Is it fair to say we take the food we eat for granted? Consider your most recent meal. Who produced it? Where? How much were they paid? Maybe you grew it? Who cooked it? Was it healthy and nutritious? Did you eat it all, or bin some of it? Having to answer so many questions for every meal we eat is bewildering and an unrealistic expectation. Here’s why…
The reality is the vast majority of the food we rely upon every day is a product of a complex, interdependent and globalised supply chain dominated by relatively few multinational corporations. They maintain this unsustainable system by exploiting a monopoly of money and power to influence governments, damage the environment and maximise profits out of producers and consumers. The evidence shows this unsustainable system contributes to (and is vulnerable to) the impacts of climate change, depletion of resources such as oil, phosphorus, soil and water, pressures of population growth and geo-political instability such as austerity and post-Brexit uncertainty. As a consequence, the UK and Sheffield food system is impacted in a range of ways, including for example:
- Food Sovereignty – the UK currently produces less than 60% of the food we consume, relies on the EU for nearly 30% of food imports and holds only 3-5 days of food supplies in reserve.
- Food Waste – it is estimated that UK households waste 7 million tonnes of food and drink each year, costing an annual average £470 per household. Most of this waste could be avoided.
- Health Inequality & Food – access to healthy food is a key factor determining the extent of health inequality across different parts of Sheffield, with life expectancy gaps and adult obesity rates amongst the highest in England.
- Poverty & Food – over the past 5 years, 19 food banks have opened in Sheffield, with benefit delays, low income and benefit changes being the most common reasons for accessing food bank services.
Developing a sustainable food system for Sheffield is a huge challenge. But thankfully – true to their stoic and independent character – the people of Sheffield are still rising to this challenge. Since the mid-1980s there have been progressive food plans, strategies and policies developed on an understanding that local government, the NHS, universities, business and Sheffield communities must all work together in partnership to create the lasting change needed. This important work continues – today and into the future.
A renewed energy and enthusiasm is present in Sheffield communities where decades of amazing local food work continues to blossom. A major challenge ahead is to turn post-Brexit price increases, farm labour shortages and market volatility into opportunities for the community economic development of urban and peri-urban horticultural enterprise – intensively grown organic fruit and vegetables, developing skills and community resources, creating local employment and promoting sustainable local economies.
A willingness to share learning on food policy with other UK cities and make positive change happen is increasingly apparent in the Council and other key city institutions. An independent and equitable food partnership for Sheffield has been a longstanding ambition, and will be necessary to achieve a holistic outcome that must be greater than the sum of its parts. As more UK cities adopt this partnership approach to becoming sustainable food cities we can learn from each other – and understand how best we can make this happen in Sheffield for ourselves.
There is the shared vision and strategic commitment to develop the environmental and economic benefits of a more resilient and sustainable food system for the Sheffield City Region. So – should the next planned step be to demand the regional devolution of a post-Brexit agricultural policy? A policy which can be developed and resourced to support environmentally, socially and economically resilient mixed farming systems and land based industries – creating a truly productive landscape – and positioning ‘Food, Fuel & Fibre’ as the economic and environmental equals they must be to keep the ‘Fun’ at the beating heart of The Outdoor City Economic Strategy for Sheffield.
It is a plan worthy of our past and future generations – because unlike our food, we wouldn’t want to take them for granted now would we? No. Of course we would not.
Explore the wider issues around food in the Food for Thought talks and debate programme in the Winter Gardens from 4pm – 6pm each day at Sheffield Food Festival 2017.