Young people facing #food insecurity in the UK have spoken. Was anybody listening? #Right2Food

Children's Future Food Inquiry

It’s been a couple of months since the Children’s Future Food Inquiry launched its final report and children’s #Right2Food Charter in late April. So, has anything been done to address the issues raised? I invited Pandora Haydon, Communications Manager at the Food Foundation, to outline what the Inquiry asked for, what has happened since then and what they expect to come out of the Parliamentary Backbench Debate led by Frank Field MP today.

When the Children’s Future Food Inquiry launched its final report in April 25th 2019, its priority was to call attention to the policy recommendations put forward in the children’s #Right2Food Charter. Written in consultation with the Inquiry’s fifteen young Food Ambassadors (aged between 10 and 20 years old), the Charter draws on young people’s experience of and response to food insecurity in the UK, identifying key areas for improvement and proposing solutions to the problems they feel are most urgent.

The young people’s key recommendation is for a new, independent Children’s Food Watchdog. This body would monitor and improve children’s food in each of the four nations, and crucially would have children and young people involved in its leadership. The Watchdog’s first task would be to undertake a full economic costing of the rest of the policy proposals made in the Charter.

Bearing in mind that recent reviews of poverty and food insecurity have been largely dismissed by the Government (the UK assessment delivered by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, for example), it’s encouraging to see demonstrable cross-party parliamentary support for the #Right2Food Charter’s recommendations.

Children's #Right2Food Charter

The London launch itself was attended by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi MP, and earlier this month he sent out a letter to headteachers across England urging them to look closely at the Charter and tackle some of the issues raised, including the absence of accessible free drinking water in school. Since the subsequent launches in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, Kerry McCarthy MP has led a Westminster Hall Debate on the Charter, Theresa May committed to looking carefully at it during PMQs, and today, Frank Field MP will be discussing the Charter during his Backbench Debate.

In the immediate aftermath of the Charter’s launch, the Department for Education began work with us to explore the recommendations and have promised a formal response by September

We hope the scope of a government response to the Charter is addressed during today’s debate, and that questions are asked about when the Watchdog will be in place, what its remit will be, and how the Government intends to involve the young Food Ambassadors in the next steps. The Healthy Start programme is a key point of discussion in the report – we’d like to hear Parliament hold the Government to account on the consultation promised in Chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Strategy when it was published.

The Inquiry is making significant progress in terms of meaningful policy and practice change, but the new food insecurity figures for London alone – published today by the GLA – show there’s a great deal more to be done. As the Food Foundation’s Executive Director Anna Taylor has commented, “Food insecurity is hindering the growth of our children, crippling their confidence and making it impossible to learn and develop. The young people we spoke to are calling for a new, independent Children’s Food Watchdog: it’s time we worked with them to poverty proof their futures and uphold every child’s #Right2Food.”

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The complex world of #coffee from grower to drinker – an unexpected global insight in the Pennines

As a non-coffee drinker, I’m not the most likely person to go on a visit to a coffee roasters. But I’m glad I did last week. I learnt a lot from Paul Meikle-Janney and Damian Blackburn of Darkwoods coffee, a small speciality roaster in the midst of the Pennines, near Huddersfield, UK. Despite their small size they have a global perspective, which comes across in this interview as they take us across the globe through the changing world of coffee – worth over $100bn/yr according to Business Insider.

Paul Meikle-Janney (left) and Damian Blackburn (right)

They discuss fair trade for farmers and the prices paid to them, the expanding areas producing coffee and their impact, threats to coffee from climate change and loss of biodiversity and action to address these, how habits have changed in the UK and how a tiny company can fare against the coffee giants of the world. They also explain the impact the origin, variety, processing, roasting, brewing and the water have on the taste of a cup of coffee and what they do to support World Coffee Research in its work.

You can download a handy ppt by Dr Christoph Sänger, Senior Economist
International Coffee Organization, to a meeting in 2018 at UNCTAD summarising the world situation and outlook here. If you want to know more about the current state of the coffee market then go to the International Coffee Organisation website. One surprise to me was that Vietnam is now the second biggest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil.

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Food Justice, law, trade and food policy – making links, making changes.

FoodJusticeSympWhat have lawyers got to do with Food Justice? And how do you get lawyers to interact with others tacking food insecurity and hunger. These were some of the issues a range of academics were discussing at a Symposium at Leeds University’s Law School in March 2019 . Here you can hear some of the contributors explain they mean by Food Justice, where the law matters and the many challenges facing our food system.

After Prof Fiona Smith introduces the work, Megan Blake discusses the various meanings of Food Justice and the assets people themselves have. Next, Frank Garcia looks at food and trade law, the fairness of trade agreements, economic coercion and power imbalances rather than consensual exchange, and reflects on implications for the UK outside the EU and the idea of contributive justice. Michael Cardwell briefly explains the WTO and its now dated Agreement on Agriculture before Tim Lang puts food justice in a wider perspective of approaches to food (see slide below), the bigger picture, climate change challenge and the role of law. Finally Tomaso Ferrando discusses the right to food, food banks and the development of a Common Food Policy in Europe instead of a Common Agricultural Policy.



Eat-Lancet Commission

IPES Common Food Policy

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Feeding history: the politics of #food

There’s a small room on the right as you go in the main entrance of the British Museum. It is there that I met Yi Chen, curator of the ‘The Asahi Shimbun Displays. Feeding history: the politics of food’ exhibition, which is on from 28 Feb – 27 May 2019. In this video, she takes us on a tour of the objects on display in this small exhibition and discusses their meaning.

The aim of showing the few objects and the text around the wall is to help people make connections between objects that are often displayed as fine art items, or historical pieces of technology, and ground them in their relation to food, power and control then and now. If you are in London then do take a look. For details click here.

You might also find a couple of other posts about food history of interest too. One is my conversation with Dr Polly Russell from the British Library and co-presenter of BBC TV programmes such as Back in Time for Tea and Back in Time for Dinner. The other is my interview with Dr Eileen White on why ‘There’s more to cookery books than recipes’.

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Plant-based #foods and going #plastic free key themes at #ife2019

I’ve been going to the biannual international food and drink event (ife2019) on and off for years. Ife2019 finished yesterday and I spent a couple of afternoons wandering around chatting to some of the 1350 exhibitors to get a feel for some of the trends. Judging by the number of exhibitors promoting plant-based and vegan foods – from puffed lotus seeds to meatless burgers – many food companies are embracing the opportunities the eat less meat and dairy messages that are coming from those with health and environmental concerns offer.

I couldn’t get near enough to hear the talking trends panel on ‘How the rise of plant based eating is continuing to shape our industry’ but was able to ask on panellist, Holly Shackleton, editor of Speciality Food magazine to share her views afterwards:

The Meatless Farm Company stand was busy serving its meatless burgers and chilli every time I passed it so I asked Frank Lewis, their innovation and R&D director, to step away from cooking them to explain just what they are:

The event draws visitors and exhibitors from around the world, so I was interested in what Chetan Dalal from Premium Foods in India came for – and he was very interested in the kind of products the plant-based trend might hold for a country with 700 million vegetarians:

Different exhibitors had different experiences, some very busy, others less so and this was the case for Koray Yilmazlar, from the Gourmet Group in Turkey who wondered if Brexit had caused an impact:

Closer to home Jim Williams, brand manager for snack bar maker Wild Trail, explained the various ways they can now get their product to market and the impact new outlets such as Amazon was having:

What many of the new plant-based foods I saw have in common is that they are processed or ultraprocessed, so it was a bit of a shock when I passed a stall from a New Covent Garden with fresh fruit and vegetables on display – which was something I craved for after sampling a bewildering range of tastes, from seaweed products from Korea to the meatless chilli. Apart from the food itself another hot topic is what do you package it in – and how to get rid of plastics.

Going Plastic Free

Ife runs alongside a packaging exhibition, pro2pac, and it was here I found Sian Sutherland, enthusiastic co-founder of A Plastic Planet, a group aiming to help manufacturers go plastic free.

I only saw their Plastic Free mark on one exhibitor of fruit ice lollies – success for them will surely be when everyone at future events will be displaying the mark.

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We can, but don’t, feed everyone on Earth and there’s #NoPlanetB to go to, says Mike Berners-Lee

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We live in the anthropocene age. It’s a time when what people do changes how the Earth works – and whether it will be comfortable for us all to live on it or not. Today, humanity needs to wake up to the urgency of tackling the huge range of changes created by our impact on the planet if we are to avoid the dire consequences of that impact. So where do you start to take up the challenge? Well Prof Mike Berners-Lee of the Institute for Social Futures and Small World Consulting at Lancaster University starts where I would, with food, in his new, easy to read, book – There is no Planet B: A handbook for the Make or Break Years*. So I asked him why?

Starting with key questions such as can we feed everybody now and in the future, he moves onto to questions about how to keep fossil fuel in the ground, how should businesses think about the world to what are the economics, values and ways of thinking we need to avoid disaster and why he retains some optimism that we humans can do so.

The book is full of detailed analysis, such as how many edible calories we produce in the world and where they go. He explains why ‘The median Italian is about twice as well off as the median American, despite Italy having only just over half of the wealth per person.’ The key challenges lie not with technologies to address the problems, he argues, but through developing new thinking skills and practices that include ‘big picture thinking, joined up thinking, future thinking, critical thinking, dedication to truth, self-awareness, global empathy, and a better appreciation of the small things in this beautiful world that we live in’.

*He is speaking a various events around the UK until mid-May. You can tell him what you think about how we should and could live well in the Anthropocene and find out more on I interviewed him just before the launch of his book last week at the Lancaster Environment Centre where I’m an honorary teaching fellow.



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Pigs, organics, soils and the future of farming – a conversation with Helen Browning

Helen Browning is a passionate, committed organic farmer in love with pigs, CEO of the Soil Association, author, instigator and member of the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, business woman and the only person I know who’s been on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. She’s also been a member of the Food Ethics Council for slightly longer than I have. Full of energy, she is always busy – as comes through clearly in her recently published book Pig, which chronicles the life of one of the families of pigs grown on her farm near Swindon in Wiltshire.

We met late last year at the Chatham House 2018 Sustainable Food Future conference (see my blog) and I took the chance there to discuss her journey from being an organic farmer to working for food system change through her many other roles and what needs to be done.

You can hear a longer interview with her discussing a different style of leadership and growing younger people’s talents at Changehackers.


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