By Holly Black
“Food has become central to the precarious economy, it has become a form of social control, and, while it remains a means for great change and a source for love, community and solidarity, it has also been captured and turned against us.” - The Fife Diet
Access to food is complicated, with the recent economic crisis affecting families all over the UK. Oxfam’s 2013 report ‘Walking the Breadline’ estimates that over 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food aid. The Trussell Trust estimate that in 2015 over 1 million people have been helped by Trussell Trust Food Banks with at least three days’ food, including almost 400,000 children in the last year. That is a lot of people relying on food aid in the UK, showing us that the current food system is not working.
Food is a resource-commodity that has started wars and brought communities together in times of need. Everyone needs to eat, but not everyone has access to food. Yet, access to food is enshrined in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food”. Although, food is not as high on the list of basic human rights priorities for the United Nations as we might imagine.
From food banks to growing your own, food is political. Eating is a political act and every time we eat we make a choice. But food isn't always a simple choice - there are issues like economics, access, awareness and governmental control that affect these choices.
One challenge is convenience. We live in a society where the closest supermarket is always just around the corner. Local green grocers have died away in the past years - with only a few seeing a revival along side local farmers markets. At the few greengrocers we have left we can see local apples accompanied by bananas and pineapples. It’s about demand, ease of access and our food culture - the fact that we are simply used to having a few oranges in the fruit bowl. And you can buy pretty much anything online. From Ocado to Asda, most online food shopping takes you a step further from your farmer. The exception to this being fresh-range - a new online portal piloting in the South West using local suppliers and producers. There are some food buying groups slowly emerging, like the Open Food Network, the Real Economy and other online intiaitives like Farmdrop that are helping knit together the threads of local food and internet access to order our food.
The true cost?
Another challenge is cost. These days, we don't experience the true cost of food. Supermarkets corner producers into really rubbish deals where they can drop a supplier at the drop of a hat if they change their mind (or get a better offer from elsewhere) resulting in most small scale producers being left out of the running as suppliers as they're unable to take risk at such a large scale. Food is more expensive than we think - the process of growing or raising produce, the cost of taking the products to market, the higher risks of growing organically without fertilizers (or growing with this crazy British weather) - these all take their toll - not to mention pests, disease and other unforeseen farm-based troubles. Food costs money (and so it should with the amount of time and care that goes into what we eat). My local community supported agriculture project Sims Hill Shared Harvest, asks for a number of ‘workshares’. This means people who either don’t have enough money to buy the vegetables, or that would rather the physical experience of growing, can pay with their time throughout the year. It gives people the opportunity to reconnect with the food they eat - and it gives our growers extra hands during the summer months when they're most needed. It means that as veg box holders we’re quite literally supporting our local growers. A long time ago I was speaking with one of the founders of a large veg box company that operates across England. He said the fact that he now has to import peppers from Spain (because that’s what his customers want) made him incredibly sad. The point of his vegetable box scheme from the very beginning was to support local farmers, the local economy, and bring the food that’s being produced in the local area to local plates. After all, why on earth would you not want to eat the fresh food produced by the farm next door?
Talking Food Waste
About a third of all food we produce is wasted. There are some incredible resources out there to help us not waste our food including Love Food Hate Waste - a brilliant website with tips and recipes to make the most of Food Waste. We have Bristol heroes doing great things with food waste and making sure it gets to people who need it most - Fareshare Southwest and Food Cycle. The lovely folk at Skipchen take skipped food, cook it up, and give it away for free or for a donation - as part of the Real Junk Food Project. The idea that you can pay what you feel for food - food that would otherise be wasted - is a political act. Rather than be dictated to by supermarkets, people are making the most of supermarkets waste. So simple.
Although we can take action with our food choices, there are still opportunities to put pressure on the Government to make local food more readily available. Groups such as This is Rubbish are putting pressure on the Government to get their act together to deal with the ridiclous amount of food waste from the catering industry that we have in the UK. We can also call for policy change to support small growers with the Landworkers Alliance and their various campaigns such as Saving our Seeds and Access to Land.
We can share the risk of growing through the CSA Network by supporting local community growers with what is often needed at the beginning of a project (cash), and make the most of leftover farm produce with the Gleaning Network. We all need to dig in and make sure our local food is getting to the right people. From practical things like using and contributing to our community allotments and urban growing projects to putting a coffee on hold or sharing your leftovers in your local area we can begin to bring good, accessible food in to our urban communities, step by step.
Read more from Holly here.