The politics of food

With the current political situation and potential Brexit from the EU, it is more important than ever for us to get involved with politics and play a thoughtful part in the food system to insure Britain’s food security and a fair world trade.

As a gastronomist, food is at the centre of my world. Food is the fuel that creates change on every level of society from culture to the stock market. Food instability can create war and revolution. Food security can stabilize continents and global relations.

It’s not uncommon for a well-meaning individual to ignore the impact their choices have on the world. I’m one of those people. If I’m tired I can play ignorant and forget my morals for a minute, just to keep myself going. And who can blame us?

We are bombarded with endless propaganda about how our food is good for us or the planet – often with little evidence to back it up. When the food we are sold is produced with profit as the main priority, it’s almost impossible to uphold our beliefs and best intentions to support nature and people when buying that food. But food is a force for change, and our purchases are a powerful vote that should not be cast lightly.


As sad as it is for me to say, the current food and farming system is creating catastrophic change as it contributes to climate change, global famine and malnourishment, damaging our planet to the brink of disrepair. Parts of our conventional food system harm nature, people, communities and civilisations in the wild and urban world.

Pesticides
This is a food system we are all part of and can’t ignore. “90% of farmland is drenched in pesticides, millions of tonnes of fertiliser are injected into the soil. This intensive chemistry kills 200,000 people every year among the production workers and farmers who use it,” says Michael Pitiot, who wrote documentary Terra.

Agricultural corporations – such as Bernard Matthews, Nestle, Unilever and BASF – supermarkets and our governments have manipulated us into thinking that conventional farming is functional and necessary to feed the world. But our chemical and industrial-produced food system does not feed the world: on the contrary, one in nine people are hungry.
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Farmer in red tractor spraying soybean field with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides


What has been created is a system of waste. Inexcusable quantities of waste are built into corporations budgets as economic solutions to the issue. Writing off waste as a necessary evil has many hidden costs from pollution to the massive loss of resources used in the production of that wasted food. This system of waste is designed to profit individuals and only supports the wealthier demographics of society.

Monocrops
The impoverished in wealthy countries are often malnourished by the overconsumption of monocrop-based high-calorie diets that are deceptively underpriced – the consequence of which according to the NHS costs billions of pounds a year in the UK alone. The unfortunate in worse off countries are often malnourished by the underconsumption of calories, whilst their own resources and food security is taken through the actions of corrupt government and corporations.

On top of this the chemicals used to farm this produce is harming the people using them and the surrounding ecology. For example asparagus is grown as an export food product in Peru for consumption in the UK. According to a study by the development charity Progressio, this production puts unnecessary pressure on the Peruvian water table, depleting water resources for smaller farmers who represent Peru’s food sovereignty.

A great deal of local people rely on the asparagus export business to maintain their way of life. However the conundrum is that if countries continue to focus on non-heritage produce which is high resource and designed for export, it can and mostly likely will strip them of their food and water security.

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Vast swathes of the global population are agricultural workers. According to the World Bank Data website which gathers its information from the UN food and agricultural organisation: “For 70% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment but depletion and degradation of the land and water poses threats to producing enough food to sustain livelihoods here and of urban populations”. Why is this?

Food waste
We know that there is enough food in the world being produced, in fact there is a surplus. This indicates there is a need for logistics to be improved in order to reduce waste. It is clear that our governments and the agro-industry should be responsible for our foods fair distribution.

The global food market needs to reform and focus on improving the lives of its citizens – not the profit of the shareholders and CEOs of the businesses controlling the global food market. Although the big picture shows a scary landscape of unfairness and corruption, our governments do recognise the need for change and improving social conditions.

Funding can be found for non-government organisations (NGO’s) and grassroot initiatives trying to improve social welfare. I believe that sometimes these funding initiatives are merely a greenwash for their less-candied support of the major food corporations. However, taking advantage of these funding pots is vital in working towards a positive change in legislation from the ground up.

Fair food
Through research, petitions and cooperation with top level NGOs, we can start moving in the right direction to create a sustainable farming system that does what it is supposed to do: feed the world. Together with action we can enable a dramatic shift towards a fairer global food system that cares for the whole world not just the wealthy or an individual’s table.

We need to start subsidising biodiversity not monoculture, we need to repopularise rural agriculture by truly valuing the people that make our food. We can reconnect with those communities by visiting farmer’s markets and taking the time to shop from independents and artisans. But to have an impact, we need to be relentless and boycott corporations and companies that don’t share our community values by buying from people and companies that do share our ethics. We need to encourage others to value their food and its origins as much as we do.

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Of course this is a sensitive issue and needs to be treated as such. Many of us simply can’t afford to buy premium food items. But for those of us that do have the luxury of buying our own food, wherever possible we must buy from independent grocers, butchers, and fishmongers or direct from the farmer.

Reconnecting
We waste food because we have become disconnected from its origins and no longer value that food. On a global level food is seen as little more than a commodity and on a personal level is has become unrealistically cheap. In order to reconnect with our food, we need to reconnect with nature.

If we can find the origin of our food and value the ingredients which we trade and or prepare in our kitchens, we will create a self propelling and positive cycle with the same financial resources creating a more sustainable and happier global community through food. I encourage us all to stand up and take responsibility for our political situation and to become a gastronomist if only for the moments we purchase food and cook in our everyday lives.

About

Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt is an eco-chef, director of Poco restaurant in Bristol and author of The Natural Cook.

comments

  1. These issues were already with us pre-Brexit. Can you direct me to some info on what the thinking is around our food industry Post Brexit? Is Paul Sousek (see comment above) correct in saying that leaving Europe will enable us to support Localisation or will we be under more pressure to buy from further afield? This article has a misleading title!

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