Rethinking food in Wales: a view from Cardiff

Submitted by Katie Palmer of Food Sense WalesFood Cardiff new

Food Sense Wales is a part of Cardiff & Vale Health Charity (registered charity number 1056544). It was born out of the work of Food Cardiff, a multi-award winning cross sector food partnership and member of the Sustainable Food Cities network, which aims to make healthy, affordable and sustainable food a defining feature of the city.

Food Sense Wales’ aim is to apply the knowledge, expertise and experience gained from Food Cardiff and stakeholders across the Welsh food chain, to help shape food policy that makes sense across the whole of the food system in Wales; to the economy, the nation’s health and the environment.

The scope of this inquiry is vast, ranging from local food production to Food Tourism. The evidence presented here is a series of “observations” informed by Food Cardiff/ Food Sense Wales’ practical experience over the last 3 years. Particular emphasis is placed on the fact that whatever aspect of food one is considering, it should not be looked at in isolation but as part of a system. Food Sense Wales is a member of the following organisations/networks/Programmes of work:

  • Food Cardiff Partnership, Sustainable Food Cities Network
  • Wales Food Poverty Alliance (see also separate submission from Oxfam Cymru)
  • Food and Drink Wales Industry Board
  • Peas Please Programme Board (Joint initiative led by Food Foundation to increase veg consumption).

The five observations are as follows:

  1. There is a lack of strategic “join up” across the policy areas that link food.
  2. Welsh Government’s strategic direction with regards to food and wellbeing across the life-course is inadequate.
  3. Food Poverty is a growing concern and there is no cohesive policy for monitoring or addressing it.
  4. There is no established Wales wide network or organisation bringing the shared experience of the Food System together to help inform policy.
  5. Brexit is fraught with challenges but Wales has the opportunity to develop a unique brand.

Download the full submission: Rethinking Food in Wales by Food Sense Wales

All submissions to the Consultation are now available to read here.

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A new economic framework

By Dr John Clements

The contemporary economic system has broken the vital relationship between Land, Food and People. There is a crucial need to renew the system that has produced this breakdown. Brexit represents a propitious historical moment to respond decisively to a range of critical issues relating to the disproportionate empowerment of corporations, landowners and shareholders—an empowerment that has come at the cost of our national health, the democratic concerns of systemic stakeholders and the legitimate expectations of land-workers, in particular.

The figure below models and critiques the current economic system, using three overlapping circles, representing Land, Food, People and the crucial overlaps between them, of production, consumption and participation.

land-food-people

Land

The vast majority of UK land is owned by a tiny minority of the UK population. Wealthy landowners include: aristocratic families, the Anglican Church, the military, the government, utility companies and financial institutions. As a result, most agricultural land forms part of large estates, inevitably effecting how it is managed. Just 2% is built upon. Put simply, land ownership is undemocratic because the general population, even rural dwellers (and particularly land workers) have practically zero influence over how UK land is utilised—such as how to appropriately respond to the housing crisis.

People

The UK population is increasingly urbanised, so that even those who live outside of towns are increasingly resourced by urban services (surgeries, hospitals, supermarkets, shops etc). It is also increasingly diseased: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer etc. Our national health system is pharmaceutical-centric, yet drugs are generally unsuited to curing chronic disease, root causes of which lie in diet, lifestyle and environmental factors, leading to lifelong prescriptions: good for pharmaceutical corporations, bad for patients.

Food

The basic problem with the food we eat is nutritional. Many people, including (actually, particularly) obese people, are undernourished. Consuming a surplus of calories, yet lacking an adequate intake of healthy nutrients. Furthermore, there is endemic, damaging confusion about the pros and cons of carbohydrate and fat. “Time-poverty” has led to a perceived need for convenience, leading to the availability, promotion and use of processed foods and subsequent deterioration in the social value of food and food preparation as an integral element of family life.

Consumption

The relationship between food and people is dominated by supermarkets. Supermarkets, like all corporations, are driven by the need to create shareholder profits. When corporations calculate their profits, they typically ignore large, un-costed ecological consequences. Despite ubiquitous TV programming, fresh food preparation is an increasingly lost art in many homes, as well as hospitals, care-homes and schools.

Production

Currently, food production is based largely on an intensive, industrialised model, which relies upon exploiting ecological resources, in unsustainable ways, such as those that lead to soil nutrient erosion, widespread use of chemical pesticides, livestock welfare issues, flora, fauna diversity loss, ecological destruction, erosion, flooding etc. These economic patterns have also contributed to a general loss of social, economic, cultural diversity in rural regions.

Participation

The link between land and people is essentially broken: a whole generation of young people lack understanding about food origins, whilst urbanised populations associate “countryside” primarily with recreational activities and believe that countryside issues should be left to farmers to resolve. As allotments have disappeared, the growing of vegetables—once a national pastime—is now considered “quaint” and irrelevant, despite our nationally importing about 40% of our food, raising important issues of “food sovereignty”.

Is systemic renewal possible?

There are reasons to be hopeful. Fresh, innovative perspectives are being informed by emerging research, highlighting formerly-overlooked issues. Useful examples include: Common Wealth, by Martin Large1, Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken2 and Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth. 3

The figure below models some primary elements that need to be addressed if the current economic system is to be renewed in favour of creating one more appropriately weighted towards the holistic needs of the general population, systemic stakeholders (everyone holding a stake in any particular system) and land-workers, in particular.

land-food-people-2

Production

By focussing economic rewards on marginal, small and family farms, it becomes possible to move steadily towards environmentally-sustainable means of production, such as organic, biodynamic and permaculture. Local food production and distribution can go hand-in-hand with allowing more people to live on the land—as envisaged by Wales’ innovative—but currently under-utilised—One Planet Policy.

Consumption

A renaissance in freshly prepared, local, organic food, based around authentic nutritional knowledge and use of local food produce, will allow the relationship between food and people to be restored. Nutritious, (chemical) pesticide-free and organic food will contribute to better health amongst populations that partake—of special relevance to schools, care-homes and hospitals.

Participation

As people become increasingly ecologically aware, the possibility exists to integrate rural and urban living more holistically than before. Innovative expression such as Food Assemblies—now over 900 existing around Europe—such as the one I am involved in pioneering in Llanelli, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes, such as Banc Organics, established in the marginal land of the Gwendraeth Valley, herald unique opportunities for participation, including volunteering, education and potentially significantly higher employment rates per hectare, compared to intensive farming.

Summary

In comparing two economic models, I’ve highlighted a series of critical issues relating to the contemporary system in relation to land, food and people.

  • The first model illustrates how the current system “distributes” wealth to shareholders and landowners. It is my contention that the current state of the UK economy and health of the population-at-large confirms that in this scenario, there are few winners and many losers.
  • The second model illustrates the potential for reimagining and “redistributing” economic empowerment to stakeholders and land-workers. A scenario, I would contend, with the potential to create many winners, few losers. Getting there will require not only innovative thinking—thankfully, there is much of it about—but more importantly, a great deal of determined, pioneering action, coupled with political liberation from the shackles of the contemporary system—if there is to be any hope of significant change.
  1. Common Wealth—For a free, equal, mutual and sustainable society, 2010, Hawthorn Press, Stroud.
  2. Blessed Unrest—How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, 2007, Penguin Group, New York.
  3. Doughnut Economics—Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, 2017, Random House, London.

John Clements is based in Llanelli and writes at https://jbclements.wordpress.com

 

The Food Manifesto: a Food Rights Charter for Wales

By Dr Naomi Salmon, Law School, Aberystwyth University

The way we produce, process, distribute, consume and waste our food has obvious and significant implications for the enjoyment of a wide range of interdependent civil and political, and economic, social and cultural human rights. Reliable access to adequate, nutritious and culturally acceptable food is, after all, a pre-requisite for a healthy, productive and contented life. Whether one focuses on the most basic of human entitlements – the right to life – or upon other rights such as health, education, work, private and family life, or freedom of religion, it is easy to see the interconnections between food governance and effective human rights protections.photo montage

Thus, it is perhaps rather unsurprising that from its inception, international human rights law has recognised and explicitly accommodated a fundamental human right to food.  In Article 25 of the highly influential but non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 it was expressed as one of the key elements of a broader umbrella right to an ‘adequate standard of living.’  Almost three decades later,  with the entry into force of the  legally binding International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in January 1976, the legal credibility and status of the this most crucial of human rights was confirmed.

From my perspective, as an academic lawyer with an interest in human rights, it is clear that what the text of the draft Food Manifesto for Wales provides is, to all intents and purposes, a description of a human rights compliant food system. The Manifesto’s vision of an equitable and sustainable ‘food future’ for Wales is informed by a concern for the very same shared human values that led to the emergence of international human rights law. As I see it, the text of this ‘food charter’ effectively translates the broad fundamental values of ‘universalism’ and ‘benevolence’ – the  values that are the foundation of the International Bill of Rights  –  into ten key benchmarks of a legitimate and socially just food system.

Moreover, the detail of the Manifesto’s goals resonates very closely with the detail of legal substance of the human right to ‘adequate food’ as it has been interpreted over time.   Thus, both international human rights law and the Manifesto are concerned with achieving something rather more holistic than basic population-wide nutritional adequacy.  The vision set out in the Manifesto, and the legal right entrenched in international law, both envision a ‘food future’ underpinned by justice and respect. This is a food future where all people, at all times, are able to enjoy equal access to nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable, affordable food that has been produced, processed and distributed in a manner that respects and protects the environment, the  dignity and rights of all people,  and the welfare of livestock and wildlife.

I believe that the Manifesto, with its emphasis on sustainability and social justice, will speak to the full range of stakeholders across the whole of the supply chain – consumers, farmers, industry and government. After all, whatever else we might be, we are all human beings whose lives and beliefs are shaped and informed by shared core human values and whose wellbeing and survival is dependent upon the preservation of a genuinely sustainable and socially just food system.

On a practical level, by highlighting and reinforcing these shared values, and by inviting stakeholders to publicly sign up to its ten key goals, the Manifesto may help to soften tensions and bridge differences between the various stakeholder groups who inhabit the food landscape. Moreover, if a high enough public profile can be achieved, and if the language of ‘values’ and ‘human rights’ is effectively and tactfully exploited, the Manifesto may also provide leverage to encourage the compliance of key actors (governments and industry) with their existing obligations under international human rights law – and in particular, in relation to the human right to adequate food.

Find out more:

An overview of the International Bill of Rights can be found at https://www.escr-net.org/resources/international-bill-human-rights.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published an accessible and informative booklet on the human right to adequate food – Fact Sheet No.34: The Human Right to Food. This booklet can be accessed at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet34en.pdf See also, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UN FAO) website at http://www.fao.org/righttofood/right-to-food-home/en/ , and the webpages of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to Food at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx.

Dr Naomi Salmon is an academic lawyer, micro-baker and food activist with a passion for social justice, community, sustainability and human rights.

Using surplus food to power community growth

Jane Powell paid a visit to a café in Pembrokeshire which serves food with a difference

Next to the offer of plum crumble on the blackboard at the Fishguard Transition Café  in north Pembrokeshire is a helpful note: ‘may contain stones’. That remark sets the tone for our visit to this pioneering enterprise, where meticulous attention to detail and a warm human touch combine to form a community project with an imaginative contribution to a town’s food system.

three women in a cafe

Serving customers at the Fishguard Transition Café

Most of the food served at the Cafe, which offers a choice of home-cooked dishes in bright and tasteful surroundings, is supplied by local food businesses. It is surplus produce, mainly fruit, vegetables, bread and dairy, but also some meat and other items, from the no-man’s land between the much misunderstood ‘best before’ date, which marks the point at which the manufacturer estimates that it might start to lose its premium quality, and the ‘use by’ date, after which there are real dangers to health and it cannot legally be served.

 

Perishable food in this zone is perfectly fit to eat – certainly the plums were at the peak of perfection, aromatic and sharp – but it needs to be used fairly quickly, and what is a liability for a supermarket becomes an opportunity for the enterprising bargain-hunter or in this case the community project with the facilities to handle it. Tinned and packaged foods, meanwhile, can be kept for months and even years. The Fishguard Transition Cafe turns surplus food – around 850 kg a month of it – into nutritious meals while also providing a space for volunteers and community groups to come together, forming a lively hub for discussions.

It’s a simple concept but a complex operation. Food arrives daily and menus are planned around what’s available – the main dish when we visited was mushroom stroganoff, with roast beetroot – while some of it is frozen, preserved or pickled. Like the supermarkets which supply it, the cafe has its own waste stream, with excess food given away in the cafe, sent for composting or biodigestion, or diverted to animal feed. Record-keeping for the Cafe, as for any food business, is demanding. Besides weighing the daily food deliveries, a note is made of allergens, food that has been cooked but cannot be used immediately is labelled and frozen, and cleaning routines are checked off. It’s clear that managing the surplus food for a small town and its hinterland is no small task, but the very intricacy of it also allows for a scale of human involvement that brings opportunities.

The cafe obviously makes an important contribution to improving the diets of local people who cannot afford to cook such meals themselves, although as volunteer director Chris Samra says, the stigma of ‘food poverty’ sometimes deters people who might benefit most. However, it was actually set up to reduce carbon emissions by diverting food from landfill, to the tune of an estimated 21 tonnes of carbon savings per year. It gets its name from the Fishguard Transition Group who formed in 2008 from a group of citizens who identified with a wider movement to make the ‘transition’ to a low-carbon society.

They began by setting up allotments and running gardening courses, with the aim of helping more people to grow their own, together with other activities to engage the local community. In 2012 they hit upon the idea of a cafe running on surplus food, acquiring premises rent-free from the next door Coop supermarket. A plaque on the wall acknowledges donations of furnishings, equipment, labour and cash to the project, from a wide range of donors including several national chain stores, a youth club, a farm, a solicitor, a hotel and a range of voluntary and government agencies.

Behind the scenes: weighing produce

Behind the scenes: weighing the produce as it comes in

Around about the same time, they embarked on the lengthy process of owning a wind turbine, raising loans from local residents. Generating an income from the wind is important, because the grants that helped the cafe get started are not such a renewable resource. Support by Environment Wales for a part-time project manager post, now in its fourth year, was key to getting the project started, and the Jobs Growth Wales scheme helped to get some young people onto the staff, which together with support from the group’s voluntary directors meant that they could run on volunteers to begin with.

The cafe has also been supported by the Wales Cooperative Centre, who funded a business plan, and  itwon the 2014 Sustainable Communities competition at the Hay Festival which provided a grant. Takings have grown and it is becoming more financially viable, but it still needs grants to cover some of its running and labour costs, including some part-time kitchen staff who provide continuity for the volunteers who assist with food preparation, record keeping and service at the counter.

The cafe is not just a means of turning surplus food into affordable meals. It is also a training facility, where volunteers, catering students and others with learning disabilities can acquire skills in a safe environment. It is a social hub where anyone can come for a healthy meal during the day from Tuesday to Friday, and at many out-of-hours events. It runs play sessions for families with young chidren, craft sessions for older children and adults, and drop-in sessions for Welsh learners. It also distributes food parcels on behalf of the Pembrokeshire food bank scheme PATCH, which means that some see it as a place ‘for poor people’, but it has always drawn in people from a wide cross-section of society, using food as a point of connection to drive social change.

The Fishguard Transition Cafe shows what can be done when food businesses, big and small, identify with their local area (in this case, within a 15-mile radius) and make common cause with community groups, so that surplus food builds social capital. There are other examples, like the Pay as You Feel cafe in Bethesda, Gwynedd,and the Real Junk Food cafe in Cardiff , each with a different take on the theme.

Wouldn’t it be great if every neighbourhood in Wales had one?

Food: A conversation we can all take part in

By Rosa Robinson (published in the Western Mail & Wales Online 27 August 2015)

I wouldn’t describe myself as a food expert or an environmentalist. But I am worried that our food system is making us ill, that it’s harming nature, and that the most vulnerable people in society are the worst affected.

I’m troubled by the increase in diet-related illnesses (NHS data analysed by Diabetes UK reveals that diabetes had increased by almost 60% in the decade since 2005) and the increase in malnourishment, often going hand-in-hand with obesity.

I think it’s scandalous that people living in the UK—the 4th richest country in the world—are going hungry while food goes to waste. (The UK is the biggest producer of waste in the EU, throwing away over 14 million tonnes per year).

And I’m concerned that the way we’re producing food is compromising the earth’s capacity to provide us with food in the future.

The truth is that a lot of the food we eat is unhealthy, damaging to the environment, cruel to animals, and unfair to workers it depends on. It’s wasteful and unsustainable.

We need to change the way our food system works. We’re beginning by gathering opinions and experiences from people across Welsh society—academics, businesses and community groups—and we are identifying a list of practicable actions that government can take to support social, economic and environmental equity, through food. We’re writing a food manifesto for Wales.

By ‘we’ I mean a small but growing network of people who think sustainable food is important, and are contributing the time and skills needed to get the food manifesto idea off the ground.

The manifesto isn’t funded and isn’t owned by any particular person or organisation. That’s intentional – we want the manifesto to be developed collaboratively, with people working across society.

What should the Food Manifesto contain? The proposals in Professor Kevin Morgan’s recently published paper, Good Food For All provide an excellent place to start. The paper emphasises the importance of expertise in sustainable public procurement. It identifies the importance of the public purse in delivering value in its broadest sense—i.e. community benefit, training, jobs and other sustainability goals. And it recognises the importance of making ‘good food’ highly visible in the public sector by demonstrating commitment through a credible and recognised catering mark like Food For Life.

What should be included in a food manifesto doesn’t sound much like a dinner table discussion. It’s unlikely that deliberations about food systems, sustainability and ethics often seem relevant to everyday life—not when you’re trying to get dinner on the table for a hungry family—but it’s still vital that the significance of food at a family, neighbourhood and community level is addressed in any food manifesto that is written.

It’s vital because what matters to people – what people value – drives change.

There is substantial research from social psychology and other disciplines, which explains how values work. Values shape our identity and our society. Values influence what we do and how we feel. They connect people and issues. (If you’re interested in finding out more it’s worth looking up Common Cause).

Earlier this year I did a social research project, talking to people living in some of Wales’ least affluent communities about what food means to them. It means family. It means comfort. It’s a celebration. It’s an important part of culture. It’s about sharing with friends and neighbours. It’s about trust, fairness and friendship; it means home. It means nurturing and nourishing the people you love. It means the same things to them as it does to me, but we don’t often have these conversations about food or connect to that deeper meaning—the things we really value.

Food isn’t just a commodity. It brings families, friends and communities together. It connects us with the nature. It provides comfort and security. It builds skills, confidence and feelings of self worth. It increases resilience. These things make people thrive.

Food unites us. It’s a conversation everyone can take part in, and talking about food is how we can make sustainable development meaningful and relevant across society. By finding common ground and shared values we can build a collective commitment to creating a fair food system. This is what the Food Manifesto is all about.

Rosa Robinson is Director of the Work With Meaning Community Interest Company www.workwithmeaning.org.uk

Developing Sustainable Dietary Guidelines

by Pamela Mason

Wales should consider developing sustainable dietary guidelines. Like most existing dietary guidelines, dietary guidelines in the UK have a narrow view of how diet relates to health. In essence, they restrict the concept of diet to the amounts of nutrients contained in foods and the concept of health to the presence or absence of diseases caused by the lack or excess of of one or more nutrients in the diet. While the amounts of nutrients in foods and diets is of course relevant for health, this is only one of the characteristics of diets that are relevant to disease, health and well-being.

Foods and diets are more than carriers of nutrients. Foods are produced, transformed and supplied within food systems whose characteristics influence health through their impact on society and the environment. Food systems can be socially and environmentally sustainable promoting justice and protection of the living world. Alternatively they can create many types of inequity and threats to natural resources and biodiversity. At a social level, the context of eating, like when, why, where and with whom meals are consumed as well as the symbolic and emotional values of foods, dishes and meals contribute to the enjoyment of eating, the building of memories and customs and the strengthening of relationships and connections, all of which are important to health and well-being.

Conventional dietary guidelines treat foods as mere carriers of nutrients, so understating the relationship between diet and well-being. They treat foods as mere carriers of nutrient, overlook the cultural dimensions of diet and typically fail to consider the link between diet and the social and environmental sustainability of food systems. Healthy, sustainable dietary guidelines derive from socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.

In Wales, we need sustainable dietary guidelines that take into account not only the nutrient content of food and diet, but also the impact of the means of production and distribution of food on social justice and environmental integrity. The Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is about improving the social, environmental, economic and cultural well-being of Wales and sustainability must be embedded into everything public sector bodies in Wales do. Given that food is essential to, and at the centre of, life sustainability should also be built into the food system across Wales. Sustainable Dietary Guidelines would help to improve the availability of healthy, sustainable food choices and hence, over time, a more sustainable food system fit for the 21st century.

Defining the boundaries

By Dr Jane Ricketts Heinmountains of Cynidr Consulting, Powys: Rural research, specialising in society, agriculture, the environment and (of course) food.

A Food Manifesto for Wales has the potential to address some particularly complicated, ambitious, important and, quite frankly, difficult issues.  At least, it could do – and probably will have to, if it is to achieve meaningful change.

Following the interesting and valuable discussions at the “Food, Values, Fairness” workshop in Cardiff in June, I would like to highlight three related subjects, all linked to how we define the boundaries of ‘food’.

  1. We need to include more farmers in the conversation. Many (perhaps most) farmers are not particularly ‘growing food’, they are ‘producing commodities’ and, entirely reasonably, are more concerned about global market prices for their ‘products’ than local values – even if they are sympathetic to many of the aims that workshop participants discussed.  I feel that many of the debates around ‘local’ and quality food started too far along the food chain – with the community or individual rather than when the seed reaches the ground or while the animals are grazing (or even before this, but taking on the agricultural inputs industry may be a step too far at this stage).  Starting with the consumer is understandable as, generally, we can only take action where we are – and few of us are farmers, but we are all eaters!  However, farmers are key people if this is to be an all-encompassing food manifesto.  This would mean engaging with (or challenging or changing perhaps) the attitudes of a range of well-funded organisations, including agro-chemical companies, the main farming unions, the mainstream farming press, corporate retailers, government (at a variety of different scales), the training establishments and most of the farmers themselves who get their information from these bodies.
  2. We need to talk to the trainers. The need for training was often mentioned, but mainstream agricultural and horticultural methods appear to take precedence in many of the existing training opportunities.  ‘Alternative’ modules and courses could be presented alongside more mainstream topics, and given equality in their promotion.  Examples of such topics occur throughout the food system, including production methods such as organic, permaculture, no-till agriculture and even ‘natural’ beekeeping techniques, along with innovative business and marketing models, such as Community Supported Agriculture, co-operatives and micro-businesses, before we get to the diversity of consumer projects.
  3. How about taking on the ‘bottom line’? Perhaps most importantly – and certainly the most problematic – is that we are where we are because the economy rules.  Dismantling the supply chain and disengaging food networks from the mainstream economy, then building a new system is something that a lot of small, diverse organisations seem to be working on with some local success.  Doing this on a much bigger scale and in different parts of the food system would be incredibly difficult, but could offer fantastic opportunities.  This does assume that this is what is wanted, of course – it may be that being ‘alternative’ in some way is actually desirable and useful.

Difficult?  Naïve?  Completely unworkable?  Well, so are many other issues.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start working on them, though.  Food is so much more than the edible stuff on our plates, and the system that puts it there is massive and complex.  This is going to be a really big conversation – and it’s far too important to let everyone else decide the outcomes.