ARE THERE SOME CRACKS IN OUR FOOD SYSTEM?
I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a few weeks now. Mainly to see how things start to pan out as we come out of lockdown and we start to see a little normality again, or the ‘new normal’. How has the lockdown affected society? Will there be positive changes? I’ve been one of the fortunate ones when it comes to lockdown, my life day to day has changed very little. Animals still need feeding, as do humans. And we’ve been feeding a few more humans than normal lately. Although the catering side of our business disappeared overnight, we have been supplying a lot more food direct to the public at home via our website, which is great! I’m interested to know, is this a buying habit that might be here to stay? Have consumers lost confidence in the globalised supermarket food system? We would love to keep supplying you with food if you’ve recently found Grassfruits.
Covid-19 and our food system
The Covid-19 crisis has cost lives, livelihoods, jeopardised food security, crashed markets and forced an ever-increasing wedge between the rich and the poor of society, while state dependency has increased to never before seen levels. There is no doubt the covid-19 crisis has bought great hardship to many families.
It has been tough for parts of the food system too. Milk has been dumped down the drain, potato fields ploughed in and chicken, destined for outfits such as KFC and Nando’s, have all struggled to find a home in the retail sector. This has undoubtably exposed our appetite for lattes to go, fries with everything and our love of fried chicken shops. It’s also showing we can probably get by with a little less of this. All the while, Polish meat pops up in supermarkets and meat processing plants have had to turn down due to staff shortages. Although, small and local food economies appear to have thrived. I know our local abattoir has seen an increase in volume, which is great. Local small family run slaughterhouses are in decline and we need to do all we can to support them.
Bringing health into focus
Yet, could there be some positives to be taken from this? Has the virus prompted a renewed interest in health and building immunity? The breakdown of our worldwide food system has exposed the inefficiency of a globalised system and has focused people’s attention on a more local food system. People’s slower pace of life during the lockdown appears to have enabled more time to think about food choices and consider supporting local business. The impression I’m getting from people is that they’re enjoying these transactions more. They may involve a little more planning, or a few extra stops on the shopping trip, which inevitably take more time. But also include meaningful conversations with someone who has either grown their food or has a close relationship with those who have, and a transaction with someone who really values your custom.
It would also appear that people can function quite well working from home. And it also looks like people are enjoying having a little more time on their hands. Surly this can only be good for people’s wellbeing. Perhaps working from home more is a healthier balance, meaning less commuting, more time at home, more time with family and to do the things one enjoys. Also, I wonder if there are many company bosses thinking, “why are we paying for these expensive offices when everyone is working perfectly well at home?” Maybe there are some more imaginative uses we can come up with for these buildings too.
A change in priorities post Covid
I think what the pandemic has proven is that society can change its habits really quite rapidly if forced to do so. When everyone’s priorities are brought into focus on the same matter, and that matter is health - everyone’s health, not just yourself but your whole family, your friends and the greater community. With people’s newfound focus on health, perhaps this is an opportunity to reconsider priorities. It strikes me that society places so much value in material things, such as the increasing prices of iphones, whereas our food faces increasing challenges with supermarket prices and continues to have its costs driven down. Perhaps society can readjust its priorities and where society places value with regard to food.
So what could our future look like? We’ve been presented with an extraordinary opportunity. We have the opportunity to shape our future, and the future of our next generation. There is no doubt that there will be hardship coming out of this crisis for quite some time to come; I don’t believe we’ve seen the start of the level of unemployment we might see just yet. If we’re to develop a more secure food chain this chain needs to become shorter… a lot shorter. This probably means more small farms integrated in a local economy. If we’re to transition to a more ecologically focused agricultural system this likely means a more skilled labour-intensive food system, and a relearning of land-based skills. We may lose jobs in some sectors, but could we perhaps see more jobs created in agriculture?
I feel we might be starting to see a glimpse of a localised seasonal food system here in York. For those of you not familiar with Food Circle York, please check them out. Food Circle brings together farmer, growers, bakers, cooks, chefs and you the public. If you feel a change in the way you buy your food is due, consider supporting your local food economy. It’s a far more pleasant experience!
Food Circle York at Tang Hall Community Centre:
Saturdays - 12-2pm