Several years ago, I participated in a poverty simulation that involved one day (8 hours, really) without food.
It was miserable.
My head ached, my brain was foggy, I was emotional, overwhelmed, and felt useless. I also learned a lot – a whole lot.
Since then, I’ve valued the food that I eat more than ever before. I am grateful that I have money for groceries, that our supermarket shelves are stocked, and that in the warmer months (I know they’ll come soon!) I have access to beautiful, bountiful farmers’ markets.
I live a life of relative affluence in Ottawa, and as such, I’m shielded from many challenges. Still, I know they exist. The food bank in my church struggles to meet its demand. Breakfast programs have become essential in Ontario schools, and indeed across the country. And high prices for “imported” food exacerbate food insecurity in Canada’s north.
Across the world, poverty and hunger are increasingly linked to climate change, as extreme weather wreaks havoc on local food systems.
In 2013, Yeb Saño, the climate commissioner for the Philippines, brought this into sharp focus. As UN climate negotiations began, Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest storm to hit the Philippines in recorded modern history, devastated his country. The fast that Saño began in response to this crisis launched a global movement, Fast for the Climate.
As part of this campaign, individuals and small groups in Canada and around the world fast on the first day of every month. This is their way of showing solidarity with vulnerable people who go hungry as the impacts of climate change worsen. The fast will continue until world leaders do what’s necessary to sign a fair and comprehensive plan at the UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.
Over the last year or so, I’ve admired colleagues and friends active in the climate fast movement. On many occasions, I’ve reflected on the plight of millions around the world who are not going hungry on principle, but simply don’t have access to food – those whose farms have been devastated by drought, those whose fisheries have been strained by ocean acidification, and those who can’t get to their traditional hunting grounds because sea ice has melted away.
And yet, I’ve resisted the fast myself. Selfishly. It just seemed too hard. I’ve recommended it as a course of action for others looking to get involved in the climate justice movement, but I haven’t been ready to do it myself. Until now.
The December 2014 climate negotiations in Lima, Peru were meant to be a turning point. Just one year ahead of the Paris 2015 climate change agreement deadline, world leaders needed to make progress towards a solid draft text. They stumbled and struggled. Many divisions remained.
In response, the climate fast movement upped the ante. They launched a 365-day rolling fast for the climate, involving people from every continent of the globe. The one-year fasting chain will travel from Lima, Peru, to Paris, France, beginning in Latin America, then North America, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, Africa, and ultimately, Europe.
CPJ’s Joe Gunn fasted on Ash Wednesday to begin his Lenten journey, while also quietly and consistently continuing the fast on the first day of each month. And now, it is my turn. I will fast on Wednesday, March 11.
I know that going one day without food isn’t going to change the world. It isn’t going to stop climate change. It isn’t even going to prompt the government of Canada to address greenhouse gas emissions.
It will, however, be an important moment for me. It will be a good point of conversation with my family and friends. It will give me a chance to be a part of something bigger, joining with people around the world fasting for a goal we share and saying “we need climate justice now.” And, it will bring me closer to those on the front lines of climate change.
Yes, I’ll be hungry, and it might be hard. But hard is okay because I am also hungry for justice.