The Square Meal Report

Chair: Vicki Hird (Friends of the Earth and Sustain)

Speakers: Tim Lang (Professor of Food Policy, City University), Dan Crossley (Food Ethics Council), Rob Macklin (National Trust), Mike Clarke (RSPB), Phillip Lymbery (Compassion in World Farming)

The Square Meal Report (download here) is a collaboration of several organisations and marks the beginning of the conversation about the state of our food.

The international food system is not recognised in the report – it concentrates solely on the UK.

We seem to be going backwards in terms of food policy.

We do not currently have a fair food and farming strategy.

Tim Lang – What is the biggest barrier to a fair system?

We currently have complexity, obesity, poverty and reduced life expectancy in many areas. It is a volatile situation.

Lots of factors influence health.

The problem is the public. People do want to be healthy. Addressing the public is our barrier.

Dan Crossley – Please remember this figure: 913,138. That is the number of people that received three days’ emergency food from food banks in 2013-14 compared to 346,992 in 2012-13.

There is too much self-interest in connection with food supply.

Mike Clark – The food and farming system is failing the public. 60% of all wildlife is in decline.

The change has to come from civil society.

Rob Macklin – There is a danger of inertia and things become ‘normal’.

Agriculture is driven by inputs and is missing the fundamentals of good soil and water health.

Phil Lymbery – There is a lack of leadership with food policy and in the food sector. The ‘sustainable intensification’ approach is an oxymoron.

Grain feeding is 40% more intensive than pasture feeding.

There are four areas addressed in the report:

  1. Health
  2. Farming
  3. Good food for all
  4. Nature

The question (‘What is the biggest barrier to a more equitable food and farming system?) was then put to the floor.

People said ‘Education’, ‘Individual food choices’, ‘Make links and initiate positive stuff’ ‘Find a group that you can join’.

Tim Lang – As an individual, you can do nothing (although he did go on to concede that individuals can group together to make change happen).

Patrick Holden stressed ‘there is public ignorance and confusion about the debate’.

He asked the panel if they would get behind ruminant-based systems.’ Phil Lymbery replied that CIWF ‘supports mixed, rotational systems.’ Mike Clark would not explicitly support this.

Another audience member suggested that the internet was the best way to elicit change.

Another suggested that although buying organic would be a way to change things, many people could not afford this. Also, ‘perhaps we need strong regulatory interventions.’

The question was asked ‘How can we work together to create change?’

Anya at the Sustainable Food Trust – ‘There is an assumption that people make rational choices in terms of food choices. Actually these choices are often based around emotion. Also, where are the producers (not farmers) and chefs at this food conference?’

Tim noted that only 4.6% of the money spent on food goes to producers.

Mike (RSPB) picked out the following ways to create change:

  • Important to use a language that works for the audience
  • Importance of visual media
  • The role of the internet

Additional issues from audience members – ‘importance of looking at farmer’s poverty as well as food poverty’,

‘importance of self-sufficiency’

‘Although many in this room may not agree, we  need to work in partnerships with corporations (such as The Real Junk Food Project)’ PL – we need to move away from the elitism in the debate.

Decent food choices should be a right and not a privilege.

Dan – we need more government intervention. PL agreed – we need more leadership.

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