The Sustainable Food Cities Network – why food is such a problem

Originally published on Bristol Green Capital Blog – 19th September 2013

SustainableFoodCity_LogoThe Sustainable Food Cities Network has been created to use food to address social, economic and environmental issues. Looking at why making food production and consumption sustainable is an essential part of food solution. Bristol is now part of this nationwide network. 

I’m sitting in my parent’s kitchen in Somerset. My Mum is chopping up mushrooms, whilst a plate of four sizeable salmon fillets sit next to me. There’s a flan blind baking in the oven, fresh spinach wilting in a pan of softened onions, whilst a pile of Cornish new potatoes perch next to the cooker.

Having been so absorbed in my reading, I was totally oblivious of what was happening around me. I just sighed and said to my Mum that the more I read the more I despair. I’m researching food poverty. As I glanced up, I looked at the scene just described and am stung by the juxtaposition between my parent’s kitchen and what I’ve just read.

I feel grateful but a bit empty and perhaps a bit ashamed as well. Maybe I take things for granted too much. Okay, as a student I am familiar with an empty fridge, but restocking my shelves is not a financial burden, just requires the effort of lugging a heavy bag for twenty minutes. Really, I have no idea.

According the World Bank, since 2008 we have been faced by a global food crisis. As a consequence of the 43% rise in food prices from 2000-2011, many people have been unable to afford nutritious food causing significant social and health problems.

Food, a lack of quality and quantity, is responsible for a deteriorating quality of life. On average in Bristol, 51% of residents eat five more portions of fruit and vegetable per day, however this drops to as low as 39% in the deprived ward of Lawrence Hill (Bristol Quality of Life Survey, 2012). Obesity is a prolific problem in Bristol with 50% of residents stating that they are overweight or obese. Once again, this figure increases for deprived wards.

Food poverty is a series social issue in Bristol, and indeed across the UK. In fact a recent Guardian article reported that in the last six months, there has been a 78% increase in Food Bank enquiries as more families are unable to support themselves. Despite this increased demand for food resources and the above statistics, food poverty is fiercely debated.

Controversially, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver remarked that he cannot come to terms with ‘modern-day poverty’ as many people claiming to be unable to afford healthy food are able to buy expensive electrical items. His comments have provoked much criticism due to his millionaire status. Regardless of how people spend their money, with increasing food prices and widespread unemployment, many people are struggling to access healthy and affordable food.

The Sustainable Food Cities Network is a nationwide initiative of public, private and third sector organisations led by the Soil Association, Food Matters and Sustain. It is hoped that eventually every school, hospital, restaurant and workplace will serve only healthy and sustainable meals. Also they hope that everybody will have access to affordable and healthy food, sourced locally and sustainably.

In Bristol, the network is working with the already established Bristol Food Policy Council, a partnership of community, public and private organisations. Their mission is to tackle food poverty and food waste by prioritising sustainable supply chains, public sector food and access. Their work is centred on promoting the message and ideals of sustainable food via events and awards.

At Food Cycle, we share the same concerns as the Sustainable Cities Food Network and endeavour to help overcome some of the problems associated with food. We run a weekly community kitchen in Easton which provides a free three course meal for anyone but especially for those at risk of food poverty. The food we source for this meal is waste food from shops and supermarkets which is perfectly edible but unable to be sold due to strict regulations regarding sell by dates. We also have a community outreach team who work actively in the community to raise awareness of food waste and food poverty. 

Danielle Jackson

Follow me on twitter: @d_m_jackson


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