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Warami Jackson listened in to the recording of the session from Rob Hopkins’ What Next Summit where he was joined by GC director Julie Brown; Tim Lang -Professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy; food and farming actionist Dee Woods; and Pam Warhurst, co-founder of Incredible Edible. During a session called What is breaking through as the current food system is breaking down? they discussed where food is now and looked at some of the best initiatives happening across the UK.
Tim started by sharing the state of the UK’s alternative food movement as he sees it. He believes there are winning arguments but change is slow and small when compared to the big corporations. There are some wonderful democratic experiments but action is not coordinated enough for big changes to become the new norm. There is little to no money going into primary producers, but more going into software manufacturers – for instance the ‘no checkout’ shops Amazon just launched, Deliveroo and Uber Eats.
The lack of a National Food Policy in England makes the progress of food systems uncertain. But he remains optimistic as this is an opportunity for policy makers to ask what changes we want to see. Tim would recommend a policy of ‘Sustainable diets from Sustainable food systems’.
Finally, he shed light on the various challenges we are facing – ecology, society, politics, economy, culture, and governance. He said the most critical part of all this is to win public hearts and minds by having discussions such as these. Climate change commissions have done only 1% of what they need to do. Food provides an avenue for enormous change in CO2 emissions, jobs, skills, biodiversity, societal inequalities, etc, but only if we move fast. Covid has highlighted the problems caused by bad diet and obesity. Real food can curb these. Switching from plastic packaging is only a lifestyle change; what we need is real dietary change.
Dee expressed her sadness that communities, not governments, are the lead drivers ensuring people have access to the human rights of food and nutrition and are expected to come up with the solutions. She co-founded Granville Community Kitchen in a community that has experienced multiple generations of deprivation, who have decided to push back against the unjust system in order to access their right to good food. She said good food systems start with people at the centre, regardless of colour, disability, status, gender, sexuality. Granville has started a good food box working with local farmers and global communities such as the African and Caribbean food corporation.
She said we need good food retailers selling healthy food without travelling distances or paying outrageous amounts for culturally appropriate food in order to curb the practice of buying cheap highly processed food. Granville’s radical Solidarity Veg Box scheme gives low-income people access to the same foods as people who can afford to pay more. They are seeking to grow much more food as well because culturally available food can be grown here if there is access to land and other resources.
Julie explained GC’s aims to build a better food system that looks after people, the soil and the planet. She described how a network of similar retailers has grown into the Better Food Traders and spawned the Better Food Shed, a collaborative distributer. If we want more environmentally and climate friendly food production, retailers must be farmer-focused and ensure the food producers get most of the money in the supply chain. Our diets should be seasonal and shaped by what works for the land.
Pam believes food is the best language to get across to people. She said if you really care about tomorrow and you know you can provide a solution if only people would listen, the first play is to grow different varieties of food in public places and let people come by and experience it for free. Start conversations with people who have cooking and growing skills to share with the community. She suggested that if as a customer you have money to afford food, think local first, support local growers. It’s about growing confidence not just food. It’s about helping groups find their own governance structures to grow the movement at grassroots level.
On reflection, Tim reiterated that these are good projects but they’re just experiments: we need to think big. We need a bigger umbrella, a new system of regional food governance, and it has to be in law to bring effective change. Pam believes that we need to collect stories and data from these ‘experiments’ and invest I them, because without the grassroots governance we cannot affect the wider public. She believes law-makers don’t have enough knowledge and experience to bring the change we need, so we need people on the ground demonstrating that the change can be done to give the policy-makers confidence. Julie agreed that we need to work with what we have now; collectively we will change what we can.
Warami Jackson is one of our Feedback EcoTalent interns, sponsored by the Lottery Community Fund and Our Bright Future.