We are losing so many of our traditional foods, threatened by industrial agriculture, environmental degradation and homogenisation. With their demise we will also lose centuries of expert knowledge. We lose choice. We lose flavour. We lose habitats. And we lose biodiversity. By mechanising our food production, or passing the problem to other countries to solve for us, we will lose people on our land.
We are on the precipice of the largest demise to food sovereignty this country has seen. Critics may argue this is simply a lot of bluster around a few ‘inefficient farms’ - or that the climate crisis is not real. However, it is strikingly clear to us that many of the problems we face today are connected to the food that we choose to eat; water use, loss of biodiversity, climate change, the NHS crisis, modern slavery, poverty, addiction, corporate and political corruption, financial disruption… the list goes on. The food we eat and the system that provides it directly impacts the world that we live in in a very real and visceral way.
With too much control in the hands of too few, it’s easy to see how corporate greed has led us down the path of destruction of homegrown food security and cultural identity.
‘The source of much of the world’s food – seeds – is mostly in the control of just four corporations; half of all the world’s cheeses are produced with bacteria or enzymes manufactured by a single company; one in four beers drunk around the world is the product of one brewer; from the US to China, most global pork production is based around the genetics of a single breed of pig; and, perhaps most famously, although there are more than 1,500 different varieties of banana, global trade is dominated by just one, the Cavendish.’ Explains Dan Saladino, author of Eating to Extinction.
He goes on to say ‘The human diet has undergone more change in the last 150 years (roughly six generations) than in the entire previous one million years (around 40,000 generations). We are living and eating our way through one big unparalleled experiment.’
‘We are farming on borrowed time.’
Our current food system is contributing to the destruction of the planet as well as displacing millions of people globally from the land. In this country alone, we are losing generations of knowledge and experience by pushing farmers off their land to make way for large solar parks (that would be better suited to roofs around the country, than in so many cases, on grade A and B farmland) or housing developments that make developers a buck while providing poor quality refuge for many - or the latest trend ‘Carbon Offsetting Forests’ where swathes of farmland are being tightly planted up with non native tree species that simply will not thrive, designed to offset million pound companies ‘green conscience’.
At the same time, the industry is discouraging much needed younger people into farming, with access to land the most significant barrier. Those who are lucky enough to have the option of a successional farm, in many cases, have grown up watching their parents struggle and instead have simply opted for an easier life and are choosing to plough their own furrow away from agriculture.
Who would want to sign up to produce food when the global industry has put one million plant and animal species within threat of extinction by clearing swathes of land to plant monocultures and then burn tonnes of oil to make fertilisers to feed them? You can’t blame the next generation for looking in on farming and thinking it will not provide them with a viable future on a moral level as well as any sort of financial security.
These are the consequences of a deeply systemic framework. Unless we solve the issues of our food system, ultimately all our well intentioned work improving society could fall short. The concept of public money for public goods was in the right ballpark, but with bureaucracy and dishonesty leading the way, its unlikely this altruistic statement will become anything more than a catchy slogan to persuade voters that the people in power understand the crisis we are facing.
By endangering our ability to produce healthy food now and for the future, we are risking our way of life, knowledge and skills, local economies and ecosystems - all the while making us sicker and costing us more.
We continue to try and treat the symptoms, rather than the cause of our broken food system. Unless we act sooner rather than later the prognosis could be terminal. Once people have moved away from the land and species are extinct - we may wish we acted sooner.
There are ways we can halt the losses and build a better, fairer, healthier, more biodiverse landscape for all.
The concept of food sovereignty expresses the right of communities to self-determine how food is produced, distributed, and consumed. In the past this was simple, a localised food system that was in the hands of the local fishing, farming and growing community, who were entrusted with fulfilling the demands of their communities. Food was made, bought and sold on a local level.
Today, the movement for food sovereignty re-proposes small-scale, sustainable agriculture as the solution to food and climate crises, and calls for transforming the food system by putting decision-making control in the hands of people who produce food.
As one of the founding principals of the Landworkers Alliance states ‘Agriculture should focus on producing food to feed people rather than as inputs for the global commodity market. This means guaranteeing the right to food to ensure that everybody, regardless of income, status or background, has secure access to enough nutritious, culturally appropriate, good food at all times. Civil society should be at the centre of policy-making, with the power to shape the way the food system functions and influence the policies and practices needed to transition to a just food system.’
As Michael Pollen once famously wrote, ‘We each have three votes a day to change the food system.’ For those of us in a privileged position to do so, this is true, we can use our own individual buying power to support farmers who put biodiversity, flavour and morality ahead of driving down costs, reducing quality and excluding nature.
For most of our evolution, human diets were enormously varied. Our food was the product of a place from which we came. We ate seasonally, with what nature provided. We learnt how to live and farm symbiotically with nature. We must relearn the lessons that humanity has laid out for us. No longer can we take out more than we put in. Food production must be regenerative in its nature and be able to sustain communities.
For over 30 years we have been supporting small scale family farms, committed to providing a direct route to consumers, where the farmer is paid a fair price and the customer can eat nutritious food with complete confidence. It is not complicated. We believe this must be the way forward.