In no particular order, here is an eclectic list of ten reasons to be optimistic about the future of UK food and farming:
1. The Oxford Real Farming Conference is around the corner. It’s an inspiring place to share great ideas, network with others fighting for a better future and – in the words of its co-founder Colin Tudge - push for ‘good food, for everyone, forever’.
2. ‘Public money for public goods’ as a concept is becoming widely accepted. Farmers – stewards of most of the country’s land - may be rewarded for delivering public goods in the future, which I for one think is a welcome move.
3. A food strategy is on the horizon. Lots of us have been saying for a long time that we need a joined-up food strategy. There is at last the promise of one. There’s a lot that will need to go into a food strategy for it to be successful, but at least one is on the cards.
4. Cities are taking matters into their own hands. From Aberdeen to Brighton & Hove, from Barnsley to London, city regions are developing their own food strategies and action plans. The London Food Strategy has just launched, with the headline being a banning of junk food advertising on the Transport for London estate.
5. Food & farming start-ups are increasingly driven by purpose - delivering greater environmental and social good. We are seeing the rise of social enterprises and B Corps in food and farming. Accelerator programmes like Impact Hub Kings Cross’s ‘feeding the city’ are helping breed a new generation of purpose-driven food businesses.
6. We’re at last having a grown-up debate about meat, dairy and the future of protein. We’ll (of course) claim some of the credit for the growing nuance and increasing understanding of health, environmental and animal welfare impacts of high meat and dairy consumption.
7. Farm animal welfare concerns are on the rise. We’ve been exploring farm animal welfare metrics because we believe animal welfare concerns should be on a level footing with other social and environmental concerns. I’m pleased to see fish welfare is rising up the agenda, including via Compassion in World Farming’s recently launched #Rethink Fish campaign.
8. There is a growing recognition of the importance of language. To cite one example, we’re witnessing a shift away from the language of ‘food poverty’ towards ‘poverty’, as ultimately there is only poverty. There’s also a growing acknowledgement of the importance of framing. The way that challenges and solutions are presented is hugely important. I love Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s work on reframing poverty and the use of powerful metaphors such as the ‘rising tide of poverty’.
9. The emergence of food citizenship – as the ‘Blue Planet’ plastics moment showed, people do care. We sometimes feel helpless, as if our actions don’t matter, particularly when we’re constrained by a consumerist culture. However, if those chains are untied and we instead treat people as citizens, the opportunities for our food system open up in exciting ways. See and share inspiring #foodcitizenship stories via www.foodcitizenship.info.
10. The inspiring people in food and farming – There are many incredible people working to create food systems better for people, planet and animals. Here are three that I’ve been particularly inspired by this year:
· Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, who spoke at our 20th anniversary event in the summer, has been at the forefront of setting out why and how we need to transform our food systems.
· Pam Warhurst, co-founder of Incredible Edible, who spoke so passionately at our recent Food Talks event, is the dictionary definition of empowering. I love her notion of ‘creating a sticky money economy’, where money ‘sticks’ in the local community.
· Finally, the late Peter Melchett, whose memorial I went to last week, was someone I admired greatly. He fought for sustainable food, farming and wildlife with passion, humility and good humour. We must continue the good fight in Peter’s name.
Let’s be optimistic about what the future holds. It may not always feel like it, but together we can shape better food futures for our children and grandchildren.