My Dear Friends,

 

They were ordinary men and women but they spoke with the passion of poets!  And the subject of their passion?  Food, and lots of it!  They recalled a shared meal: a buffet table groaning under its burden of poached salmon, creamy potatoes, yellow butter, moist beef and steaming green vegetables.  I was in the midst of a group of octogenarian veterans of the Second World War, Dutch civilians from the occupied town of Arnhem and British airborne soldiers who tried so hard to be their liberators.  They shared a bond forged in September 1944.  They had lived through bitter cold, gnawing hunger and the ever-present threat of capture or violent death.  They had survived by boiling and eating sickly-sweet and nausea-inducing tulip bulbs.  They had huddled around tiny fires burning their last few sticks of household furniture.  Some had faced the grim winter of a Nazi prison camp.  Many saw friends die all around them.  Hard times indeed.  But such an intimate acquaintance with want gave a depth to their appreciation of plenty that few from a modern generation could begin to comprehend.  Their happy reminiscences on this occasion were however of post-war reunions and the well spread tables they had shared – each one, according to the stories they recounted with much laughter, a veritable mouth watering cornucopia of plenty!

Returning from Holland I have found myself in the midst of our harvest festivities.  We celebrate the bountiful and plenteous provision of God.  Or do we?  Let’s be honest, isn’t some of it a bit half-hearted?  Compared to the thankfulness, joy and appreciation I found amongst those I met in Holland, our own sense of thanksgiving can seem as mean and sparse as their wartime provisions.

The problem is many of us suffer from two points of profound disconnection: we have failed to comprehend the link (1) between God and our blessings, and (2) between the land and the food on our tables.  As a society we take everything for granted, we are ungrateful and self-obsessed.  We have barely known need and so we fail to appreciate abundance.  We blithely sing ‘All is safely gathered in’ whilst English potatoes are rotting in the fields and Welsh hill farmers cannot even get their sheep to market due to movement restrictions.

But could this year be different?  Could it be the year everything changes?

With British farming in meltdown I was commiserating at church with one parishioner about the dark abyss facing farming in the wake of foot and mouth, the wettest summer on record, rising feed costs and the scandalously low prices being paid by the supermarkets.  We import intensely reared poultry from Hungary and tasteless beef from Argentina, package it in the UK and have the cheek to call it British.  We buy low quality products from farms with appalling standards of animal welfare, and we fly them half way around the world to fill our joyless, unappreciative tables.  ‘Oh, I don’t know it’s that bad’ smiled my farmer friend with typical resilience and fortitude.  ‘Perhaps it has to get this bad.  Perhaps after all these troubles people might begin to appreciate us?  Perhaps people will realise how lucky they are?’

One can but hope my friend, one can but hope!

 

Jeff Cuttell.

 

  

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