True cost of so-called cheap food
Ellen Gustafson, of Food Tank, asks the question, is our cheap food really that cheap? What are we paying for that’s not in our grocery bill? and do we, perhaps, need to see the bigger picture in the cost of our food? Gustafson writes a great column on the need for ‘true-cost accounting’ for the Huffington Post, and we thank her for helping to foreground the issue which was the focus of the SFT’s recent conference, True-Cost Accounting in Food and Farming.
Gustafson maps the costs embedded in our food system that don’t get figured into what we pay at the till, and suggests that, ‘Farmers and food producers should be rewarded for stewardship of our environment, producing nutrient-dense foods, providing decent jobs and improving their local economies.’
14 Food Resolutions to Bring in the New Year
The Food Tank duo are full of good thinking, and Gustafson’s colleague Danielle Nierenberg suggests some good new year’s food resolutions that put thinking into action. The resolutions are simple but require the fortitude of commitment. The key ones for us are:
‘Eat seasonal produce’ – for those of us in the UK, in January, that means no fresh tomatoes, no aubergine, no courgettes and pretty much, no Ottolenghi recipes. Not easy, but once you make the shift, you discover the joys of beetroot, kale, chard, cauliflower and swede; and yes, there are at least 10 ways to make each of these.
‘End food waste’ – this is a must do for a whole host of reasons: because it’s unconscionable to waste in a world where nearly a billion people go hungry; because food waste is a big contributor to greenhouse gases; because most food waste shouldn’t be wasted. So, go to the kitchen and ask yourself not what do I want to eat, but what do I need to use? Go to farmer’s markets and be willing to buy imperfect veg. Serve reasonable portions of food to yourself and your family, ensuring they eat what’s on their plate. Cook, preserve or freeze anything that’s going off that you have time to cook it. You can do so much.
‘Cook’ – what a novel idea! Cook fresh food. It’s a fundamental life skill and makes a huge difference to whether you, and those you eat with, will be overweight or obese. You’ll be healthier, you’ll discover the joys of the dinner table, and you might even enjoy it!
Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It: Lentils
While we’re on the subject of food resolutions, commit to eating more lentils. Eco-centric runs regular features on different kinds of food, providing a detailed story of its history, cultivation and characteristics along with recipes and advice on what to do with the featured food. Their latest is on lentils.
One of the earliest crops to be ‘domesticated’, it has long been a staple food, but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Too long associated with stodgy health food of the 70s, its popularity has somewhat languished. But lentils are good in so many ways. As a plant it has nitrogen-fixing properties which make it good for the soil, and they are full of fibre and protein while still low in calories. They are wonderfully versatile working in soup, as a salad, or providing a tasty main course casserole. They are also the only pulse that you don’t have to soak – just boil them up in some water and they’re good to go.
Keep Farmland for Farmers
Farming as a profession is in decline. In the US, there are more farmers over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 35. It’s a statistic to think about – what are we going to do when there’s not enough farmers to grow our food?
Lindsay Lusher Shute and her husband Ben Shute are bucking the trend and have returned to the land. But they had a heck of a time finding agricultural land to farm in New York State. There’s a lot of land with conservation convenants on it that should be farmed, but the people buying it aren’t farmers and the covenants don’t require agricultural use. So many farms are turned into retreats for the wealthy and the cost of land is rising outside of the reach of those who would farm it. The Shutes are the founders of the National Young Farmers Coalition, which supports young farmers in the US and the difficulty of acquiring land to farm is an issue they foreground.
It’s a problem that stretches across much of the developed world. There is a small but growing group of young farmers, like the Shutes, who are committed to small-scale sustainable farming. It’s the only area of farming that’s growing. But they are struggling to find land affordable enough for them to run a viable agricultural business on.
The issue of affordable farmland must be negotiated if farming is to be revitalized as a profession and young people, in particular, need support and encouragement in entering it. Farming isn’t obsolete – we still need to eat, and it’s time we start thinking long and hard about what happens to good agricultural land.
A dearth of agriculture graduates is threatening food sustainability
A decrease in the number of students studying agriculture in the UK is also cause for concern. With 10,000 people leaving agriculture each year, the 7,000 studying agriculture will not make up for the loss to the profession. Who will be our new thinkers and innovators in agriculture and who will put in the hard graft of growing our food in the 21st century? With the demands of feeding a growing global population sustainably, farming is still very much on the agenda and it demands more bodies and minds, not fewer. Even as food and farming becomes a revitalized area of study in universities, we still need more people committing to making a life out it.
A post-Xmas roundup of items on GMOS
Marion Nestle gives a pithy round-up of current items on GMOs with pertinent links – all but one pointing to the pressing currency of GMO labelling in the US. The most desperate is the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association initiative to get a ‘natural’ label approved for GMOs. It makes us want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Nestle’s round-up points clearly to one thing. There is increasing public and political support for the labelling of GMOs. Prominent California Senator Diane Feinstein is calling for President Obama to mandate GMO labelling. Labelling initiatives are being developed in half of the US States and 14 Senators have put their names to a bill on GMO labelling. Nestle, herself, states that, ‘…labelling will come, maybe sooner rather than later, although it’s hard to say in what form.’
The tide is turning in the US.
Photograph by Suzie’s Farm
Sign up to our Newsletter
Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news