Reflection: The importance of food in our communities

Tradition continues of the weekly Sunday lunch
Tradition continues of the weekly Sunday lunch

Christmas has come and gone, and already Lent is on the horizon with Ash Wednesday set nearly as early as it can be for February 14.

Tonight is the Loyal Georgian’s Annual Dinner, which is always a good occasion, but I’m still trying to lose the weight I put on over Christmas! Food and health has become a serious issue for the twenty first century and the more I think about it the more complex it becomes.

Food has always been important for the faith communities: the Jewish community have stuck to their Kosher food; Islam promotes Halal meet; Christians ate fish on Fridays traditionally, the day of the cross.

In England we have mixed both religion and culture together in the development of The Sunday Lunch. Tradition was that one would buy a large joint of meat (pity the vegetarian) which would be served roasted on Sunday, and then would continue to be served the rest of week in different formats, curry, casserole, cold, with the bones used to make soup in the winter months.

Families would sit down together to share food and conversation, and the dining table was a significant part of furniture and the place where the family shared their joys and sorrows. Today houses are built in such a small space with no space for a dining room or table. Many eat fast food in front of the television, and many adults have lost the skills and knowledge that buying food and cooking brings.

I wonder if the demise of the dining table and the opportunity to eat together is but one of a number of complex reasons why we have seen over recent decades family breakdown and the rise of obesity?

I know from my own experience that when I get hungry, I can easily become stressed and my mood can change? I know from having teenage children that they will regularly eat me out of house and home, and as fast as I fill the fridge they empty it!

I also know as a school Governor for many years, the number of children who have behaviour issues, often about anger management and depression, exasperated by relative poverty, who often seem to lack a decent hot meal at least once a day, and their inability to cope in the school environment.

One of the best things about Rishworth School (I’m Chair of Governors) is the food – freshly cooked and plenty of it, seconds are encouraged, so that children with a full stomach are ready to learn. If only all our state schools could do the same? Recently Halifax Opportunities Trust has been running a kitchen to support schools in providing a hot meal once a day, recognising that children in Nursery and Key stage one get a free hot meal, but then when they enter Key Stage two the money disappears and so does the food and nutrition.

Food of course is needed by everyone. As a child I can recall my grandmother in her retirement, going out to deliver Meals on Wheels. Not only did she deliver the food door to door in her area of Cambridge, but she made sure she physically saw each person, checking they were alright and alerting family or neighbours if there was a problem. Loneliness is now recognised as a serious problem, and the two minute visit of the food delivery was important to those who were isolated and housebound.

As well as food laws within the tradition of the faith communities, also comes fasting. Islam promotes the month of Ramadan, when food is only eaten during the hours of darkness. For those who keep it religiously I’ve seen how punishing it can be, and a fantastic way to lose weight. Halifax Rotary Club occasionally have Frugal lunches, where the money is used to give away to charity instead of the filling lunch they usually enjoy.

Sadly there are those who suffer from eating disorders, which can be a serious illness, and requires medical intervention and help. Lastly, the real scandal for the twenty first century is around the production of food and Fair trade, and the growing que of people at foodbanks across Calderdale.