Food is too cheap

cheap-eats-cover10 Jan 2015: Thrifty or lavish, we all are now guests at the discounted, buy-one-get-one-free, year-round cheap food feast, eating more than we need and paying less for it – as a proportion of our incomes – than our grandparents did, or their parents before them. This, it turns out, is not entirely a good thing.

Cover story for Newsweek magazine – free to read here 

 

Britain’s shell fish disaster

Image nephrops prawn langoustine  bycatch fish waste

The catch from an Irish Sea bottom trawler – all they were after were the little red prawns. Copyright Johnny Woodlock

Here’s the top of my Observer Magazine  story on the sad and destructive prawn and scallop trawling that’s now the west coast’s most valuable fishery. A huge and interesting response – see the comments here – from academics, fishermen and shellfish lovers… Please tell me what you think below.

The dispute is savage (between the scientists and between the fishermen). Here’s an email I got today from a casual diver I know well:

I was diving for scallops off Lochmaddy 3 years ago and an Oban Registered scallop dredger steamed full throttle towards me and my buddy just after we had surfaced – very intimidating stuff – the intention was very clear and hostile, threatening words were shouted at us. The other thing that no-one sees is the damage these dredgers do to the seabed – everything is obliterated, torn from the sand, ripped and destroyed. It takes decades for the seabed to recover.

If you’re interested, make sure and watch Hugh’s Fish Fight on Channel 4  tomorrow, 14th Feb. We need a simple, clear public campaign not to ban bottom trawling, but just set a modest limit on the inshore seabed ploughing that’s doing so much damage – 1.5km or 3km has been suggested by the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust.  There’s evidence that the Welsh and Scottish governments might be movable.

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Food is too cheap and that’s damaging all of us

Editorial I wrote for the Observer

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/price-to-be-paid-cheap-food

Sunday 13 January 2013 The world is throwing away a shocking amount of food. A report last week claimed that at least a third of the 4 billion tonnes of food the world produces each year never gets as far as our mouths. Between 30% and 50% of food purchased in Europe and the US is thrown away. The research is questioned, not least by the supermarkets, but it does echo the results of an exercise in Britain six years ago, when researchers for the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) went through the nation’s rubbish bins. It concluded that we were throwing away 30% of the food we’d bought while it was still edible.

Britain – and much of the rich world – has got used to filling the fridge with what looks nice, not what it actually needs. The cost of that indulgence is, says the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, £10bn annually. Globally, the cost, in money, energy and ever-scarcer water, is unquantifiable.

Our future food security has been climbing the top 10 of current global worries. The prospect of feeding a mid-century planet of around 9 billion people looks impossible without major and potentially unattractive changes to farming and our diet. If you accept the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation’s call for production to be increased by 70% to feed the population of 2050, most of the work will be achieved just by being a bit more thrifty. All we have to do is to use better what is already there.

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Nine things to do today to solve world hunger

As requested… I went to an Action Against Hunger Love Food Give Food event this week to speak on social media and hunger: publicised as “Can bloggers end child hunger?” Which is what you might call a big ask. However… it all came out rather hopeful. Blogging won’t end hunger – but there’s an awful lot we can do. Today. Culled from all the meetings like this I’ve been at recently, here’s nine ideas, and a brief (and skippable) introduction:

There is frustration and horror that this crisis has happened again, so soon. That, despite the bloodshed and the anguish of 2008-2010 crisis nothing has happened to address our broken food economy. But there is hope. Lots of it. For one, no one thinks there isn’t enough food or any prospect of it running out, despite the pressures of changing climates. As ever, we just need to distribute it better. ( In this video, hear economist Raj Patel’s excellent explanation of how a few corporates have gained control of global food distribution.)

Corporations can be brought to order: the answer lies in political engagement. It’s still true, as the Nobel-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen stated 30 years ago, that there has never been a famine in a democracy. The recipe: get involved in the politics and get involved in your food. Eat better, shout louder, be happier!

  1.  Campaign to stop the speculators. Regulation of the commodity markets to stabilise food prices is crucial in the fight against hunger – some analytsts say that the bankers betting on food prices since 2008 has caused more hunger than climate change. Sign up to World Development Movement’s campaign ahead of this October’s crucial meetings of finance ministers. http://www.wdm.org.uk/action/food-speculation-photo-petition
  2. Eat less meat. Raising meat is depleting food resources and water unsustainably: 20% of greenhouse gas is the result of industrial meat production. Try holding Meatless Mondays. If you love your bacon sandwich, buy half as much bacon, but spend twice as much on it. You’ll get a tastier sandwich, and support a farmer who treats his animals more decently. More on the”flexitarian diet.
  3. Supermarkets are part of and a cause of the broken food economy, in UK and abroad. You don’t have to give them up– though it would certainly help. But, once a week, or when you can, get the groceries at an independent shop – especially one that supports local food systems – and give yourself a pat on the back.
  4. In the shops. Question what’s going on. Suspend your trust. Tell managers you don’t like excess packaging, or imports that are dubiously sourced. Bargains like BOGOFs are usually paid for by the ever-squeezed producers and farmers, not the shop. Choose food that’s local and in season.
  5. Reclaim the land. Brown-field sites all over our cities are there to be occupied, restored and planted with crops. http://www.reclaimthefields.org.uk/
  6. Reduce your food waste – in UK we throw away 30% of usable food, and that’s putting up prices across the planet. Tips here at http://www.myzerowaste.com. And support campaigns to keep food waste out of landfill:  like the movement to get spare and discarded food from commercial outlets used as pig feed again.
  7. Resist hi-tech solutions – they won’t feed the planet, most scientists agree, just corporate profits. We can keep GM out of Europe, if we fight.
  8. Get to know the food system. We need to return to an understanding of the land, rebond with the farmers and producers, and see how we can be take part in keeping the world fed. See the Soil Association’s Community Supported Agriculture site for schemes near you that are ready to welcome adults and children.
  9. Publicise and donate to Action Against Hunger’s Love Food Give Food appeal on acute child malnutrition: new methods mean children seriously ill from lack of food can be treated in their own homes. Vastly increasing the numbers who can be reached, while lowering the cost. Do share the link.

Any more? Leave a message here.

  • The nine ideas: gathered from people at events organised by World Development Movement, Action Against Hunger and the Take One Action film festival in Scotland.