local food column

Two weeks ago I attended an ‘Unconference’ in London, hosted by the National Food Assembly team.

The Unconference aimed to bring individuals together to celebrate and discuss the ‘New Food Economy’. Farmers, food activists, entrepreneurs, artists, volunteers and academics came together to share stories and thoughts about the UK’s independent food movement – over cups of tea and a local food feast of course!

The Unconference began by highlighting some of the key issues associated with our current food system.

Aniol Esteban, Head of Environmental Economics at the New Economics Foundation, described the current food system as “unsustainable, unfair, unhappy, and unstable”.

The RSPB explored the inefficiencies of our current food system and its negative impact on biodiversity and people’s health- referencing the organisation’s Square Meal Report.

The Trussel Trust highlighted its valuable work and revealed depressing facts about food poverty: “In 2013-14 foodbanks fed 913,138 people nationwide. Of those helped, 330,205 were children.”

These daunting food challenges were followed by hopes for a more sustainable food system. Case studies of what can be done were shared and celebrated.

Artist Chris King introduced himself as a ‘documentarian’. He documented the work of organisations that use food waste for something more meaningful: to feed pigs; to collect surplus fruit and veg and distribute it to those living in food poverty. To cook healthy community meals and to ‘upcycle’ food waste to sell as gourmet food! Visit his website to find out more.

Aniol Esteban dreamed of a food system where “we should be able to go to the supermarket with peace of mind knowing our food is fair, healthy and sustainable.” Real life examples of how this could happen include Single Step in Lancaster, the wider whole food network, and alternative supermarkets such as the Unicorn in Manchester.

Sarah Vero from the living wage foundation talked about the need to ensure people’s wages reflect the true cost of living. Sarah highlighted the growing number of business taking on the living wage commitment, including Nestlé’s UK subsidiary!

 Incredible Edible Lambeth discussed the role of community gardens in educating, connecting food projects and providing accessible fresh food in public spaces. The need to celebrate food and remain positive in the face of challenges was emphasised.

Holly from the Food Sovereignty (FS) movement talked about the role of the FS network in bringing farmers and food businesses together to take control of our food system.

Overall, the day ended on a positive note. I came away feeling inspired by the independent food movement developing globally and in Lancaster.

What do you think an alternative food system should look like?

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