It’s easy to take food for granted when, if we’re lucky, it’s never further away from us than a trip to the shops. But behind the scenes, food is deeply connected to the things that will drive our recovery from the pandemic. A true recovery—one where we come back to a world better and more resilient than the one we left when COVID-19 hit—is about so much more than eradicating the virus.
Diet-related ill health has been putting our National Health Service under tremendous strain in recent decades, both financially and in terms of capacity. Never before has that strain been so clear as during the pandemic. At the same time, lockdown has affected mental health and wellbeing world-over. Access to good, affordable food, the skills to cook healthy food from scratch, the space to grow food for ourselves and our community – these are all essential for balanced physical and mental health, and central to a resilient recovery.
We all see the benefits of looking after our local communities and our open spaces, especially since the 2020 lockdown. Looking after our local economy is not all that different. During lockdown many of us used our high street food shops in a way we perhaps hadn’t before. At the same time, we mourned the lack of pubs, cafes and restaurants to visit.
These local shops, cafes etc are the front end of a web of other local food businesses – manufacturers, growers, wholesalers, farmers – who all trade and depend on each other, employing local people, keeping money circulating locally, developing skills and knowledge. All of this is crucial to the life of any given community. We all stand to benefit from the prosperity of a healthy local economy.
The climate and ecological emergencies have been hot topics in recent years, and the pandemic has only increased the urgency we face in making radical change to reverse the tide. Our food system is heavily implicated in loss of biodiversity to industrial agriculture, in global gas emissions from livestock farming and food transport, and in its enormous carbon footprint from wasted food. Our resilient recovery is dependent on a shift to a food system where true value is placed on food that gives back to the environment.
With the pandemic as a backdrop, the Black Lives Matter movement has shown that there can be no true ‘recovery’ if in the world we return to the lives of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are put second to those of white people. The UK’s food culture owes everything to the cultural diversity of our citizens, nowhere more so than Bristol, and yet white voices dominate food and farming, particularly when talking about sustainable food. Food is the one thing that unites us all, and only through recognising and celebrating the ethnic diversity at its core, and through actively seeking to elevate the voices that are currently silenced, can a truly resilient recovery happen.