“Food shapes our sense of ourselves… Cooking and eating together is perhaps the defining communal act. The character of the landscape and the culture of many rural communities are defined by the way farmers use the land. And although most of us now live in cities, growing food, seeing how it is grown, knowing that we can feed ourselves – these are all important to our sense of national belonging”. (National Food Strategy 2021)
Issues we face
Food Security is having reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food, yet upwards of 800 million people go hungry every day.
In the UK, the need for Food Security has been underlined by the traumas of the past decade including Brexit, the pandemic and seismic weather events. ‘Just in Time’ food systems cannot cope: empty shelves, rising costs, animal culls and rotting food in the fields became the norm.
The government estimates that we import around 50% of our food, (although it is higher if foods imported but processed in this country are counted). Even at the 50% figure, we would need to double production to become self-sufficient.
The Somerset Levels and Catchment is theoretically self-sufficient in many types of food and drink, with surpluses of milk, cheese, poultry meat, barley (for beer), apples (for both eating, juicing and cider), beef, potatoes and green vegetables. This is because it has both arable and agriculturally productive pasture and a relatively low population density.
The food we are eating is making us ill:
The type of food most commonly consumed worldwide is now is so processed that it is making us ill.
In terms of health, one in three people over 45 in England are now clinically obese. Even more disturbing is the fact that by 11 years old a quarter of children are obese. Hospital admissions where obesity is recorded as the primary diagnosis have soared.
Ill people are less able to work, increasing demands on the welfare state.
The growing number of children and adults with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, allergens and cancers is adding to both human misery and national debt.
Each of us pay more in taxes to cover these growing costs and count the cost in terms of personal health.
Radical change in production, distribution and consumption is needed.
Theoretically modern agriculture produces more than enough to feed the 8 billion humans worldwide, but the way the food is produced is destroying the planet and its unequal distribution has catastrophic results: starvation or obesity coupled with surplus food waste.
The world’s population is growing with people moving to the cities. Climate change is affecting water supplies and altering what the land can grow. Resource competition and trade barriers are re-emerging along with new public health crises driven by viral mutations and anti-microbial resistance.
Cost of living crisis
Cost of Living Crisis and Access to Affordable, Nutritious Food.
The cost of food is steadily rising with wage stagnation and inflation seeing a record use of food banks.
Household incomes are being squeezed through increases in housing and energy costs and massive unemployment looms as recession takes hold.
We are caught in a Junk Food Cycle; our genetic predilection for calorie dense food creates an easy market for food companies to exploit.
Sales of highly processed food sales are booming but are making us ill. 80% of processed food sold in the UK is classified ‘unhealthy’.
Due to economies of scale, highly processed food is cheaper per calorie than healthier alternatives.
We are ALL part of this
While individual action is important and does make a real difference, the scale of the problems facing us, globally and nationally are simply not solvable through individual action alone. Governments globally and nationally must get involved.
Change is possible; the problem is political will. Governments need reminding they work for us.
What is to be done?
A new food economy is needed that is radically different from the existing one.
In 2015, the UK Government joined every other country in the world and committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Goals provide a framework to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, combat catastrophic climate change, and protect our natural environment by 2030. For example,
Goal 15 aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradations and halt biodiversity loss.
Reducing food loss and waste can contribute to environmental sustainability by lowering production costs and increasing the efficiency of food systems. Currently, we lose 13.8 per cent after harvesting and during transport, storage and processing alone, amounting to a cost worldwide of over $400 billion a year.
Full report here: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/
The UK Government commissioned the National Food Strategy in 2019 in tandem with other Health and Environmental legislation to create an overarching strategy designed to ensure the food system:
- Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food to everyone;
- Restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country;
- Is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector;
- Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers across the country;
- Does all of this in an efficient and cost-effective way
- Is robust in the face of future shocks
The National Food Strategy reported in 2021 with clear recommendations about how to address these issues:
- Escape the Junk Food cycle and protect the NHS
- Reduce diet-related inequality
- Make the best us of our land
- Create a long-term shift in our food culture
The National Food Strategy recommended that a tax on salt and sugar be introduced using the resulting revenue to fund free school meals, get fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families and provide holiday activities and food programmes.
More here: https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/
Locally – What’s happening here?
- Sustainable Food Somerset – originally called Wells Food Network, we champion healthy, sustainable, affordable food for all – food that is good for people, as well as for communities and, of course, the planet.
- Green Wedmore – coordinates, explores and encourages sustainable living as it could apply in practical terms to Wedmore and the surrounding villages. http://www.wedmoregreengroup.co.uk
- Sustainable Wells – aims to build community resilience to climate change. It focuses on renewable energy, repair cafe events, recycling and single use plastics. http://www.sustainablewells.org.uk
- Take Art/Cuiltivate – brings local food, the arts and communities together. We big up local food producers, share their stories and highlight themes from farm to fork to festival through the power of performance and creative arts. https://takeart.org/cultivate
- Somerset Food Trails – take place in July with a growing number of producers showcasing the smaller-scale, more nature-friendly farmers and artisan producers who are leading the transition to a new agroecological era of food and farming. https://www.somersetfoodtrail.org/
Individually – what you can do!
Volunteer – Food and your Time
There are many organisations, RtL included, that would welcome your input.
Change your buying habits –
Everything we buy, from a litre of milk to a new pair of shoes, needs to be produced and this generates CO2 emissions. Think about where your food is coming from; eat seasonally to avoid transport miles,
Grow your Own – Local Authorities report an increase in demand for allotments; some are offering smaller, tester ones to see how you get on. The benefits of growing your own are manifest:
- Improves your Health through eating nutricious and delicious food,
- Saves money on your grocery bill
- Reduces your environmental impact no pesticides or insecticides
- Provides exercise that is enjoyably physical, relaxing, destressing in the fresh air and sunshine
- Reduces food waste (you pick only what you need)
- Connect with Nature, Learn and experience – plant life cycles, growing seasons, ways of improving your soil, wildlife – pests and friends
- Meet new people if growing communally.
Be picky about packaging: plastic packaging creates a lot of waste and is often difficult to recycle. Try to avoid packaged products and look for refills of products like shampoo.
Take reusable bags to carry your shopping home. And buy kitchen and toilet roll made from recycled paper.
Think twice before upgrading your gadgets. Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing category of waste in the EU.
Buying garden furniture or other wooden products? Look for theFSC or PEFC labels that guarantee the wood was harvested in a sustainable manner.
Don’t waste food. Buy only the amount you need, and keep your leftovers for later!
Consider avoiding products that are not in season. Growing food outside its natural environment or normal growing season requires tremendous amounts of water, energy and other resources.
Wash your fruits and vegetables in a bowl rather than under a running tap. Water your plants with the remaining water.
If you eat meat, replace some of your red meat consumption with chicken, fish or pulses. Switching from beef to chicken can reduce your meal’s carbon footprint by as much as 75%.
For a taste of these outlets – which shorten the food supply chain and create benefits for customers, producers, health and the landscape – see below: