On Monday the government has published it’s long awaited food strategy, in response to the 2 part independent review by Henry Dimbleby. The dominant impression from this strategy, is that it is written by a government looking to abdicate responsibility for our food system. In our view, it is not only lacking in vision and commitment, it will actually make things worse. The strategy politely pays lip service to some of the real pressing challenges we face, but it falls so far short of doing anything meaningful about them. For instance:
- It aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 6Mt by 2035. The UK Food system produces around 46Mt at the moment. It translates to a reduction of 1% per year when we should be aiming for net zero by 2030.
It recognises the damage caused by food waste, but the only measure it suggests is to introduce reporting and separate waste collection. Food waste collections will be free, which will do nothing to incentivise less waste.
- It talks about a school food revolution, yet the £5M in funding for cooking in schools translates to only 71p per child.
- It does not introduce a single measure or penny to address the rising number of families who can no longer afford to feed themselves.
It’s not just the total lack of ambition that is the real problem. We know that our current food system is wasteful, lacks resilience and fails to feed millions of people a healthy diet. Much of that is driven by global corporate food businesses and consumerism, both of which fuel exploitation rather than nurturing. And yet this strategy explicitly looks to strengthen the very industrial global food system that created these problems. The very few actual policies, improvements and investment that this strategy does mention all revolve around industrial innovation, efficiency and trade. And it does absolutely nothing to create more fair and sustainable food. It supports the status quo and kicks the hope of any real change into the long grass of consultations where they can be safely suffocated in silence. It will not do anything to save our planet, or feed our people.
All of this doesn’t mean that this is a time to despair. It means it is time to act! We would have loved to have an ally in government, but it is clear that we don’t. However, there is a lot we can do together, and are already doing, to make a difference:
- There are many organisations where you can join as a volunteer or supporter to create real local change. Food Works is of course one of those organisations. Per volunteer we provide 4000 meals worth of sustainable and accessible food to Sheffield. If you want to help us create better food for Sheffield, you can join us.
- Sheffield has a growing and active network for sustainable food, ShefFood. It brings together a lot of the fantastic work on a better food system throughout the city, ranging from the research and innovations from the Institute for Sustainable food, at the University of Sheffield, to the development of resilience in the city, building on the support networks developed over the COVID lockdown. In 2021 the city achieved a bronze award and we are aiming to be one of the silver award sustainable food cities by 2023. If you run a business or other food organisation, you should definitely join!
- Sheffield City Council is also an active member of ShefFood. It is taking an increasingly active role to support access to food for everyone in the city in collaboration with food banks and other providers. The council is currently working on a new food strategy that should address sustainability as well as poverty and the food economy and it’s worth contacting your local Councillor to express what is important to you so we make sure our food strategy delivers on our needs as a city.
We have all the power we need to make Sheffield fair and sustainable. All it needs is for us to come together and act.