10 Ways to Eat Local

Eating more locally produced food doesn’t mean shutting out the wider world – it’s about reducing transport costs and impacts in production and shopping, supporting local economies and jobs, keeping more of the profits in the hands of producers rather than multinationals, reducing packaging and preservative usage, avoiding exploitation, eating fresher food, eating seasonal food, and ultimately reconnecting with where our food comes from.

1 – CHECK THE LABEL

More and more retailers are appreciating people’s increasing desire to know the origin of their food, and to buy more locally. Many of the supermarkets now have a number of local suppliers and product lines in their stores, usually being clearly promoted as local produce. The golden rule is if it’s not labelled as being local, then it probably isn’t.

2 – SHOP AT FARM SHOPS

Farm run shops source their stock directly from local producers, usually including a number of attached farms. If you’re not sure where your nearest farm shop is, check out a number of directory websites, including Free Index, LocalFoods.org and Information Britain.

3 – SHOP AT FARMER’S MARKETS

Over 450 farmer’s markets now exist across the UK, meeting weekly, fortnightly or monthly, and providing an opportunity for local food producers to sell directly to the public. Bringing producers and consumers together, most sellers will be more than happy to answer questions about the food they produce. Most of the produce will have been produced within 30 miles of the market – significantly reducing transport impacts. Find your nearest farmer’s market on LocalFoods.org or via your local Council.

4 – SUPPORT COMMUNITY AGRICULTURE

A range of community supported food schemes exist across the UK – from meat and vegetable box deliveries, to wine, breweries, dairy products and bread. The Soil Association maintains a list of community supported agriculture schemes and delivery arrangements.

5 – SUPPORT COMMUNITY RUN FOOD OUTLETS

There are an increasing number of local artisan food producers interested in producing high quality local food, and better connecting local communities with the food they eat. Community bakeries, breweries and many other projects have been set-up in various parts of the UK, either selling directly to the public, or via a range of local outlets. The Transition Towns network provides a range of information aimed to support community food producers.

6 –  EAT OUT AT RESTAURANTS OFFERING LOCAL PRODUCE

As with the supermarkets, many local cafes and restaurants have realised the increasing appetite for locally produced food, and source many of their ingredients locally. It might be worth making enquiries at your favourite local eatery to see where they source from, and if not already local, perhaps encourage them to consider if they could.

7 – SUPPORT LOCAL ALLOTMENT CO-OPERATIVES

In many areas allotment plotholders have come together to share and exchange their various crops between themselves, effectively creating micro community farms. Some have proved so successful they also sell surplus produce to the public, via local stores – which is perfectly legal so long as the allotment is not being run primarily as a business.

8 – CONSIDER SETTING-UP A COMMUNITY ORCHARD

Something perhaps a little more ambitious than the rest of this list – there is increasing interest in turning areas of otherwise underused and derelict land into community orchards. Done well, a community orchard provides not only a source of food for local people and wildlife, but also an attractive community outdoor space. Contact your local Council to enquire about any suitable sites you might be aware of and see what support they might be able to offer.

9 – FORAGE FOR WILD FOOD

At certain times of the year the UK’s hedgerows and woodlands are full of blackberries, wild strawberries, nuts, wild garlic, mushrooms, and a wide variety of nettles and leaves. Of course it’s important to know what you’re picking, but numerous books and guided courses are available for those with an interest in free food.

10 – GROW YOUR OWN

Of course you can’t get more local than your own back garden, greenhouse or window box. Try out your green fingers, and discover how satisfying connecting with nature and growing a proportion of your own food can be.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in the ebook The Year I Saved the World]

Photo from BazzaDaRambler via Flickr

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Read the Label

Many of us have a bigger effect on the world through what we buy, than what we do.

Collectively, the choices we exercise in choosing what we purchase matters, and being informed of a particular product’s origin lets us make better decisions.

But it can easily be confusing !

In the UK there are almost 80 ethical labelling and food assurance schemes, what do they all actually mean ? In addition there are many frequently used phrases and terminologies, such as free range or farm fresh.

All the major eco-labelling schemes have different criteria, and as their various supporters and critics point out, it’s important to understand exactly what certification does, or does not, entail.

1 Fairtrade

Fairtrade is an international social movement and certification scheme, that aims to help producers in developing countries by improving social and environmental standards. Consumers pay a small price premium which goes towards projects such as improving healthcare, developing sustainable soil and water management practices, or local education schemes. Fairtrade certification also aims to ensure goods have been produced without exploitation, such as through slavery or sweatshop labour.

2 Forest Stewardship Council Timber

The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organisation which aims to promote the responsible and sustainable management of the world’s forests, and through it’s certification scheme it aims to provide assurance of the source of timber. It seeks to improve conservation and biodiversity, improve worker conditions and tenure, and ultimately reduce pressures on natural forests.

3 Rainforest Alliance

The New York based certification scheme Rainforest Alliance now operates internationally, and has the objective of conserving biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods by transforming land use practices. Though not generally considered as rigourous a Fairtrade certification, the Rainforest Alliance take account of a broad range of criteria in certification including carbon footprint, producer minimum price programmes and sustainable tourism.

4 Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council set standards for sustainable fishing, and certify sustainably produced fish. Their aim is to improve the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, working with partners, and influencing consumers. Originally based in London, the MSC now operates in over 100 countries around the world.

5 RSPO

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was founded in 2004, with the aim of promoting sustainable palm oil and developing credible global standards. There is difficulty in defining what is sustainable palm oil, especially given the industries recent and ongoing significant expansion, but the RSPO looks to establish principles of operation for plantation owners that include biodiversity and protection of endangered species (including orang utans), carbon footprint and resource use.

6 Freedom Food

In the UK the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) operates the Freedom Food farm assurance and labeling scheme, which focuses on animal welfare. Certification considers standards such as physical conditions, transportation and slaughter practices.

7 The Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust works with organisation to help manage and reduce their carbon footprint. Originally based in the UK, the Carbon Trust now also has offices in New York, Beijing and works extensively in several countries. It operates a carbon certification and labeling scheme, which commits producers to reduce the carbon footprint of their products every two years.

8 Red Tractor

The UK based Red Tractor assurance scheme is run and operated by farming and food producing organisations, and aims to ensure minimal standards of animal welfare, hygiene and the environment in farming and food production.

9 EU Ecolabels

The EU’s Ecolabel scheme aims to identify and certify products and services which have a ‘reduced’ associated environmental impact. To qualify, producers have to comply with a set of criteria which take the entire product life cycle into account.

10 Organic

The organic movement seeks to promote it’s core principles of avoiding synthetic chemical farming inputs (like fertilizers, antibiotics and pesticides), avoiding GM products, high animal welfare standards and adopting sustainable land use practices, though exact details vary from country to country. Organic certification in the UK is carried out through the Soil Association.

Photo from Vauvau, via Flickr

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The Hunger Games ?

The world is watching the 2012 Olympics – me included – an amazing spectacle, and so many remarkable personal stories.

And while the eyes of the world are on the London Olympics, something else remarkable is scheduled for the last day.

A Hunger Summit.

I think it’s important to be critical of our Governments when they get things wrong, as they so often seem to do, but I also think it’s at least as important to give them a bit of a pat on the back when they get it right – and this is one of those moments.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently said:

“It’s really important that, while the eyes of the world are on Britain and we are going to put on this fantastic show for the Olympics, we remember people in other parts of the world who, far from being excited about the Olympics, are actually worried about their next meal and whether they are getting enough to eat.”

He may never have been righter.

Despite what we might assume, the world has made tremendous strides in tackling extreme of poverty, hunger and malnutrition over the last few decades. The total number of hungry people in the world fell from 850 million in 1971 to 780 million in 1997. This might not seem that impressive, until you consider world population also increased from 3.7 billion to 5.9 billion over the same period !

Unfortunately things have changed.

The number of hungry people in the world is rising again, and now stands at around 925 million, with many millions more threatened with food insecurity from rising prices.

Population has continued to rise, now standing at more than 7 billion, with another 219,000 more mouths to feed every day.

The price of oil has massively increased, from around $12 a barrel in 1976, to over $90 today – affecting our fuel intensive agriculture and transport, and pushing costs higher.

Several formerly productive parts of the world are struggling to find enough water, or retain enough soil quality to maintain yields. Floods, droughts, natural disasters and conflict have all also caused significant disruption.

Several countries, most notably the US, have begun using farmland to grow crops for fuel, rather than food production.

Demand for food has also been increasing, as the world’s better off have been eating more and more, and more meat in particular. Westernised diets are increasingly popular and affordable in China, India, Brazil and many other developing countries.

It’s not just China of course, the rest of the rich world has been eating more too.

In 2008 1.4 billion people across the world were overweight, 500 million of them obese.

It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true: half the world is starving, while the other half is over weight !

We’re not just passive observers – we’re all partly responsible.

Our governments and food companies have negotiated unfair trading agreements with poor world producers, and as individuals we eat too much, waste too much, and focus on buying our food cheaply too much, oblivious to the consequences for the producer.

Keep watching and enjoying the Olympics – but spare a thought for the world’s hungry who have other things on their mind.

Perhaps take 5 minutes out of your busy day to fire off a quick email to your MP. Perhaps tell your friends about the proposed food summit or post something on your next Status update – don’t let this opportunity to promote food justice just pass by.

Of course , we all know our Governments are often hopeless at making and sticking to meaningful commitments. Many NGOs and charitable organisations are a little worried about what measures may be agreed at the summit. More private business involvement ? More promotion of GM ? Perhaps not ideal, but I personally have no problem with either, so long as more hungry people get fed, and the poor are not exploited.

We can also make a difference through our own lives.

If we bought a little less meat, bought a little more Fairtrade, and wasted a little less of the food we bought, then global markets would adjust, and a little more food would be left on the plates of the world’s hungry poor.

Besides, most of us could do with eating a little less anyway (me included).

If you’re too hardened to motivated by the plight of starving children to act, then I saw a couple of news reports this week that might ‘press a couple of different buttons’ for you . . . I’ll let you read them for yourself: ONE and TWO.

Photo by Alexander Kachkaev, via Flickr

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An Avoidable Injustice – Not an Inevitable Condition

A guest blog by Natasha Adams, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer for Concern Worldwide UK. Concern is an international humanitarian and development charity that operates in 25 countries. Natasha works on Concern’s Unheard Voices campaign, which champions the cause of smallholder farmers and works to reduce global hunger.

It’s clear the global food system is in crisis.

We live in a world where an astounding number of people go hungry every night, the latest estimate from the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) is that just under one billion people don’t have enough food – one in seven of us.

Even more than this suffer from malnutrition as they don’t have access to properly nutritious food. And these figures don’t take into account acute crises -in the Horn of Africa, more than 13 million people have been affected by food shortages since last year, and now 13 million more are at risk in the Sahel.

We get bombarded with these numbers all the time, yet they’re too big to make sense of.

Even if we stop and reflect that these statistics represent individual people – each with families and hopes like everyone else, the scale of the suffering is still unimaginable. To get my head around it, I try to imagine one in seven of my friends or family members as the ones who don’t have enough to eat. It’s can sometimes be easy to forget about hunger in far away places, but aren’t the values of human lives across the globe of equal worth? We may have got used to hunger in ‘Africa’ (although there are actually more hungry people in Asia), but it still matters and it can be changed.

It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way. We live in a world of plenty – farmers the world over actually produce more than enough food for everyone. As highlighted by Next Starfish, in wealthy countries like the UK, we throw away £20 billion worth of food a year, while one in seven humans go hungry because they either can’t grow enough food, or they can’t afford to buy enough.

Unfortunately, there is no single silver bullet to end global hunger. The problem is complex, and so are the answers, but workable solutions have been found on many levels and these solutions could be implemented if the public and political will was there.

Support to farmers is a good place to start, because ironically smallholders make up more than half of the world’s hungry people. Concern’s report Farming for Impact demonstrates that with the right support , smallholders can grow more, eat more and better food and even go on to employ others, helping their whole communities to thrive. The report also explores how the Rwandan Governments’ commitment to spend 10% of their budget on agriculture helped to increase staple crop production, and to shield the country from the food price rises experienced catastrophically elsewhere in East Africa last year.

The most obvious role the UK can play in tackling global hunger is through continuing to provide important aid.

On May 19th David Cameron will represent the UK at the G8 summit in the US. The previous G8 commitment to provide aid to tackle hunger (the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative) is coming to an end. A new commitment to tackle world hunger is clearly needed, and the UK is in a strong position to push for and follow through on this as we will be hosting the G8 in 2013. This is a good way for the UK to use its wealth and power to try and make meaningful progress towards ending global hunger – by pledging new funds and encouraging other countries to do the same.

If you would like to support Concern’s campaign for a new G8 hunger commitment, you can email your MP with our easy e-action.

But it’s not all about aid.

The UK is still a wealthy country, and because our economy is relatively large the way we do business has a big impact globally. One important driver of global food price rises is increasing food speculation on international markets, much of which is happening in the City of London. The organisation World Development Movement is running a campaign to raise awareness of this issue and support EU proposals to limit financial speculation on food prices.

Another factor driving high food prices is the amount of land turned over to growth of biofuels, and the charity Actionaid are currently running a petition in the UK to try and change UK and EU support on this issue.

I got involved in campaigning professionally to try and play a small role to right some of the world’s wrongs, but you don’t have to be a professional campaigner to help make a change.

By educating ourselves about issues and taking small actions to show you know and care about issue like hunger, everyone can make a difference and help to build political will for genuine change that will transform people’s lives across the globe.

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Play Nice and Share

A short post about food, on World Food Day (October 16th) – part of the Blog Action Day event.

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”

- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (the original gourmet)

It’s often said that food is one of the few things that connects us all – from the skyscrapers of New York to the jungles of New Guinea.

Biology textbooks will tell you food is chemical energy and nutrients for our bodies; but our relationship with food is far more complicated than that.

Very few of us would even describe having a relationship with air, or even water, which are even more vital to our existence. Clearly food isn’t just chemical energy and nutrients; its emotional, social and cultural. The significance of food is interwoven through our societies from the top to the bottom – from state banquets to birthday parties, whether comforting home made soup for the family or microwave meals for one in a plastic tray. Jean Brillat-Savarin was right, what we eat is central to our lives, it does define who we are.

And not just individually, also as a species.

You’ve probably heard the mantra Half the world is overweight, while the other half starves.

It’s not that far from the truth.

Around a billion people are currently undernourished across the world, with 17,000 children dying from hunger every day. Another billion people have little food security, due to poverty.

At the same time a billion people in the world are overweight or obese, facing increased health risks and shorter lives as a result.

Unfortunately all the forecasts are for both statistics to worsen – with climate change, increasing fuel costs, water scarcity and rising population, alongside poorer quality diets, decreasing levels of physical exercise and increasingly westernised ways of eating in many parts of the developing world. The hungry look set to get hungrier, and the fat fatter!

Food doesn’t just connect us – it also divides us.

The problem isn’t scarcity, but policy, politics and a lack of compassion in the system.

There’s more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, we just need to get better at sharing it.

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Photo by lettorovication, via Flickr