Another women’s organisation that I have recently been introduced to, is the awesome National Federation of Women’s Institutes who are currently running the Great Food Debate.

I was invited to speak to around 80 representatives of various WI groups at an event they hosted, at the headquarters of the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff. I had only seven or eight minutes to speak, but I used the time to suggest that by exercising their buying power as individual citizens, and making it a priority to purchase as much of their staple foods as possible from known producers close to where they live, these individual actions could be an enormously potent force for change
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Off the back of that one meeting I’ve received three further invitations to address WI groups, all of whom are holding regional or local meetings as part of the WI Great Food Debate. The first of these took place in Aberystwyth. It was a relatively well attended meeting with around 60 participants, and it was pretty clear that most of the audience, who were mainly women, seemed really interested in my proposition for citizen action.

Developing my idea from my previous talk to young-mums at the Chipping Camden Food Research Association, I said that they should go into their local supermarket and try to apply strict ‘sustainable’ criteria when purchasing key staple foods. I suggested that all their fresh vegetables, cereals, eggs, dairy products and meat, should come from local or regional producers whose identity was known to them (if not the actual producer, at least the co-op or group that they are a part of), plus the system of production should be as sustainable as possible.

If you try this for yourself, and I urge you to do this, you might be surprised at how difficult it is to fill a shopping basket with staple foods that comply. However, and this bit is really important, if you can’t find what you want, don’t give up or buy something inferior – go to the customer services desk, tell them your story (preferably the short version) and explain that if they can’t stock products of this description, you will reluctantly be taking your purchasing power elsewhere. Give them your name and address, and make sure they promise to come back to you once they have sourced ingredients with this pedigree.

My hypothesis, which hopefully will be tested by all the people attending the WI meetings or reading this blog, is that these actions will really worry the supermarkets. They will know, that if one customer is prepared to go to the lengths of complaining, there will be hundreds of others who have thought about it but never managed to do it, since this is actually the story of everyone. Our good intentions usually precede action, as we are constantly overwhelmed by the other priorities in our daily lives, or simply forget what we intended to do in the first place!

I’ve been told that each citizen purchases approximately £2,000 worth of food a year. So in the Morland centre in Aberystwyth alone, I suggested that each person buying food for a family of three or four, could represent up to £5000 a year of food buying power, which should not be lightly dismissed!

The great thing about this campaign is that instead of requiring endless frustrated attempts to lobby politicians or supermarket executives – the sort of things I’ve been doing for the last 30 years with mixed results at best – this bottom up action is not dependent on the top down bit. For each person who takes action, it will bring lasting benefits to their personal health and quality of life, as well as improving the livelihood of local producers and contributing to a more sustainable food future. So go forth, and demand a better story behind your food.

Photograph by Carwyn Lloyd Jones

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