Reflections – Food & Our Future discussion event

A quick few personal reflections after our Food and Our Future event last night. These are more a response than an account, so if you weren’t there then apologies as you’re getting much less than half the conversation.
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Firstly thanks to all the people who came – really brilliant turnout – and even more to our excellent speakers, Chris Mould, Liz Dowler and Adrian Phillips, and Kate for firm chairing.
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I was glad Adrian Phillips took the macro-economic line he did – talking about the profit motives that lead to our unhealthy, unjust and wasteful consumption and shopping habits. Lots of points well made. I’d add a caveat though – I think the profit motive is pretty integral to being human, and something we can live with or even make into something positive occasionally – but it becomes dangerous when a lot of power ends up in a few hands, and the corporate power over our food supply demonstrates that danger nicely in those poor health, injustice and waste impacts.
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Amidst strong statements on the need for greater justice in access to food,  Liz Dowler mentioned that despite recent rises and food poverty, we don’t actually pay that much (say, the full production costs) for our food, and that this is another source of injustice. I’ve often reflected on this: we used to pay far more for food and far less for housing. The reversal of that has impacted horrendously on a poorly paid (local and global) farming sector and as Liz pointed out on those working for supermarkets on zero hour contracts, as part of forcing down prices for food many of us then waste.
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Funnily enough, I seem to find myself making a point about community economic resilience and strengthening the local food economy – across rural and urban areas, to better redistribute responsibility, power and profit and shorten the chains. Hopefully it’s understood that this isn’t about thinking you can feed Birmingham from a few fields of hinterland, but about catalysing the structural/economic changes that are essential for sustainable development.
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Lastly this was another forum in which there was some discussion of the comparative merits of “just getting on and doing it for yourself” (directly helping a foodbank to feed hungry people) and the duty of the state to do something (abandon some of the more inhumane benefit changes). I find this debate a little frustrating – also often heard about environment action –  because it’s so obvious that the one needs the other, and that if you do the one you need to do or at least support the other. I doubt anyone really thinks you shouldn’t help out at the foodbank because it only encourages the government to penalise the poor. As well as the direct impacts, by doing the brilliant work they do to help real people, Chris Mould can (and did, to us) put the case more powerfully to those who need persuading than can those of us who just observe.
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Alongside helping food banks we have a duty to adopt responsible diets ourselves: in reducing meat and dairy, paying as fair prices as we can, eating seasonally and wasting much less. We need a good diet as fuel for speaking out against injustice and working towards structural change.
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There will be plenty more to report- watch this space for more.
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Karen Leach
Coordinator

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