Executive Director Dan Crossley explores why we need to embrace long-termism in our food systems and how we can get there. 

We’ve had fast food, slow food, free from food, fortified food, naked food, ultra-processed food, clean food, junk food, hot food, cold food and everything in between. Instead I yearn (or ‘long for’!) long food? When I say ‘long food’, I’m not referring to three metre long baguettes. I’m also not talking about food that has a best before date of 10 years’ time. What I want is for our food systems to embrace long-termism.

But what does bringing long-termism to food and farming mean? Why is it important? And how can we make that happen – faster?

We in the UK are very much embroiled in a short-termist food world – a fast-paced, consumerist food culture built on cheap food and instant gratification, with investors (up until recently) seemingly only interested in quarterly returns. That model is problematic and has been bursting apart at the seams for a while now. Paradoxically, farming is one area where long-term thinking has been deeply embedded for a long time – with farmers thinking about rotations over multi-year cycles.

Bringing long-termism to our food systems includes considering impacts on future generations when making decisions about food and farming today. Hence, I’m a huge fan of something akin to Wales’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Act being introduced in all countries. Long-termism should be hard-wired into every big government decision.

We need to make sure our legacy is a world where our children and their grandchildren children eat well. To do that means ensuring our farming works with nature, that we regenerate rather than destroy soils, live within planetary boundaries, live healthy lifestyles and embrace diverse food cultures. If we don’t…. suffice to say, it’s a depressing picture all round.

A long-term approach is not an abstract, selfless exercise – it can be deeply personal. What kind of world – and what kind of food system – do you want to leave for your children and their children, or for your friends’ and family’s children? People will have lots of different motivations for taking a long-term approach.

Bringing long-termism to food and farming also means looking back over the long-term – acknowledging and better understanding our historical legacy over centuries. For countries like the UK, that should include reflecting on our colonial past, and what that means for injustices in our food system today – particularly racial injustice. We need to proactively right those wrongs, including on critical issues such as access to land.

I asked the question on twitter about how we can bring long-termism to food and farming – and there were some brilliant responses (including this guest blog from Lynne Davis), so I thought I’d share a select few here:

  • (Re)find ritual. Rituals help us connect the immediate and material with both the past and the future (as well as how food has come to arrive on our plates). Food can also be a means of marking the passing of time/ the seasons. (thanks to @marcnyman)
  • Look and ponder three good things in nature daily, then link nature to farming (thanks to @tombeeeston)
  • Ask ‘are we being good ancestors?’ regularly. If not, how can we be? (thanks to @romankrznaric via @BhamFoodCouncil)
  • Use the Long Time Project resources – which are brilliant. (thanks to @jonjalex for the recommendation)
  • Strengthen institutional voices for the future* and give the civil service a stewardship role (thanks to @gretahughson)*I’d urge everyone to get behind Lord Bird and Caroline Lucas MP’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill for the UK

And finally thanks to @julianbaggini for helping turn conventional long-term thinking on its head:

“Paradoxically, stories of rapid transformation. We see quick repair of land and oceans when we introduce agroforestry, marine reserves etc. This shows that the destructive way things are is not as permanent as they seem and that we don’t need to wait long for long-term improvements.”

Building on that, I’d argue long-termism is not an excuse for inaction; in fact, it’s exactly the opposite – it’s a reason to take urgent action now. If we take a long-term perspective, only then will we think about the impacts our (individual and collective) behaviours will have on others (including the planet) for years to come and only then will we realise the need to act.

Some slivers of hope are emerging – in building the case and the tools for the much needed shift to long-termism in food and farming. I definitely don’t have all the answers. All I know is that it’s hugely important. Would love to hear how YOU think we can shift the tide on long-termism in our food systems.

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