Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Food Glorious Food... What Next?


A massive thank you to everyone who got involved in our Question Time event on Food & Sustainability at Manchester University last night - great team work by staff and volunteers, fantastic Chair and panel, passionate audience co-mingled with the flowing of delicious wine... It was great to have some of the leading minds from the food sector thrashing out some of really complex issues surrounding food and sustainability and though we didn't change the world (yet) it has hopefully kicked off a wider discussion with a slightly broader audience.

The Panel was headed by Mark Shayler ex-Asda Environmental Manager now runs consultancy firm Eco 3 with Pat Foreman, CEO of Foods NW, Chris Shearlock from the Co-operative, Julie Bagnoli proprietor of Isinglass Restaurant and a proponent of the Slow Food Movement; Debbie Ellen an independent researcher and advocate of relocalising food production, Stefan Stainsby of WRAP's Love Food Hate Waste campaign. All the panellists and Chair made excellent contributions to the discussions, which didn’t really focus on waste so much as the wider ‘sustainability’ agenda, around the central issue of ‘how to make the UK/NW/Manchester more sustainable in relation to food?’ Having said that, figures from FareShare national were quoted by their spokesman, David Mellor, who claims an incredible 2.6 million tonnes of food are wasted in the supply chain annually (WRAP data) and hence FareShare’s focus now on working increasingly with the manufacturing sector - bring it on! Stefan Stainsby from the panel, WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) representative, also reminded us that we consumers are the worst culprits in that we throw away nearly a third of what we purchase and hence the LFHW campaign’s focus on encouraging householders to only cook what they need, use leftovers and don’t buy too much in the first place!

Having listened carefully to the debate it seems self-evident that the more we can do to become self sufficient - learn how to grow, prepare and eat our own veg, rely less on oil-based and chemical products including meat and adapt our eating habits to seasonal, indigenous produce, the more ‘sustainable’ we can be in the purest sense. How achievable this is for everyone, requires further analysis, planning and training. Chris Shearlock challenged the idea that local, organic veg is less carbon-intensive than veg brought in from other countries, (though I suspect it’s a very technical argument requiring assessing each product on it on own impacts). Part of the debate focused around the connected issues of consumer demand (“producers respond to the wants of consumers”) versus the power/monopoly/brand values of producers, not least supermarkets (Why are producers constantly price-squeezed and not paid a fair price for produce? How much choice does the public really need? Why can’t refills be more commonly sold? And so on). Interestingly, Chris also maintained that transport and packaging impacts are a smaller proportion of the overall impact than is commonly thought - oil-based argicultural products and and water required in the growing process increasingly cost more…

This all led me to thinking: how would we go on if oil dried up and supermarkets were no more? Is it realistic and feasible for the population of Greater Manchester to feed itself? “A vegan diet can meet calorie and protein needs from just 300 square metres using mainly potatoes. A more varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, grains and legumes would take about 700 square metres” (Wiki.answers.com). Greater Manchester spans around 493 square miles or 1,276 km2 and has an estimated population of 2,562,200 in 2008 (Wikipedia). So, even if everyone became vegan overnight, we would require 768,660,000 square metres of land to produce enough food to live on – i.e. 769 square km – 60% of our land would need to be growing food! This doesn’t take into account how much land is actually developed/available right now for growing anything on, window boxes, roof tops etc… Wow! It really would be a revolution… Not to mention bloody hard work!

Dunno about any of you, but I reckon: count your blessings, tighten your belt, sign up to ‘Meat Free Mondays’ (at very least, if not dairy free – go on see if you can do it!) – resolve yourself to enjoying to learn to cook lovely meals from scratch – get food aware and encourage others to do the same. After all, if we can all learn to live a little more lightly on our wonderful planet there’ll be a little bit more of it for our grandkids to enjoy! Sermon over (it is Sunday as I write!)

And if anyone fancies working with EMERGE to help us to deliver more food awareness work, please contact me in the first instance: 0161 223 8200 or lucy@emergemanchester.co.uk also check out the following links - recommended by Debbie Ellen:

Food For Life Partnership and Food and Climate Research Network Nb. ‘The world on a plate: reducing the food chain's role in greenhouse gas emissions’ - a report to start you off.

Huge thanks to Mareen Winter who was a stunning organiser throughout and pulled off this event almost singlehandedly. Also to Mcr Uni for the venue and our friends at Taurus Bar (Canal Street) for lending us the glasses! I hope that everyone enjoyed the event as much as I did and left with a sense of hope that the food industry is committed to making changes and thinking more about the sustainability agenda and what they can be doing to make a difference.

Onwards & upwards!Lucy.



  1. Hello Lucy!

    You can also always recycle food creatively by giving them away to others who may want them! I've seen people giving away cans and other non-perishable on websites www.FREALLY.com It's a great way to recycle!!

  2. Absolutely great article and love the idea of meat free monday! Just wanted to say that I have also started a recent blog where I am hoping to chat about some environmental issues and it would be great if people gave it a read