I reckon we'll be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing over the coming months/years. Both NAH and I were handed a food container and leaflet like the one pictured at our local supermarket on Saturday. Love Your Leftovers looks to be Sainsbury's rebranding of our government's Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which in turn is set to be a central plank in their Food 2030 strategy, published earlier this month.
There's been quite a lot published concerning this document and supporting website already: you can see some of the very different blogosphere viewpoints and comments on here, here and here. Whilst I welcome the strategy, I'm also rather disappointed, particularly as the use of the word sustainable in what seemed like every sentence got in the way of the message rather. Having spent some time thinking about it further, my main gripe is because it's a strategy. There's lots of fine words, but very little in the way of how we as a country (and I don't just mean the government here) are going solve the food issues we'll have to face over the coming decades. I suspect that's one of the main reasons why others are rather disappointed too.
When I wrote about the Ration Book Britain programme a few days ago, I mentioned we potentially face a similar nightmare scenario concerning food our parents and grandparents faced 70 years ago. Then, rigid measures were introduced by the government: not only rationing (which went on for 14 years), but actions such as wasting food were made illegal. Campaigns like Dig for Victory were introduced, the country's allotments were doubled and a massive education programme swung into action. In the space of 5 years we went from producing just 30% of our own food to around 70% at the end of WWII.
This time, it looks like our government will not be so overtly draconian and parental in the way it acts. Education will be the main persuader in encouraging us to eat healthily and this in turn is expected to lead to consumer-led changes in the food industry as we change our diet and eat more seasonal food. Food production will be increased sustainably, the food industry's greenhouse gas emissions will fall, waste will be reduced and all this will be underpinned by top-notch science, research and development enabling us to do all of this in practical and innovative ways.
It all sounds wonderful, but the cynic in me isn't so reassured. My head's warning bells sounded whilst reading the Food 2030 report itself. Apparently 90% of people claim that healthy eating is important to them. Therefore it appears the messages from campaigns like 5-a-day are already getting through to the majority of us. However, we don't seem to be translating that into our dietary choices yet: we are still eating too much salt, fat and sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables. So where does that fit with a consumer-led food revolution?
Growing our own also features in the report as key to future success and there's already lots of independent initiatives around encouraging us to do more of this: Dig In from the BBC, Landshare and the RHS' Grow Your Own to name but three. All are very worthwhile, but sometimes I wonder whether a centralised, co-ordinated approach like that embodied in Dig for Victory might be more effective? I'm also concerned too much focus may be on the consumer and self-production end of things rather than what the farming industry could be doing.
Whilst I love having my allotment (and I feel very privileged to have one) and community projects such as Incredible Edible Todmorden are absolutely fantastic, but the bottom line is this: the land available for growing our own will probably diminish, not increase like it did during WWII because of the projected increase in our population taking up more land. Our farmers will need to produce more food, also on much less land than now (never mind what was available in the 1940s) and with less artificial fertilisers and water. I haven't seen anything in Food 2030 which really addresses this stark reality.
I'm also rather concerned that government funding for research seems to be trending towards pure rather than applied. Much of our agricultural research lies in the latter sector and most of the (highly regarded) food and farming research institutes that were around for me to apply for a job at when I graduated 30 years ago have already been closed or absorbed into other institutions. I'm worried the resultant vacuum is being filled by the large corporations who are focused on profiting from the results, rather than being independently led and focusing on addressing the key issues.
If that sounds rather depressing, well I think I need to refer you back to the point I made earlier: Food 2030 is a strategy, not the how to do it. As ever, the devil is in the detail and I'm fairly optimistic the policies resulting from Food 2030 will start to address the issues we face. As long as we all play our part wherever we can to help shape and act on them of course.