After months of organising, meetings, prayer, and listening to grassroots groups, bishops and charities I have finally begun my forty day fast. For the next forty days - Ash Wednesday until Palm Sunday - I'm going to eat no food. I'll have a glass of fruit juice each morning and the water left over from steamed vegetables in the evening; and keep hydrated of course.
What began with an uncomfortable feeling that foodbanks were a sign of both hope and increasing crisis has grown into a campaign called "End Hunger Fast". We're asking for three things:
That the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger in Britain
That work pays enough for working people to properly provide for their families
That food markets function, promoting long term sustainable and healthy diets with no one profiteering off hunger in Britain
We're doing this because half a million people in Britain used foodbanks in the last year and the situation has got bad enough that the EU is offering the UK millions of pounds in food aid (our government have refused this). In fact, 5,500 people were admitted to hospital with malnutrition last year, a figure that's double in just two years.
However you explain this, it is a crisis of hunger that needs to be both dealt with acts of mercy - foodbanks, debt counselling, and so on, but also with a hunger for justice.
Fasting is a way of drawing closer to God and to our neighbour. Right now our neighbour is hungry.
Two days in and the fast is fairly straightforward. I've slept well, seen a slight drop in energy in the afternoons, and had no hunger pangs at all. The reason I've had a fairly easy start is preparation: I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol a month ago and stopped eating grain ten days ago. I've been reducing my portions and eating lots of fruit and veg too and it's all paying off. By day three I expect my body to switch from looking for food going in and to go into 'starvation mode'; that is to say it will be looking for food in my fat stores.
And as for my spirit, well, that's a little more unpredictable! While End Hunger Fast is a social campaign, for me, this is also an act of faith. But then religion is and always has been inescapably political (for good or ill).
Fasting in the Jewish tradition has a political element with the prophet Micah bewailing those who fasted in prayer but didn't "do justice and love mercy" and Esther calling for three days of public fasting and lament across the empire as she challenged the emperor over her people's persecution. Daniel, an administrator employed in exile refused "the King's food" and ate only vegetables as an act of political resistance.
Our campaign began with a letter from senior church leaders, mostly Anglican Bishops, expressing their outrage at the moral crisis that has led to so many going hungry. The letter sparked a political and media storm that was even greater than we imagined. But perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised: how we care for our neighbour in need gets to the heart of our national and personal identity.
As the campaign and my fast develop I'll be blogging here. But meanwhile, please do sign up to our National Day of Fasting of 4th April. Hunger could come to most of us, and I'm sure for some of you, it's already at the door.