February: 2nd February 2017: Local & Sustainable Food

Our discussions explored, existing systems for producing, distributing, selling and consuming food have become totally dysfunctional, profoundly inequitable and unsustainable. With an expected population growth of 2 to 3 billion by 2050, and the impacts of climate change on agriculture, an appalling situation will only get worse unless we transform humanity’s relationship with food. ‘Agribusiness as usual’ is not an option. The session explored what some people here in Frome are already doing to (re-) create a healthy and sustainable food system, and how we all might build on it.

Sue Everett is an ecologist and adviser in land management and food policy. She explained how numerous organisations, previously dispersed, are now coming together and coalescing around a shared purpose – to challenge the “industrial agribusiness treadmill” and develop a People’s Food Policy. Examples are the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the Land Workers’ Alliance. Sue recommended the reports coming out of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

Cordelia Rowlett runs a small farm on the edge of Frome – Vallis Veg – selling fruit, vegetables and other farm produce to local customers. They also run courses and other events, host visits, and act as a Permaculture Learning Centre. Cordelia explained some of the challenges of operating as a business, such as delivering produce while being mindful of their carbon footprint, and choosing not to formally register as organic.

Sheila Gore and Mandy talked about the challenges of running a wholefood shop in Frome that aims to provide healthy, sustainable food, sourced as locally as possible. Mandy has been a vegan for 19 years, principally because she cannot accept the extreme suffering meted out to other species in order to provide humans with meat and fish. However, she pointed out that there are other compelling reasons why it makes sense to consider a vegan diet. There is now a great deal of evidence that a wholefood, plant-based diet is extremely good for our health and well-being. And looking at food production globally, far better use could be made of finite land if it was used to grow vegetables, fruit and cereals as food for humans rather than to feed and raise farm animals for the meat industry.

Roger White runs Somerset Local Food Direct. Their service, operating from a base in Glastonbury, delivers local, organic and other produce directly to customers, who can order weekly on-line. Roger argued that this way of distributing food has many advantages over supermarket shopping, including enabling people to find out more about where their food comes from. One of the biggest challenges is to persuade people to plan in advance what they will eat in the coming week – it requires a more thoughtful relationship with food.

Clare Millar, a nutritional therapist, feels that the good food education provided in the past by schools, older generations, and even government (the Ministry of Food…), has been replaced and undermined by supermarkets and a fast-food, high-sugar and -fat diet. She argued that it is important to revive some of the skills and habits of the past, such as fermenting, bottling, preserving and foraging.

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