Article from Green Christian 42: Spring 2000. The Jounal of Christian Ecology Link


On a Greenpeace-backed guided tour of real food in Sainsbury's, Malcolm Carroll sorts the sheep from the goats and shows how shopping can be a fun part of Christian living.

Malcolm Carroll is a Baptist minister living in Stafford. He is also an independent researcher and consultant in voluntary sector organisation and management.

"Ooooh GM food, I'll try some if it's free". With that, the happy shopper takes her Greenpeace leaflet and continues on into Sainsbury's. The gaggle of green campaigners check that the leaflets have actually come from Greenpeace, not Monsanto. A lovely gaggle, a hodgepodge of church, Friends of the Earth, Soil Association and Greenpeace, talking to the public just outside the supermarket. There are leaflets, postcards and a table carrying a selection of the organic goods available in store. The organic flap-jack looks at me and says "Eat me, eat me".

Would you believe it, the next shopper happens to work in biotech science. He's actually quite supportive, he knows we are not anti-science and he too questions the 'techno-utopianism' of the agro-chemical companies. The next shopper listens to our chat-up line, "Weíre campaigning against GM foods because theyíre bad for nature and we resent the bullying of the agro-chemical companies", and agrees to join our supermarket tour. OK, so 'bullying' is a value judgement, but 'techno-utopianism' was a bit of a struggle for a Saturday morning.

On tour

Martin, the tour guide, leads us round, pointing out products that contain GM (genetically modified) food and say so. He whips out a magnifying glass and shows shoppers how to find GM soya by looking for the asterisk in the list of ingredients on the back of Bachelorís Beanfeast. It should be Has-Been-feast, now that sales have dropped by 50%: it serves them right for trying to sneak GM soya into our food without our knowledge, unless you always do your shopping with a magnifying glass.

Martin also shows us products that contain material from GM sources but donít say so because they arenít legally required to. There are plenty of these, donít we just love our processed food. A shopper fires a question: "How do we avoid it if we want to be GM-free?" Wow! Pop! Bang! Just as the question is asked, Martin of Tours gets us to the organics section. "Buy Sainsburyís own brand and itís GM-free, but organics is something else" he says. "You score twice. You get quality GM-free produce, and you support a movement thatís actively pro-environment." Nice one, Martin - then the dreaded cry: "But the Cost!!"

Sure enough, someone has noticed the organic chicken fitted with a price tag off a Mercedes. Martin gives a quick picture of the governmentís pathetic response to the demand for organic agriculture and then comes up with a few surprises: organic yoghurt on offer - same price as the usual tat; organic beetroot, organic real ale - same price as other real ales. "Some prices are wicked", says Martin, "but some are coming down. And even if you only put one organic item in your trolley, itís an action that supports the environment and challenges the arrogance of the Chemical Club." Yep, thatís the message, GM crops, trials included, pose a threat to the environment. The alternative is GO - Go Organic - food production designed to promote environmental well-being.

A question comes from an allotment holder: "What do we do about pollen from these field trials - you canít have GM and organic, can you?". Heís right. Iíve heard a spokesperson from Novartis, one of the agro-chemical companies, making the same point: you canít have both completely GM-free organics crops and GM crops. The solution from the Chemical Club and the government is to re-define organic so itís no longer completely GM-free. But just how much contamination is acceptable? Leave that one to the scientists, they say. No way sunshine, thatís an ethical decision in the public realm, not a science decision in techno-utopia. Greenpeace then used the same Chemical-Club logic but with a different conclusion: if you canít have both GM and organic then bye bye GM - a complete ban on GM crops. The allotment holder then asked: "What do we do about pollen from these field trials?" I hand him a Friends of the Earth postcard, a Greenpeace leaflet and some Soil Association stuff. Then we move back out of the store, to recruit a few more shoppers for the True Food Tour.

In church

That was Saturday. Now itís Sunday and Iím leading a service in a Baptist church. Ministers are good environmentalists, they recycle their sermons. So what should Malc the Eco-Bap do, but recycle the True Food Tour! It goes down well, placing produce amongst the congregation and going Ďshoppingí down the aisle, explaining why some things go in the trolley and other things donít. Then thereís the magnifying glass trick, though more than one person canít make sense of the ingredients list even with the magnifier. We end up with a selection of juicy and affordable organic stuff (not the chicken). The people get the point. Christians can rediscover food as an environmental issue, and shopping, as part of their Christian discipleship. And at last, the sermon you can eat: flap-jacks.

If a you want to organise such a tour in your local supermarket, how do you go about it? Contact your local store and Greenpeace. It can be done in your local church. Visit the True Food website or contact Greepeace 020 7865 8100

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