Food is intrinsically linked with so many other issues we face – health, trade, climate change… If we fixed our broken food systems and transformed our attitude to what we eat, could we address these other issues too? Mel and Alex discuss in their regular conversation blog. Please do share your thoughts in the comments!
Mel Young: It is astonishing to learn that in the UK – allegedly one of the richest countries in the world – that the country is running out of food! Due to logistical issues and many other reasons food is simply not being distributed to shops which is causing panic buying which is making the situation even worse.
This situation begs all sorts of questions. Obviously, there is the whole issue of poor management by the government but you have to ask questions about the way we consume food and the way it is distributed. “Just in time” management systems can be very efficient and create less waste but if the chain breaks then the whole system comes to a shuddering halt very quickly. Then there is a question about where the food is coming from – do we really need to bring it from all across the world? And finally, what about the food we are all consuming – how much of it is rubbish which is damaging our health?
So, again, with The New Ism, it is about systems. We should change the whole way we consume food. But what does that mean?
Alex Matthews: Yes the food system is linked to so much else isn’t it – health, of course, but also the environment, politics, globalism, trade… It feels like if we could ‘fix’ it, we would be addressing many other problems at the same time. It really is alarming that the system here in the UK – and I’m sure in many other countries – is so precarious. It’s time to make it more stable, and I think that that is about looking at what we can do to become more self-sufficient. If we in the UK produced the majority of our food here, we wouldn’t be relying on supply chains, trade deals and transport for our food. And, of course, we would at the same time make our food much more sustainable – not only would we be cutting out the air miles that so much of our food produces, but we would be forced to eat more seasonally. We could also take the opportunity to support farmers who actively protect the environment, using regenerative and organic practices, for example. It feels like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
MY: I agree entirely, this makes complete sense. The big challenge is that our climate doesn’t allow us to grow the food that we might like to consume. Do we develop new artificial systems to bring us the food that we want which is made locally or do we say that we can’t actually have some food which we might like because of the environmental consequences – we make the sacrifice, it’s tough luck that we happen to live here?
AM: That’s a good point. It’s difficult but my gut reaction is that we need to adjust our tastes to fit with nature – I feel that we have got to this point because we insist on doing things our own way and having it all. It would be really difficult – we wouldn’t be able to have things like bananas, oranges etc – but we need to remember that we are part of the earth’s ecosystems, and not separate to them, so we need to work within them too.
If we do start eating only food that has been produced locally, it would undoubtedly be great for the environment, better for our health and better for local farmers – but it brings into question international trade. If we’re not trading food, then do we start to question why we are trading other goods? Does that path lead us to isolationism?
MY: Well, because most countries aren’t self-sufficient, I do think it makes sense for there to be some form of trade as long as it is done in a fair and sustainable way. I also think that there should be more emphasis on cultivating local production of food and a culture of buying local products where possible. As ever, it is a question of getting a balance. I do believe that the current system of mass distribution is symptomatic of the whole global system which is based on “bigness”. Supermarkets and conglomerates dominate, and customers can only buy food that those entities want them to buy, rather than food that’s healthy and/or supports local farmers. To be honest, most of us eat such crap, which we know isn’t good for us but we keep on doing it because it is so available and convenient. And some might say, addictive!
AM: Yes, we really need to overhaul what we eat. 21st century western diets are full of processed ingredients, sugar, salt, chemicals and additives with unpronounceable names… In many countries, a significant proportion of the population is obese, which brings with it a raft of health problems and additional pressure on healthcare systems. If we focused on natural, locally produced ingredients, I have no doubt that we would all become much healthier – but it would be hard because, as you say, we are quite literally addicted to the processed rubbish that we eat – and it’s hard to avoid because it’s everywhere and pushed onto us by these huge conglomerates.
Another hugely important issue related to food is food waste. We mentioned in our book that the world wastes a horrifying amount of food; I believe about a third of all food produced is wasted – that’s enough to feed all the world’s hungry people. The wasted food also produces greenhouse gases.
The world – and especially the West – has a really dysfunctional relationship with food, and it’s something that we need to fix, urgently – because, if we do, we will simultaneously address many other issues.
MY: The issue of how we distribute and consume food is fascinating. I agree with you that if we can come up with a system which sorts out global food consumption – a completely new system – then in the process we will create the foundations of what The New Ism will be for the future.