Eating for our Planet

Updated on 04 March 2011 | 0 Comments

Food is a great leveller. We all need it but it is only a small number of us who are more concerned with sustainability than which of the major supermarkets is offering the best bargains this week.

Ten days of feasting, tasting, drinking and foraging culminated in a processional dinner up and down the steep arterial High Street of Arundel. Guaranteed to give you an appetite or a stitch, this hiker’s feast concluded the first food festival in the stylish, artistic mecca above the rich, lush water meadows of the River Arun. Arundel has much going for it gastronomically. There’s still a butcher, a greengrocer, a fabulous deli and wine merchant and more tea shops than most towns could support. Yet, not so long ago, it also had its own slaughterhouse and people could really buy the meat that grazed locally. Now there is a supermarket and slowly the reality of modern shopping is hitting the town.

Food is a great leveller. We all need it but it is only a small number of us who are more concerned with sustainability than which of the major supermarkets is offering the best bargains this week. We recently saw the shocking TV news strand of migrant children, possibly as young as nine, working near Malvern to pick salad onions. Is this what we want? Surely it can only be explained by our constant refusal to put a true value on the cost of our food?

I was invited to chair a debate in the splendour of the Baron’s Hall in the Castle: Can we eat our way to a sustainable future? This covered how we shop and eat, and our responsibilities to the people who produce our food for us. One of the main criticisms of the drive to grow more food ourselves and to shop for local produce is that of protectionism, if not actually in taxes then through turning our backs on communities that need our money or have supplied us for years. This social justice, combined with climate justice, was very much the theme taken by Vicki Johnson, Head of Climate Change at the New Economics Foundation, and of Toby Quantrill, Head of Public Policy at the Fairtrade Foundation. Vicki spoke of the need to reassess the constant drive for economic growth against the background challenges of peak oil and climate change, and Toby built on that with a plea for an awareness of trade and social justice in developing countries where the effects of climate change are already being felt. 'Many ethical consumers have faced the dilemma of whether to buy Fairtrade or local. People worry that products imported from developing countries have a heavier impact on the environment due to the distance they travel. But the reality is not that simple.' – The Fairtrade Foundation, 2009

Steering a debate like this isn’t easy. You need to shock people into an awareness of the problem but also empower them to react positively. Maddy Harland, Editor of the renowned Permaculture magazine, contextualised permaculture as an approach not only to growing but also to architecture, planning and making the best of space in every possible way. But the catalyst of the evening was Caroline Harriott, a young mum, farmer’s wife and third generation local farmer married to third generation local farmer. She told why their cattle are sent away for sale to major supermarkets as the infrastructure (abattoirs and butchers) simply isn’t here anymore to sell the meat locally. She told people to shop in the town to keep businesses going, not just for top-ups but for their main shopping too. She said how she and her husband would like to grow more for the community, but need the guarantee of the market. She spoke of the days when a yellow bucket hanging at the end of the lane meant there was work to do and beer and food for afterwards for anyone who came to help. No-one expected the audience to be saying “what do we do now” at the end of the evening - but they were. It was an unexpectedly positive outcome.

If we are going to make significant lifestyle changes it must be through a willingness to embrace the challenges and to find our fulfilment in a new way of measuring personal and social success. Being satisfied with less will be an economic and moral necessity. It would seem from the debate, we can - and we must - eat our way to a sustainable, new way of living.

Also worth your attention:

Sustainable fish

Cowdray Farm Shop

Photograph by Huw Jones at Lloyds Europa c/o


Be the first to comment

Do you want to comment on this article? You need to be signed in for this feature

Copyright © All rights reserved.