Thinking differently about food

By Simon Barrow
February 18, 2013

The horsemeat scandals which are the subject of enveloping media coverage in Britain at the moment (and which extend to 13 countries and 28 companies) point to far deeper issues about the structure of the food industry and the damage that its dominance by unaccountable corporate interests is doing in terms of health, hunger, nutrition, the environment, sustainable farming, animal welfare, food security, food sovereignty and more besides.

In the UK one of the leaders in getting many people to think differently about food policy, since its inception in 1990, was the independent Food Commission. Unfortunately its highly influential Food Magazine had to cease print publication in 2010, and if its website is anything to go by it is not active at present, though there are a range of bodies performing a watchdog / monitoring role in this area (http://www.foodcomm.org.uk/links/campaigning/).

On the policy and research front, the work of Professor Tim Lang and the Centre for Food Policy (http://www.city.ac.uk/arts-social-sciences/sociology/research/centre-for...) at City University London remains of crucial importance.

In June 1999 Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming (http://www.sustainweb.org/) was launched at the UNED-UK hosted Healthy Planet Forum. It was formed by merging The National Food Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment (SAFE) Alliance, both of which had been established for over 10 years.

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity. It now represents around 100 national public interest organisations working at international, national, regional and local level.

Meanwhile, in the US, there is The Foodtank, the food thinktank (http://foodtank.org/), co-founded by Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson, who both have track records in helping to in reframe and rethink global food system issues.

They write: "Our food system is broken. Some people don't have enough of food, while others are eating too much. There's only one way to fix this problem and it starts with you and me.

"Food Tank is for the 7 billion people who have to eat every day. We will offer solutions and environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty by creating a network of connections and information for us to consume and share.

"Food Tank is for farmers and producers, policy makers and government leaders, researchers and scientists, academics and journalists, and the funding and donor communities to collaborate on providing sustainable solutions for our most pressing environmental and social problems."

What I particularly like about their approach, based on the initial publicity, is that, like Ekklesia, it seeks to develop policy on the basis of good practice and creative interventions, rather than 'levered-down' ideas, using a wide knowledge base to support specific, innovative approaches (http://foodtank.org/the-thinking).

As they say: "Food grows from the ground up. So will Food Tank. The global food movement grows from the kitchens, gardens, and farms of the countless citizens who have committed to making healthy, sustainable choices about cultivating and consuming food. Food Tank exists to amplify these voices."

Last but not least in this quick (selective) review of who is making waves on food policy, there is the Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First (http://www.foodfirst.org/), a “people's think-and-do tank” which takes a more directly political approach.

I first had contact with them around the time of my visit to Nicragua in 1985, and through the writing and campaigning of political economist Susan George, who first came to widespread attention through How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger (1976) and Ill Fares the Land (1984).

IFDP declares: "Our mission is to end the injustices that cause hunger, poverty and environmental degradation throughout the world. We believe a world free of hunger is possible if farmers and communities take back control of the food systems presently dominated by transnational agri-foods industries.

"We carry out research, analysis, advocacy and education with communities and social movements for informed citizen engagement with the institutions and policies that control production, distribution and access to food.

"Our work both informs and amplifies the voices of social movements fighting for food justice and food sovereignty. We are committed to dismantling racism in the food system and believe in people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems — at home and abroad."

The food security and food sovereignty issues have recently become hot topic is the debate formed by the IF campaign in Britain (http://enoughfoodif.org/who-we-are). See Ekklesia's paper, 'Hunger can be ended: but how and by whom?' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17926).

--------

© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.