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A spirit of empathy at Christmas

With COP26 bringing climate change mainstream, the hard science illustrating so well the need for urgent change, I’ve always thought that the best way personally that I can control my fear and worry, is by helping to build a feeling of shared strength and resilience within our local communities.

To then be stronger collectively and in a better position to accept the necessary changes needed within our lifetimes.

Not since the war has community volunteering been so much in evidence, and so necessary, to help shore up the reductions in the state provision. Food in Community for its part, sources and repurposes surplus fresh fruit and vegetables and never in our nine years has there been such a demand for food support.

Christmas especially brings feelings of guilt and overspending as parents try and match the presents of their children’s peers and put festive food onto the table. The poverty rate among working households in the UK is at its highest ever at 17.4 per cent, according to the IPPR think tank, roughly one in six working households. 

Most of our veg box recipients are experiencing financial poverty, fighting the daily drudge of making ends meet and the colour and joy in their lives diminished. How on earth can they be expected to find the time and happily embrace the climate scenario when their own immediate survival is in the balance? Ironically their carbon footprint could be far less than most, as the heating gets turned down and the car is often sold as unaffordable.

Food in Community
Food support is in huge demand as families face Christmas in poverty.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s definition of poverty is: “When a person’s resources (mainly their material resources) are not sufficient to meet their minimum needs (including social participation).”

Christmas is of course one of those times when isolation and the effects of poverty feel so much more intense. For many, the fullest meaning of peace and joy is simply this: not having to worry about how they will provide food, shelter and heat for their loved ones.

The Greek word eudaimonia roughly translates to happiness and fulfilment. Increasing self-esteem and quality of life are essential for people to flourish, enjoy companionship and ­­­­be usefully involved in their community. The alternative can be alienation and disaffection, and fragmentation of society.

If we are to be resilient both mentally and physically for the challenges ahead, a model of equality, sharing and empathy will need to replace the old view politics around personal gain and possession.

To create a more spiritually rich lifestyle, a society of coexistence, strong interpersonal relationships, there’s a need to change the imbalance we have that links satisfaction merely with what is materialistic. Most importantly, we need freedom from financial worry and mental stress to live more fulfilled and connected lives.

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David Markson

David Markson is a co-founder of Food in Community, a Devon based not-for-profit that runs pay what you feel community cafes with imaginative menus made from sustainably produced surplus food.

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