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 connected to the things most central to our society and thriving communities. Tackling food issues is critical if we’re to solve some of today’s most pressing problems and build a resilient future, starting right here in Bristol.
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, the impact of successive lockdowns and a time of upheaval 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 future.
The choices we make about the food we choose to buy can make the difference between a thriving or failing local economy, but choosing food that supports the local economy has become increasingly difficult in recent decades as food and the companies that produce, manufacture and sell it become more and more homogenised by big business.
The visible face of local food – shops, cafés and restaurants – are part of a web of other local businesses. These manufacturers, growers and farmers, wholesalers etc. 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 and the prosperity of a healthy local economy.
Our food system is heavily implicated in the urgent climate and ecological emergencies we face globally, but the impacts can be seen at a local level too. Industrial food production can be directly linked to loss of biodiversity to big agriculture, CO2 emissions from livestock farming, food transport and storage, and in its enormous carbon footprint from wasted food. In turn, farmers and the most vulnerable communities are feeling the effects of climate change in real time, from impacts on their crops to food shortages.
Addressing the climate and ecological emergencies is dependent on a shift to a food system where true value is placed on food that gives back to the environment and can sustain healthy communities for the long term.
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. Other aspects of people’s identities, such as ability, age or gender, can impact the way they food system works for them, too.
Food is the one thing that unites us all. Better understanding of people’s complex social identities and their differing experience of the food system, can help us to create a more welcoming food community and, in turn, one that functions better for all. Meanwhile, recognising and celebrating the diversity at its core, and actively seeking to elevate the voices that are currently silenced, can help to create a more just food system.