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S7 E9 –Is our food system on the brink of collapse? (Or are we just being fed bull?)

The UK government has begun developing a National food strategy to combat issues for the first time in 70+ years. Is it needed? Is it addressing the right issues? Will it work?

Best soundbite: “We expect to be able to go and have strawberries on our Christmas dinner, if we want strawberries on our Christmas dinner” – Ben Ebbrell

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  1. vsotardi

    Wow, great points, fellow Sorted(ers?)! A few thoughts while watching the podcast…

    1. When in lived in NYC, I grew up with boundless access to every type of food imaginable, and I think perhaps that both offered me cultural knowledge in terms of food that perhaps I would not have been able to otherwise. I was definitely “spoiled.” Now that I live in New Zealand, I realise how challenging (and expensive) it can be to access food products. Case in point: I’m making homemade pizzas this weekend, and despite my most valiant efforts, I simply cannot get semolina and traditional pepperoni (we have “pepperoni salami,” which is sacrilegious!). At first this was irritating, but a second glance meant that I simply wasn’t getting want I wanted.

    2. Over the past few months–partially shaped by these podcasts, in fact–I’ve been more mindful of food origins. I became slightly obsessed with a particular type of pretzels, and only recently I checked and found out that these rather small packages are being shipped all the way around the world from Romania. These items could easily be made here. It was even more interesting in that this is my supermarket’s “generic” company. With a closer inspection, I found that the cheaper products were being shipped from all around the world whilst the more expensive products were local (either New Zealand or Australia). I’m more readily purchasing the local items, but they ARE more costly. It feels like a tension between consumer cost and sustainability.

    Have any of you experienced something similar to this?

    3. A uni student group advocating for sustainability recently gave a talk titled “I UBER-ed a chocolate bar.” You can imagine what the talk was about, and how MORE consumer convenience can have massive implications for the environment.

    4. Whoever was recording this video, I giggled when the cup of coffee was being drunk a few times. I wanted a sip! 🙂

  2. LadyPixelHeart

    The phrase you were looking for Jamie was “I dissent” possibly? That or nonconcur but that sounds awful.

    I work in a supermarket and I just want to say the customer is NOT always right. Yes, stores are expected to supply product but at the same time there’s influences like weather, trucks breaking down, ETC. I’m a department manager so I know what sells and what doesn’t, so I decide what to keep and have to explain its not cost effective enough to keep it in stock.

    With all the advancements we’ve made in technology and delivery of product now it’s odd that sometimes you won’t be able to get what you need/want. But I also think that ease of being able to get said item creates a higher demand of resources we just don’t have or haven’t prepared for.

    I hate to say it, but the more technilogically advanced we get just has us asking how can we do this faster, how can I get this quicker, how can I get more right now. There’s just not enough supply on Earth for the amount of people on the planet.

    I’m American so I can’t really speak on Brexit because I don’t fully understand, but things like climate change and global warming are also pushing not only the food system, but the entire ecosystem to collapse. Things like chocolate, avaccado, coffee have been dangerously close to shortages because of climate change (and also underpaid worked but that would be another post entirely). How crazy is that? Something were so used to having every day wiped out because we as a species haven’t taken the steps to reverse climate change. We are educated enough now to fix the problem but the thing is, CEOs and governments won’t make any money off of it.

    Hopefully our generation will be the generation that fixes that because if we don’t, there’s no turning back for furture ones.

  3. thekatsfang

    The issue of food systems is so difficult to talk about, I feel, because it’s embedded in everything else. Granted I’m from the US, so some of what you talked about is outside my frame of reference, and I’m speaking from a pretty privileged place. That said…

    I honestly wonder if the quantity of information is so high that it almost obscures reality, in a way. Theres so many details available online, so many articles and studies and personal blogs and stuff, that it gets hard tp separate the things that are important on the large scale from the minutia that, while important in its sphere, ultimately has less impact as a whole. Whether that because the number sounds large but the percentage is small (the .05% versus 5% thing that James brought up) or because something else already within the system balances it out or negates it, it can get difficult for a non-expert to wade through all the data. Plus the way data is presented can change how its perceived, and there’s the issue of things that don’t have a large scale impact still being catastrophic the sphere in which it’s relevant… your average person could do tons of research and still only have a very murky picture of the actual problems.

    And as for expectations, to some degree, I think it comes back to as systemic disconnect between knowing where our food comes from, how it’s grown or reared or cultivated, then harvested, packaged, and sent out for consumption. People expect for store shelves to be fully stocked, to have plenty of options, to be able to get certain foods even when they’re way out of season. But that means a lot of stores end up overbuying food, buying more than they can sell before it expires, and throw it out. At least here in the US- I work retail at a national chain and see this a lot. And it pisses me off because half my coworkers are on some kind of food assistance but we get fired for stealing if we take anything, but that’s something for another comment thread on some other video.

    My point being, we as consumers expect that appearance of choice (but half those different brands of frozen veg are just the same veg in different packages, so…). And unless we go out of our way to think about it, we’re never really confronted with the seasonality of our food since everything seems to always be available. Education can maybe help fix that, but there’s a big mental difference between ‘this food is in or out of season in your area’ to recognizing the large scale, long-term effects of only eating seasonally and or/locally. And then actually being financially and health-ily able to make that transition.

    Plus there’s other considerations, like sustainability and environmental impact. Local climate and land availability can seriously effect production. Even in good growing climates, not all land is good for growing everything. So then food producers have to factor in the cost and effort of getting non-ideal land in an ideal climate viable for growing, or whether to use than land for grazing animals or some other task. Then things like the treatment of the animals that are being reared for food and the treatment of the workers who harvest crops and run the packaging plants. Ultimately, all of that trickles down into cost for the consumer, which can be an issue if jobs and wages don’t adjust to meet the new financial demands of the food scape.

    Now, in the long run, it may be a good thing, like Jamie pointed out. Less imports, or a push toward locally produced food will (hopefully) reduce the emissions from transporting food all over the planet, reducing greenhouse gasses, and so on, which will (hopefully) help with climate change. Expectations will adjust to match the new reality where certain foods are only available and/or affordable at certain times of the year, demand will adjust, and everything will end up just fine. New or forgotten sources of food may come on the scene. Like, you guys have talked about insect proteins and such in the past, but also (in my area) lesser-known/shunned options like snake or gator becoming more widespread. It may lead to a rise of a new local food identities and cultures. Or maybe bring back foods or cooking techniques that have fallen out of fashion (because that’s part of why they existed right? they didn’t have access to anything and everything, food-wise). (just as long as we don’t bring back the weird mayonnaise hot dog jello salads, america. please)

    Personal diet will have to change, potentially drastically, in order to work with what options are available. Economy and wages will have to adjust in relation to the changing prices, and healthcare will have to accommodate for people with dietary restrictions or special dietary needs. Everything will probably end up fine, through the massive efforts of all involved, but the growing pains will suck. Probably.

    It’s such a huge, intersectional issue, and I don’t envy anyone the task of trying to isolate the different parts enough to solve it without totally overhauling the society around it.

    Also Jamie- Your question about the longer-term effects of the quinoa boom in Peru led me down a research rabbit hole,. It sounds like the small scale farmers saw the initial gain, but then got overtaken by larger farms in more temperate areas and other countries that could support a larger crop. That larger crop flooded the market, driving the price way down and putting the smaller farms out of business. So now they aren’t getting much of the profit. I didn’t read anything about a direct link, but it might be contributing the protests and political stuff going on right now.

  4. Annie1962

    95% of people won’t care until it affects THEM

    Pretty much says it all. I’m actually surprised that James prefers to remain blissfully oblivious to what’s politically going on around him – I thought he’d be the most aware (apart from Ben). This preferring to not know here in Australia leads to going to polling booths (here it’s compulsory come election time) and tick any box because ‘I don’t care and well Dad votes for them’. Results in the worst party being in power due to ignorance.
    Please James – learn more about your country’s politics – just a little.

    This is a hard and many pronged topic. The current food system? I’m not sure but the drought that’s happening here in Australia will have a definite impact on how we shop for our food and what food we actually buy. I’ve just had a look at your lamb prices (Tesco supermarket website) and it’s FAR more expensive where you are than down undah. I’m surprised actually. Prices for essentials are pretty much on a par with Australia. That was rather fascinating.

    Certain foods here are just outrageously out of reach for many people and it’s getting worse. Prices keep going up yet wages are pretty much staying the same or increasing little. So the affordability of life for the nuclear family where BOTH parents are working is becoming harder. I have seen working families reaching out to charities for help with food once their bills are paid.
    I see a youtube recipe video which calls for a BIG hunka beef or lamb and I pretty much say ‘well that’s me out’ (I’m looking at you Babish) … sometimes you lads will use a recipe that calls for a big hunka something – even cheese and I sigh.. watch the video feeling I’d never be able to afford to make it (I still print it out though)
    The environment is playing a big part in the yes answer. We are suffering more droughts and floods which are decimating our crops. Farmers here are calling for the Govt to help bail them out because they can no longer farm on their land after 3 yrs of constant drought. The crops have gone, farm animals have died of thirst whilst corruption takes away their supply of water (I shit you not) so thus prices will rise for milk bread, meat etc and hence bringing us to the brink of collapse

    Down here there is a call for our front verges (the land at the very front of our houses) to be converted into vege patches and hence help us save money by producing our own F and V

    It’s on the increase I’m sure because on some fb pages, people are offering for barter vegetable etc and duck eggs (yay!)

    I wonder if farmers can use their land for producing something else we can all use and they can profit from.. thoughts?

    I have read that chocolate might become more difficult to produce due to climate change and the countries of production will change. This will all have an effect of our shopping habits (imagine the grumpy menstrual women around not having access to their choccy) God help us.

    I feel it will get worse UNLESS we look at how we produce food differently. Climate is changing so therefore we need to think about changing what we produce and where we produce it.

    Anyways can’t think of much else to say except bring back your aprons for sale if you can!!! I have seen comments (inc mine) asking for those cool aprons you wore last vid – doo eeet xxxx

    • Anita

      “Prices keep going up yet wages are pretty much staying the same or increasing little. So the affordability of life for the nuclear family where BOTH parents are working is becoming harder.” The same applies to Hungary but I’d have never thought that Australia is in the same situation. 🙁 Our “drought”, however, is politics and corruption. Those who are powerful enough benefit from EU farm subsidies and can live on those subsidies without having to make their business profitable or even grow anything on their land. Plus, we rely heavily on products and produce that travels the whole continent and can still be available at a lower price than the local farmers’ products. It’s hard for farmers to keep up with the competition and keeping up comes with a price that does not necessarily appear on the price tag… Okay, I understand, it’s business, it’s about profits. But the food system’s goal shouldn’t be to make the fortunate few richer it should be to provide appropriate nutrition to as many as possible.
      Of course, there are serious problems with the demand end, too. Even those who could afford to buy local, fresher, thus better-quality produce decide not to think too much about their food choices and opt for the cheapest options, spending their hard-earned money on the next iPhone, instead. And about those who don’t have the money but happen to have some great assets (i.e. a nice big backyard for growing veggies), their convenience seems to be more valuable than their health and independence. I’d love to see those barter veggie and egg posts from Hungary, too. For me at least, small farming communities (treating their environment right) are the future.

      Grumpy menstrual women without their choc will be a tough problem, though… 😀

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