For our third Tread Lightly conference, Footsteps joined with the Guru Nanak Gurdwara and Living the Change to spend Sunday afternoon 18 November in Smethwick (just over the Birmingham city boundary). The theme was Exploring Food, Faith and Living Sustainably. Speakers from faith groups and projects shared their initiatives and insights. Discussion and networking opportunities enabled ideas to be taken to other places of worship. There was an opportunity to take part in a tour of the gurdwara and, after the conference, to enjoy a vegetarian meal in the langar hall.
This year’s Tread Lightly was part National Interfaith Week and the global Living the Change initiative organised by Green Faith. It followed our previous conferences at the Birmingham Progressive Synagogue and the Birmingham Central Mosque.
We were welcomed by Ruth Tetlow, Footsteps convenor and Humraaj Singh, Gurdwara General Secretary. To ground us in how climate change is already affecting the lives of ordinary people, we began by watching a video of three Quakers in Kenya and the Philippines, explaining their experience of climate change and how their faith is inspiring them to take action.
We then explored Sikh and Baha’i perspectives on faith, food and the environment. Prubhjyot Singh from Eco Sikh outlined how Sikh teaching guided and inspired Sikhs to live in harmony with nature and avoid waste. Next George Ballentyne explained how Baha’i scriptures describe nature as a reflection of the sacred and how man is organic with the world. Eliminating hunger and malnutrition are not just technical and economic problems but involve a shift in values and a commitment to equity.
Lizzie Nelson (London based ‘Faith for the Climate’ network) put our conference into the wider national context and the Living the Change global interfaith climate and environmental initiatives. She said Tread Lightly was one of over 80 events that have taken place around the globe featuring pledges to make personal commitments towards low-carbon lifestyles and shared plant-based meals.
Next there were lively table discussions, reflecting on what had been heard and sharing experiences.
This was followed by three speakers who shared practical ways of ‘treading lightly’: cooking classes for mums, vegetarian / vegan diets and growing food locally. First, Hannah Smith told us about her organic healthy cookery club for children and parents held both in homes and mosque madrasas. Second, Robert Grzesik, chef at the Warehouse vegetarian restaurant in Digbeth, shared his experience of preparing vegetarian food and some of his issues with being fully vegan. Finally, the Rev Nick Ross took us through the Smethwick Common Ground community orchard project and plans to expand local fruit tree planting.
Following a short break and refreshments provided by the gurdwara, we moved on to practical examples of reducing food waste and packaging. First, George Ballentyne spoke about the Real Junk Food project in Leicester that intercepts perfectly edible food destined for waste and uses it to create delicious, healthy meals on a pay as you feel able basis. Second, we heard from Laura Nott, Sandwell Churches’ Link about Sandwell’s Food Power Alliance that tackles food poverty and helps enable everyone in Sandwell access good food. Finally, Khalid Mohammed told us about the Eco Friends project that manufactures biodegradable plates and containers in India from banana fibres and sells them in the UK as an alternative to single use plastic products.
To conclude the very full afternoon we just had time for two inspirational personal stories.
We were read an email from Harriet Woodward, a young Quaker who had attended last year’s Tread Lightly and is now volunteering as a teacher and working at an orphanage in Blantyre Malawi. Harriet described a typical day “as waking up at 4 am to help cook and serve porridge to over 1800 children with Mary’s meals. They are cooked in seven massive pots, heated with wood, but we are looking into ‘fire bricks’ which would be a lot more environmentally friendly. After this I go to Bright Era School, where I teach a standard 6 English class with over sixty 10 – 14 year olds. I have recently started at BAHASI orphanage which I love. The orphanage is lacking in resources, but I am collecting donations from the local community.”
Finally, Jules Todd from Climate Action Network West Midlands highlighted the unprecedented changes that are needed and how, ‘in order to change everything we need to change everyone’. We need, Jules said, to spread positive vision and build our common care for each other and the natural world. Faith communities have an important role to play.
Our afternoon was closed by Lizzie Nelson asking us to quietly stand and reflect on our afternoon’s experience and then make a pledge and commitment in our hearts to a lower carbon life-style. We were also invited to share our commitment on the Living the Change website.
Jatinder Singh, gurdwara committee President, and other members of the committee, then joined us. They shared the Living the Change commitments they had made. Jatinder Singh explained how the refurbishment of the gurdwara had incorporated energy saving features and went on to make further commitments to a greener lifestyle as a gurdwara. He then invited us to share in a langar meal in the gurdwara dining hall.