We’ve chosen to put to one side for a moment the division, fake news and distrust that were so prevalent in the late 2010s. As we all enter a new decade, we asked our Council members for one thing that currently excites them about our journey towards fair, sustainable food systems. Here are five reasons for hope they identified:
1. The possibility (at last) of a ‘North Star’ that joins up policy and gives us a sense of direction
When asked for something positive, one reply was that “The thing that gave me optimism in 2019 was the National Food Strategy – at last a debate on what sort of food system we want that looked at the whole supply chain…. [and]… the existence of cross party support means it might actually achieve something”. They went on to make a rare Brexit link, saying that “leaving the EU will allow the UK to ‘design’ its national food strategy free of any constraints- an opportunity and a threat, hence the importance of the National Food Strategy”.
We’re keen to help make the National Food Strategy for England as ambitious as possible in 2020. We also want it to build on previous excellent work like A People’s Food Policy and, more recently, the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. We’re also encouraged by activity in the Devolved Nations, including the potential for the Good Food Nation Bill in Scotland.
2. The rising profile of food and farming issues – including ethical concerns
One Council member told us that “I think ‘food’ as a topic has become more important to politicians, media and public so at least it will be talked about rather than just be ‘delivered’ by a supply chain geared to maximise shareholder profit.”. Hear hear.
Many food issues are rising up the political and public agendas, creating both cause for concern and cause for hope. One such critical issue is household food insecurity, which has become a reality for so many. One small chink of light is that there are at least more and more people highlighting that we must get away from the need for emergency charitable food aid provision. A member of the Council said: “A possible cause for hope is the increasing numbers writing and speaking angrily about the need for food banks. Many more ‘get it’ than previously.”. We want to help co-create exit strategies for food banks et al.
3. We may be reaching a tipping point on ‘truth’, where honesty makes a comeback
One of our Council members described why they expect the balance of power to shift away from fake news, manipulation and spin, and towards brand integrity and honesty…
“Tech enables more and sophisticated forms of manipulation, but it also makes it easier to uncover and share the truth. I am hopeful that the balance of these powers in the food system is about to shift. The food industry has been keener to use the tools of persuasion than it has been to address fundamentals. But there comes a point when if the reality doesn’t match the presentation, your brand is sunk. Could integrity become the most valuable asset of any food business? I hope so…”
Are we nearing a tipping point or is this just wishful thinking? Only time will tell…
4. A climate awakening (for many)
The climate emergency has hit the front pages and is firmly on the agenda of (nearly all) party political leaders. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but that’s for another day. For now, let’s celebrate the awakening that many have had about the climate crisis in the past year or two – including its link to food and farming systems (and vice versa).
Let’s not rest on our laurels though. We don’t have time for an ‘acceptance’ celebration party after all. We need to act swiftly to build on the momentum developed. While we’re there, let’s accelerate action to tackle the biodiversity and obesity crises and to further strengthen animal welfare in practice too.
Let’s avoid having a giant game of ‘pass the buck’ on climate change in terms of who is responsible and who needs to act. The short answer is everyone. It’s great that the NFU has a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target – something that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Let’s work together to surpass that target, ideally many years ahead of 2040 – and also involving important, underplayed, elements such as dietary shifts too. We shouldn’t single out farming – we need to take action across the whole food system.
5. The mobilisation of young people
Council members felt inspired by the mobilisation of youth, with one young lady in particular widely referenced: “One thing that has inspired me has been Greta Thunberg and the mobilisation of the youth – this relates of course more generally to the climate crisis but it has a bearing on the food systems in that many – young and old – are asking questions about how our food choices have effects on the environment.”
While being greatly encouraged by this mobilisation of youth (and others), we must guard against the notion that ‘young people will save us’, as that lets everyone else off the hook.
Another Council member said: “I’m excited about growing numbers of young people wanting to study sustainable food systems, & work or research them.” which is an encouraging sign. One way we can make food and farming sectors more attractive places to work is by showing how good food and farming can make a real difference. Organisations that don’t positively contribute to a better world (including better food systems) are going to struggle to recruit in future….
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
Believing in the power of people to overcome challenges is really important. As one person said:
“One reason to be cheerful is all the outstanding human beings that are dedicating such energy to try to make things better and fairer, in the world of food and everything else.”
Here’s to a year where we collectively develop a bold ‘North star’, and where “top down structures…[are] replaced for the benefit of people, animals and the environment”.
Let’s build on the people and initiatives already doing amazing things. We are all food citizens. We do care. So, let’s unleash the opportunities in our food system to show that we care – via #FoodCitizenship.
In 2020, let’s dream big, think carefully and act urgently – together.
Blog by Dan Crossley, Executive Director, drawing on non-attributed inputs from a subset of members of the Food Ethics Council