Tim Lang explains the urgency behind the discussions on the challenge of creating sustainable diets at the City Food Symposium on Monday 15th December 2014. The event saw experts from across the world share strategies for meeting the planet’s food needs while addressing environmental factors.
How to ensure everyone has access to a diet which is good for health, environment and culture yet which is affordable and available to all is one of humanity’s major challenges. As was discussed during the day, while there is general agreement that problems must be addressed there is not a worldwide consensus on the solutions. There are competing analyses of the way forward: there’s not enough food; there’s enough but we need to eat differently; there’s too much greed; and the food system is distorted by inequalities of access.
The symposium also heard that the UK government has not been taking a lead on the transition to sustainable diets, while other countries are being more progressive. Leading speakers from Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands all presented what their governments were going to help consumers change.
The food industry, too, is acutely aware of the case for change. Speakers from WRAP, IGD, the Sustainable Restaurant Association and the Food for Life Catering Mark, all presented signs that different sectors are seriously engaged with waste, carbon and water reduction as well as being aware of the need to reduce food’s immense impact on biodiversity and health. This will redefine what is meant by market economics, one speaker suggested.
One level of some positive action within the UK was at the city-regional level. Speakers from London, Oxford and Fife gave examples of the now burgeoning Sustainable Food Cities network, and of what individual and community led actions can do to nurture dietary change. They, too, agreed the need for co-ordination by government to set a framework for change.
In the world of policy, people often say that the ideal is evidence-based policy. Of course. But bitter experience suggests that often policy lags behind evidence and evidence isn’t tailored to what policy-makers want or need. In the case of sustainable diets, we have ample evidence of the need for food culture to change, and to do so rapidly.
“Cognoscenti know that the food system is going to have to change. The only questions are: how? When? And what triggers?”