The coronavirus is proving devastating for people and businesses alike. It is also putting the food sector through its toughest test in living memory.

Amidst the distress, uncertainty and sporadic stockpiling that the pandemic has unleashed, we also see intrinsic values shining through:

  • compassion and community – people coming together to support neighbours in need;
  • fairness – rationing food supplies to try to ensure all (or at least most) have access to essential goods;
  • and respect – for front line workers selflessly tackling the pandemic.

Across the world, people, organisations and communities are doing amazing things during the crisis. They need to be acknowledged. We are grateful for everyone getting us through the pandemic and acknowledge how hard their work is – including public health and medical front line staff. As part of that, let’s also thank all those keeping food supplies going. They’re not often thought of as ‘frontline workers’, but they certainly feel like it at the moment.

Responding at a time of uncertainty and challenge
There will not be a single solution to the myriad consequences of Covid-19. Navigating the weeks and months ahead will be practically and ethically complex. We do not need to address these issues alone and in isolation from one another. The Food Ethics Council operates on principles of collaboration and mutual support, believing we are far more able to develop effective and enduring solutions collectively.

At the Food Ethics Council, we bring people from the food sector together to work through the tricky ethical dilemmas now before us. We provide a safe space to address concerns relating to food supply and access. We keep people connected at a time when we’re being asked to physically isolate. We can work with other NGOs to push for urgent and fair action from government to support the most vulnerable members of society. We work with you as changemakers to develop considered responses.

In the current climate, many are focusing on the here and now, the today not tomorrow. We understand that. Our role is to ensure that we can all keep a level head and make sure we maintain a long-term lens as well.

We also need to remember that while our focus is currently on Covid-19, the changes that we are creating can and should also consider other profound challenges of the moment, like the ongoing climate, nature, obesity and democracy emergencies. And crucially we need to ensure that negotiations on post-Brexit trade deals do not result in an undercutting of food standards in the UK.

The UK will bounce back, but let’s not bounce back to business-as-usual. Let’s reset how our food systems work and make them fair for all.

The UK will bounce back, but let’s not bounce back to business-as-usual. Let’s reset how our food systems work and make them fair for all.

What questions are emerging?
Many questions raised in the current crisis are core to how and why the Food Ethics Council works:

  • How can we respond urgently, but thoughtfully, to the multiple emergencies we face?
  • How should we balance the responsibility to look after ourselves and our families with concern for the wider community?
  • How can we ensure everyone – including the most vulnerable – has access to enough healthy, culturally appropriate food, now and in the future?
  • How can we empower everyone to shape our food systems for the better?
  • How can we support people who are working hard to keep our food supplies going and how can we ensure they are treated properly and fairly?
  • How can we couple an emergency response with longer-term systemic change?
  • How can we help food systems bounce back onto a more resilient, fairer path?

The pandemic has highlighted (in case it needed highlighting) the fragility of our food systems and the need to move away from a two-tier model in which certain segments of society have access to a huge range of foods, while a (growing) minority have to rely on handouts. We have recently started a major project, as part of our Food Citizenship programme, exploring how we can transition away from a dependence on charitable food aid provision, which now feels particularly timely and important.

As a community, we have a responsibility towards our families and friends. We also have a responsibility to our fellow citizens, particularly those who are already struggling to access food, those who have lost their jobs, those for whom physical isolation is really difficult, those who are fearful of their health.

If you’re in a position to do something, please do, for example sign up to your local mutual aid group of which there are now more than 900. After all, we are all emergency respondents now.

It is not just those who eat food who are affected by the pandemic but the producers, distributors and hospitality sectors too. Farmers, food businesses and restaurants are having to totally shift how they operate in order to survive. These changes need to be urgent and considered. Open Food Network (OFN) is helping food businesses make this transition online. It has produced this set of resources on Covid-19, to help businesses adapt.

Do you know of other individuals and groups in the food sector creatively and positively responding to the crisis? We’d love to hear them! Please share your stories with us on twitter @FoodEthicsNews.

Let’s together steer the newsworthy stories from selfish stockpiling consumers to those of people looking out for one another and treating each other with kindness and humanity. Let’s get through this crisis and shape a better, fairer, stronger food system.