The future of food – Cressida Boyd checks out recent activity around our looming global food crisis.


In 2009 and 2010 the Soil Association held conferences on The Future of Food; this month Food, Inc., the film comes to the silver screen from America and on 1st March 2010 Stuffed: Positive Action to Prevent a Global Food Crisis by Pat Thomas is published.

What do these have in common? Food. Here is what has been going on.

The Conferences:

The Soil Association’s international conference, The Future of Food, 12th November, 2009 addressed the alarming condition of the world’s food systems. The ever-worsening threat of climate change coupled with an increasing population and higher energy prices means that our long supply chain, intensively grown, out of season food production systems are unsustainable.

Put simply, we need to completely overhaul our approach and our attitude to growing food. Some present advocated concentrating on GM crops, eg cultivating drought resistant strains for when the food basins of the world dry out. Others believed that we need to harness new technologies to get the best out of the methods of our forefathers.

At the Annual Conference, also called The Future of Food, 3rd-4th February 2010, the Soil Association’s panel debated how to develop these urgently needed new sustainable food systems, whether they should be based on current systems, or whether we need to rethink them on the scale of an international war-effort.

The Film:

Everyone should see Food, Inc. This is the scariest thing to come out of the US since Dubya got a passport. But the film is also very relevant to Britons. As Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association (official charity partner of Food, Inc.) says, “All the issues in the film have a UK equivalent”.

Fewer companies than ever before control the US beef, pork and chicken markets. This film exposes the methods employed by these companies whose eye is on profit, not the welfare of the animals, the vitality of the crops we eat, or the health of the consumer.

For those who think organic is just a bunch of posh people creating an elitist niche market – you will discover that the real elite is the few multinational companies with a vice-like grip on US food systems.

And the food these corporations are churning out cheaply has a high price. Healthy nutritious food means a healthy population. But the recent rise of obesity, diabetes, cancer, allergy suggests the population is far from healthy. Agriculture should be seen as the primary healthcare service. Robert Kenner, the director of Food, Inc., says: “You can’t talk about healthcare without talking about food”.

The good news is that awareness is growing and penetrating to the highest echelons of government. Michelle Obama famously dug up the White House Lawn to plant an organic garden. And the power for change lies in the choices we make as consumers. If we were to forgo our daily intensively reared meat meals for one delicious free range organic chicken for Sunday lunch, we would be making a significant economic impact on our own reserves, and the planet’s (not to mention the grateful chickens!).

But we need to act fast. The current food systems are precarious and unsustainable and vulnerable to extreme shocks. Food prices rose by 3% in the US in the aftermath of the banking crisis. Currently there is very little political or public awareness of the food crisis, which means a massive shift in public perception is needed in order to  shift government policies, so – encourage everyone you know to see Food, Inc.

The Book:

Stuffed: Positive Action to Prevent a Global Food Crisis by Pat Thomas is the perfect handbook for those of you who get the urgency behind the messages above, but who don’t quite know what you can do.

Featuring essays on how the food we cook in our kitchen can effect global production, it shows you how to use your garden, how to turn leftovers into delicious meals, how to compost and which vegetables attract bees. Out in your community you can learn how to shop for decent food, how to decipher food labels, how to join together with your neighbours to save money and change your schools, farms and cities.

There is so much information here that this little book will surely answer any lurking doubts about how to redevelop our food systems. It also has a pleasingly realistic tone – reminding us we’ll need to examine our eating habits but reassuring us that we will not necessarily need to forgo coffee and bananas.

This is surely the perfect election present for everyone you know – it goes on sale on the 1st March and one copy will cost you in the region of £14.99. Published by Alastair Sawday Publishing ISBN: 978-1-906136-47-5.

Vote with your fork!

See also:
Local Food: how to make it happen in your community by Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins




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First Published Febuary 2010

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