Locavores and UK Sustainability
By Nina Manning 2016.
UK food production, like many areas in the world has reached a point where the food we grow, produce and import is putting the environment under a lot of stress. We are living in times where preparing a simple meal could potentially be a highly unsustainable act that has implications far beyond our knowledge or reach.
What is sustainable?
To be classed as ‘Sustainable’ food must have been grown or farmed in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner using practices that protect the environment, safeguard human health, are humane to farm animals, and provide fair treatment to workers. To break it down further sustainable food should be produced, processed, bought, sold and eaten in ways that provide:
Contribute to thriving local economies
Create good jobs and secure livelihoods
Enhance the health and variety of both plants and animals (and the welfare of farmed and wild creatures)
Protect natural resources such as water and soil
Help to tackle climate change.
UK food production
Much of the food we continue to grow and the cattle we rear in the UK is done so in intensive farming conditions. The main aim of intensive farming is to produce one product as quickly as possible therefore inevitably other areas will suffer: loss of ecosystems, global warming and the treatment and welfare of the animals and so on.
There is a substantial amount of produce available to us from other countries. Importing is not a new concept; we’ve been bringing in produce from overseas for centuries but modern methods have turned that produce into a carbon-intensive commodity. There is less emphasis on the social aspects of food production and consumers tend not to know where the food they buy has come from; the gap between farm and fork continues to grow.
Buying locally grown and produced food and supporting British high welfare farms is the way to increase sustainability. With the rate of modern life evolving and the modern technology that allows us the capacity to bring produce to our doorsteps from another country– ordering food by mail order is so easy and done at the click of a few buttons with little or no available information of the heritage of the produce. Although buying local equates to UK food sustainability, the transition isn’t as easy for some as it is for others. Because a vast majority of the food we eat is mass produced and/or made cheaply in another country, it is more cost effective to buy from supermarkets where this produce is readily available at an affordable price.
Intensive farming and heavily processed foods have evolved to the rate where by the fast paced world we exist in is making it fairly difficult to get back to basics. Yet many are trying and succeeding.
The rise of the locavore
Many companies nowadays are prepared to give away plenty of information about where the produce has come from, how it was farmed and how it arrived. Restaurants are boasting ‘heritage’ fruit and vegetables and many eateries will only serve food that has been sourced within a certain radius, bringing in the new concept of a 20 – 30 mile menu.
There are many consumers that have found a way to incorporate produce that is made here in the UK into their diets and even some who will only eat food that has been grown and sourced within a certain radius, usually within their own county or neighbouring counties; from fruit veg, meat and dairy to cordials, wines, champagnes and chocolates.
These people are being branded, “locavores”. Whilst the world locavore has been bandied about in articles and blogs recently, this modern sounding cultural species is not a new one.
Evolution of the locavore
The locavore, someone who sources all they eat from within their local area, has been present amongst us for a long time. Homo sapiens have been locavores – sourcing everything they required for their dietary requirements within a fairly small radius for centuries. They had little option and what they couldn’t source, they would go without. The choices were limited to what fruits and vegetables were in season and what animals were using that particular area as their habitat. Whilst the conditions could sometimes be fairly bleak and baron, the choices often limited and the journey from the wilderness to their mouths an arduous task, they became fairly adept at stealthy methods of stalking and being frugal with their produce. Couple that with their tool making skills and mobility, our ancestors were highly efficient hunter gatherers.
And as they became more resourceful over time, so they evolved to the species we are today, therefore how they lived was efficient enough to allow evolution to naturally progress. The truth is we still have everything around us today that we need to survive. Supermarkets only started appearing at the beginning of the 20th century. Our own species evolved some 190’000 years ago (although some scientists argue longer) Humans have lived as locavores for 99.76% of our history. This means we have only spent 0.05% of our entire existence living with the concept of convenience foods, industrial farming and supermarkets. Yet to get back to basics seems a gruelling task.
Bridging the gap with technology
The intersection of food, technology and sustainability are relatively unexplored in UK but gaining momentum all the time, particularly in the US where they are way ahead in terms of awareness and action.
Technology to raise awareness about sustainable living in the UK is way behind the rate at which technology is being used to create unsustainable food. But it is happening. There are lots of websites and apps that are available and more are being developed all the time and sustainability evolution on a technological level represents an area of opportunity for innovation.
Consumers are once again becoming more interested in where food comes from. When it was once not even an area of debate for our ancestors, helping people making better more informed choices about the produce they buy is essential to creating a more sustainable country.
2016 is the year when the concept of food sustainability really hits a heightened awareness level The ‘big four’ supermarkets will continue to lose share as they have done for several years and new market places and services will start to replace the services they offer. This is good news for all those services that provide sustainable produce backed up with the relevant information that consumers need and wish to know.
A high percentage of people are still concerned with cost and will source cheaper convenient produce over sustainability and quality, but with many consumers waking up to the impact of food production on the planet and our economy, it means the targetable market for sustainable consumers is wide open.
Here are a few of the websites and apps that give help advice and support to consumers seeking high welfare and sustainable goods:
FOODNATION – an app that helps people in the UK and Ireland discover local food
WWW.NESTA.ORG.UK – a website that promotes food sustainability innovation across the planet.
LOVE FOOD HATE WASTE – an app that gives recipes based on your leftover ingredients.
WWW.FOODFORLIFE.ORG.UK – a social site linking institutions with consumers to educate and inspire