. And since we’ve been married we’ve only really holidayed in the UK, and a fair amount of torrential rain has followed us around.

So we earmarked a week in the sun, and I set about seeking out cheap deals.  With a growing sense of unease.

Everything looked so impersonal.  It was like a holiday conveyor belt, nothing that felt real or special.

Then there was the fact that my carbon footprint is already outrageously oversized thanks to the long-haul flights I take for work each year.

But the biggest questions in my mind came from this sense that we fighting against natural, environmental limits.

It is autumn now, and I like autumn a lot.  Why can’t we embrace and enjoy the changing seasons, relish the beauty of England at this time of year, without needing to flee to a different climate?

Working as I do for an organisation with strong convictions and policies when it comes to the environment, I asked some colleagues for their opinions.  Unanimously, they said I should go and enjoy my overseas holiday, despite the environmental costs.  I’m not writing this to name and shame them, they spoke out of love and generosity towards me, encouraging us towards a holiday.  But I couldn’t find anyone to challenge me.

And why this perverse desire to be challenged, even stopped?

For me it plays into a loud debate that has been raging in my head, on and off, for the last couple of years.  And it’s about limits.

A friend of ours in Brazil, a radical, crazy urban farmer called Claudio Oliver, spoke to us some time ago about his belief that we need to reinstate “limits, renunciation and a sense of sacredness” into how we live.

Limits aren’t very sexy.  Although I’ve read tons of articles saying how crucial they are to children – healthy boundaries in childhood get the big thumbs up.  But when it comes to life as an adult they’re seen as cramping our style.  Something to overcome.

And our crazy consumerist culture is always driving us to want more, to leap over the limits of our bank balances, and buy everything we want.  There’s never a reason to say no. Put it on the credit card.  Or riot and steal.

And whatever you want to eat tonight, you can.  Regardless of the time of year, or what we can grow in this country, you can go to a restaurant or a supermarket and get pretty much whatever you want.

It’s luxury.

But I feel like something’s been lost.  Treats, for a start.  I can get anything at any time, so where does specialness come from now?

And where does pushing the limits lead? To debt, obesity, burn-out, stress. To a banking crisis.

When we were booking our holiday I was agonising – what will make me happy?  Our whole culture says – something more, something new.

And the reality is that no holiday can really make me happy.  I’ve worked out enough about the world to realize on its own it can never make me happy.  Happiness comes from somewhere else, from an attitude of wonder and gratitude, an ability to take pleasure in small things, from knowing that I am loved and I belong.

Pushing the limits of our bank balance and our geography and our use of natural resources to grab some sunshine didn’t feel right.  And so we’re off to a beautiful spot in North Devon instead, for a blustery, cosy autumnal break.  (Check out the amazing www.pickwellmanor.co.uk – how gorgeous does it look?!).

Which is all well and good for us, but there are bigger questions, aren’t there?  About the planet and how we don’t engineer our own extinction by continuing to live on, blind to the limits of the natural world.  It’s a question that a lot of people are asking.  A big crowd at Tearfund are wrestling with it right now.

Politicians won’t legislate limits if it means they’ll get voted out at the next opportunity.  And we do need some legislation.  The law can’t do everything, just like abolishing the slave trade hasn’t got rid of slaves.  But it makes certain behaviours unacceptable, unjustifiable.

Legislation won’t come until enough people want it.  And there’s the challenge.  How do we unlearn what constitutes ‘the good life’ in our western bubble, and come to believe in something better?  If we can’t school ourselves, we don’t stand a chance in our communities.

How do we recover an appreciation for limits, which strikes right at the heart of our consumer ideology?  How do we begin to recognize a life with limits as a better, richer, more generous, more human life?

It sounds so hard, but I am a big believer in imagination. Humans are incredibly creative when we’re suddenly having to constrain ourselves within limits. But the hard bit at the start is that none of those limits are enforced yet.  If we’re serious about this (and I really am) we’ll have to begin by enforcing some limits on ourselves, and they’ll probably feel artificial.

The other bit is that’s it’s really hard on your own.  So company will be important.  Is anyone with me?

When it’s easy to love South London

How I love South London when the sun shines and neighbours do stuff together.

This Sunday I helped plant a community herb garden on an estate near London Bridge.

We have this thing at our church that means we don’t always just meet in a big hall on a Sunday morning to sing songs.  Once or twice a month we meet in local neighbourhoods in smaller communities and look for practical ways of expressing love towards the people who live around us.  And this Sunday our friends Martin and Naomi and their two gorgeous daughters decided to get us replanting their housing estate’s fledgling herb garden along with their neighbours.

The kids were very enthusiastic, especially when it came to making a mud pie....

I know very little about gardening, but I can operate a spade, and this is mainly what I did.  We set out – Martin & Naomi’s family, Andy and I, and our Turkish friend Baci – and over the course of the next hour several of the neighbours rocked up to help.  There was 4 year old Aldous (very enthusiastic with the watering can) who announced the gardening was “more fun than the wii, and not the wee that comes out of your willy”.

Within about an hour and a half we’d taken the plants out, thrown away the ones we weren’t keeping, tilled and aired the soil, replanted old and new herbs, covered the ground with stones (apparently this is important) and made labels out of lolly sticks so we knew what everything was.  Then we even found some chipboard to make a sign from, so the neighbours know they can help themselves.

A dance of joy over the completed herb garden...

And the sun shone the whole time! And afterwards we had homemade scones and jam!

This is when it’s easy to love South London. We’re already plotting some more rogue gardening, and I’ve spotted some brilliant free gardening lessons at my local garden farm.  Genius!

___________________________________

Footnote: It’s less easy to love South London when your neighbours get burgled, which also happened this week.

 

I love Paris in the Springtime, especially when people get healed.

“I love Paris, oh why, oh why do I love Paris? Because my love is there..” sang Ella Fitzgerald, and she was right – here he is!

Last week I got to travel with the husband, which was exciting, and not just because Paris is the city of love, or because it was also the city of brilliant sunshine during our stay (both of which helped)…but because of what we were there for.  We spent three and a half days at the L’Eglise Reformee du Marais, a beautiful old church right by Place de la Bastille where there is some amazing and beautiful work afoot.

We were invited by our friends Bob and Gracie who are living there for a year.  They’re an inspiring pair themselves.  They used to live in community in rural Honduras alongside campesinos, where they taught sustainable farming, preventative health and led Bible studies. Then they’ve mainly lived in Washington State since then, working with Central American Immigrants, prison inmates and people who are homeless. (Check out Bob’s excellent blog) But they’ve moved to Paris for a year because they’ve been so inspired by what Gilles Boucomont and his team are up to at the church.

I love France.  I love the wine and the cheese and the baguettes.  But I have rarely heard anything especially exciting or inspiring about the modern day church in France.  There is of course the amazing priest Jean Vanier who set up L’Arche (people living in community with those with a mental disability). but after him I get stuck for inspiration.

But what we experienced was amazing.  And I’m trying to work out how to describe it because it’s totally un-pc and irrational.  They pray for people to be delivered from all kinds of things that lock them up. Addictions. Cancer. Abusive relationships. Generational patterns. Curses. And they have incredible stories of people’s lives being completely changed. We met people who had been healed of brain tumours, and others from deep emotional wounds which were defining their whole lives. The team pray out evil spirits, like in the Bible, but not in a hyped up, scary kind of a way; or a ‘quick, he’s gay, he must have a demon, cast it out’ way; more in a compassionate, unforced, down-to-earth ‘we think this stuff is real and so we’re going to confront it’ kind of way.  And starting with the Jesus-like question – do you want to be free?

I’ve been around some of that stuff in poorer parts of the world; I’ve heard it shouted about a lot by Americans; but in Western Europe, the heart of rationalism and secularism, it was more unexpected.

This is a bit different to previous blog entries.  It’s easier to write about less controversial or overtly spiritual things.  But these things we heard and saw in France genuinely give me hope, even in spite of knowing plenty stories about how this kind of thing gets twisted and misused.  I think that there’s more to humans than our appetites, our education level or even our relationships, and I think profound change affects more than just individual lives, it affects families and communities and societies.  I’m not about enforcing something spiritual on people, but I can’t write off the enormous change I’ve seen in people which has come about through seemingly inexplicable supernatural means (well, I guess it’s only inexplicable if you don’t believe in God).

I don’t think just praying for people is the answer, any more than I think just feeding them or giving them computer lessons is.  Change is  complicated. But I think the French team we met, and the thousands of Christians working in similar ways, are seeing extraordinary and wonderful things happen – things which have left me feeling more full of hope and faith than anything else for a long time.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”   John Wesley

rice and beans

This week Tearfund is inviting you and me to live off rice and beans for five days, to help us understand poverty issues more deeply and personally.  And then to give the money we save to support their work.

I raised my eyebrows when I heard. How entirely unappealing.  A number of staff members signed up, and I mentioned it to Andy.

“Tearfund are doing this thing next week where you only eat rice and beans, and really small portions, for five days.

A pause.

“Okay, let’s do it,” he says.

Horror.

“I wasn’t offering to do it!” I cry. “I was just keeping you informed.”

He clearly doesn’t understand what a week of rice and beans will do to me. I love food, I have a deep and emotional relationship with my food. I dream about good dinners and weekend brunches.

And it’s not like I’ve never had to eat rice and beans. You never know what you’ll be able to eat when you travel, and rice and beans has often been on the menu. But to eat them by choice in the midst of the abundance of London cuisine, without recourse to snacks I may have packed in my suitcase? That actually feels really hard.

At the same time, I love bold and radical decisions; I love that Tearfund is suggesting something so full-on, something that is such an affront to my lifestyle. I read a blog this morning by Mark Powley that made a powerful case for a wake-up call from the anaesthesia of our comfortable western lifestyle.  It’s going to be proper hard and I hate that.

But I’ve opted in.  And I can’t answer for my grumpiness later in the week.

I had a small portion of porridge (with water! and no syrup!) for breakfast and I’m really hungry. But here’s hoping it brings home something a bit more important.