Fricot Feature | Food Security

Fast Food Outlet in Old Pompei

Peter Carrick is a former headmaster. His old school taught children of the elites, but Peter kept his cool because he remembered the ‘war’ and the rationing. ‘It wasn’t until the middle of the 1950s that rationing in England ended and I have not forgotten, I always clear my plate, I never leave food. I remember when I was always hungry.’

So it is not a surprise to learn that sustainable food security has its origins in the 1950s when genuine concerns about the ‘environmental’ issues we now call biodiversity, climate change, global warming and soil depletion began to appear amidst the rise of agro-chemical farming, the decline of artisanal and family food production and home cooking, the loss of food cultures that treasured and recorded indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking methods, the relative failure of organic farming, the intensive farming and fishing. 

Small groups of people from diverse backgrounds worked collectively in the 1980s to address the issue of food security in the context of an eco-social paradigm, which was largely dismissed and hugely marginalised, shaped by a combination of selfishness and stupidity.

While some people saw the benefit of organic farming and went off to live in their personal eco-topias, others saw the need to develop a sensibility based on the practical application of their theories on a global scale, with a model of sustainable food production that benefitted everyone, of all ages in all societies, everywhere, that was not part of a profit nexus.

Gradually the new sensibility began to infiltrate society, Europe in particular where different movements of people promoted small-scale food production and distribution, with the emphasis on organic farming allied to eco-sensitive methods that preserved the integrity of ecosystems prepared for climate change. Artisanal, family, small-scale food and community-based food production and distribution, particularly the use of food box schemes, food coops, food fairs and festivals and food markets were promoted in the context of ‘local produce’ or, as some described it, ‘people, place, produce’.

Then, after the euphoria of the 1980s and 1990s, there was a generational hiatus, and some continuity was lost. This was seen as a failure rooted in bureaucracy and in resistance from those with vested interests. Two conflicting paradigms emerged – one profit-based, one people-based. It was noticed. 

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security to exist ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’. The concept of food security included economic and physical access to food that met dietary needs and food preferences. 

There was, it appeared, enough food to feed the world. The problem was distribution and economic models that preferred the twin system of food exports and food imports to the detriment of local food supply, which became more expensive than the imported produce. Another problem was climate change and its sub-text — denial!

Pompei Stone Mill

IPES is an independent panel supported by the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation ‘comprising environmental scientists, development economists, nutritionists, agronomists and sociologists, as well as experienced practitioners from civil society and social movements’. 

In February 2017 IPES co-chair Olivier De Schutter and Slow Food president Carlo Petrini said in an op-ed in Politico that as long as the discussion is centred on agricultural policy – designed to serve agricultural priorities, shaped by the interests of agricultural lobbies and ultimately decided by agriculture ministers and committees – the broader social and environmental objectives will always remain peripheral.

‘Sustainable food systems can underpin a new economic vision, one in which creative solutions are provided to long-term problems, in which a circular economy and green jobs are more than just rhetoric, and in which the costs of supporting decent jobs and public health are weighed up against the price of inaction.’

‘Surely, there is no greener job than farming, when it is based on building diversified systems that sequester carbon and provide a habitat for wild species to thrive – not least pollinators. Instead of relying on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, agro-ecological systems use natural diversity and the synergies between different crops and species to foster long-term soil fertility and sustain yields. Resource efficiency is paramount: water is recycled instead of running off the fields, and waste products like manure can be put to good use.’

‘There is also no better way to secure the economic future than to sustain and strengthen the patchwork of sustainable small-scale farms and diverse landscapes. Redesigning food and farming systems can also help tackle the public health crisis. Agricultural diversity can be translated into dietary diversity by taking steps to reconnect local suppliers of fresh, nutritious foods with individual consumers and institutional purchasers – particularly school canteens.

‘Local authorities too can play a role. They are often best-placed to improve access to healthy diets, through urban planning and public procurement practices. Indeed, the ‘food policy councils’ springing up in municipalities across Europe are already leading the way in putting sustainable territorial food systems in place.’

The rhetoric of IPES and the experience of Slow Food might yet change the European attitude to the implementation of sustainable food security systems. Unfortunately Europe is not the world and whatever the European Union decides to do will be determined by those with power – especially power outside Europe.

Without food security there is food poverty. We know, we have been there before as well.