This land was made for you and me


Firstly I am not a fan of attacking others on the left, god knows there are enough right wing austerity nuts lining up to attack anyone who dares to dream of alternative ways living.

However after reading Suzanne Moore’s blog today in the Guardian ‘Food is now the ultimate class signifier’, I felt compelled to add my view. I agree that food stamps are damaging.  I have heard they can only be spent in approved government suppliers like Tesco, Sainsbury’s or other homogenous corporations, not your independent corner shop or local veg box scheme. And yes as a nation we’re becoming more interested in baking bread and cooking from scratch, especially in the aftermath of the horse food scandal people are starting to want accountability in the food chain and to develop a better understanding of where our food comes from.

However what is very clear is that with every passing year we are stuck with this government the gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider. And Suzanne is right food probably is the ultimate class signifier. I know this as I am sitting in a Hackney café drinking my £3.50 pear, apple, ginger, lemon fruit juice. No joke! And I am not kidding myself I know places like this are not the solution for people struggling to feed their family with healthy tasty food.

This government continues to strip away choice in almost all aspects of life and I can see why people struggling and feel like they have no food choice. You don’t see government funded adverts telling people to support local retailers or to head to a website which will direct you to your nearest co-operative food growing scheme. Instead we’re fed a diet of advertising that tells us to rush to our nearest Tesco’s and shove Pringles down our neck. ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop’.

In her article Suzanne points out that choice and eating seasonally costs. Sorry Suzanne but this is what the government want you say, they want us to think we have no choice and keep us at the mercy of big business, giving them our money in exchange for packaged junk.

Visibility costs and for businesses to gain that invariably they have to charge a certain price for their produce especially in London. This food visibility and access is the problem. I am lucky to live in Hackney and have access to lots of locally grown vegetables from veg schemes. For a veg box of £10 I can feed myself for 5 days. Yes I have to be a bit creative and yes sometimes I have to eat cabbage but it doesn’t break the bank.

If you’re unable to afford this some schemes offer free food in return for volunteering with the growing. Not only does this give people a hobby and new skills, it is also a great way to meet new friends and reconnect people with the food they eat.

Now for the big elephant in the room MEAT! I just searched the cheapest chicken fillets Tesco offer and they come up at £3.79. No wonder people can’t afford to eat if they are paying nearly £4.00 for the cheapest genetically modified product. Once you start adding Tesco’s packaging saturated vegetables and a sauce of some kind you’re staring at £10.00 just for dinner.

As Food Banks continue to open at an alarming rate we need to address food poverty in the UK. Food stamps are definitely not the solution they limit choice and must surely create a feeling of low morale in those who receive them.

What we need are for the government to really support the local food growing solutions that are happening all across the country.  Instead of sending the unemployed off to Pound land for a spell of slave labour, why not help train a new army of chefs that specialise in seasonal food? Or reclaim land and create community food growing co-ops? After all we live on a planet with finite resources, the solutions exist but the government just don’t want the majority to look in the right place.

Eating local food from scratch has been giving the marketing treatment and is viewed by many as something for the elite. But the actually this couldn’t be further from the truth, our great grandparents would be horrified to think that we are so deprived of basic food skills. I dream of everyone getting back to growing our own food, making bread, making chutneys and preserving food. These are skills passed on from generation to generation they don’t belong to Nigella or any of the celebrity chefs they belong to us all.

These are a few projects that give me hope for the future of food and more broadly the planet.

The Secret Seed Society) Teaching young children about food growing through story telling.

The New Dawn Traders) Inspiring a new generation of sail cargo ships to wean our shipping industry off fossil fuels

Foodcycle) Turning food waste into delicious affordable meals and creating volunteering and retraining opportunities for people in the community.

Growing Communities) A Hackney based local affordable food growing co-op

Made in Hackney) Workshops teaching Londoners a sustainable food future

Get Growing) Working with children and adults teaching them how to grow food using permaculture design and organic methods.

Tesco’s Green Package

On the few occasions that I wander into a Tesco store I feel agitated. There are a whole myriad of reasons for this; amongst them are the following:

1)      Self loathing because I am actually shopping there (rather than supporting small local businesses)

2)      The way they treat in store employees

3)      Poor quality vegetables from halfway across the world

4)      Greenwash (Tesco are main propagators of this)

5)      BUT most of all food PACKAGING!

Almost every item of food is caked in packaging in an attempt to try and entice us into purchasing the slightly more expensive product. You are encouraged to purchase bananas and courgettes in plastic bags and it seems that more packaging the more expensive the product. The main question this poses for me is why? I suppose the underpinning reason is profit.

Packaging itself has become a big business, with the global yearly food packaging industry  estimated to be worth around 100 billion dollars a year and growing at a rate of 10% a year.

Another reason for the amount of packing could be because as consumers we have become accustomed to excess packaging. Lack of packaging has become associated with cheap value brands in supermarkets. It appears we have become far removed from the food manufacturing process. If food is hidden in multiple levels of packaging it allows the consumer to detach themselves from buying inhumanely killed and processed food. Instead consumers go through the process of buying a package. Deep down we all know that to produce food on the grand scale that Tesco does and at the prices they can offer is going to mean some pretty unethical production.

Recently “Hugh’s Big Fish Fight” exposed Tesco’s reliance on unethically caught Tuna with the pressure leading to a switch to 100% pole and line caught fish for its own brand Tuna. This a prime example of unsustainable un-green practice Tesco specialise in.

However the even more disturbing fact is that Tesco promote themselves openly as an ethical and green organisation.  Recently they sponsored Climate Week alongside other organisations with a somewhat dubious green record, including RBS funding Tar Sands extraction  and EDF working towards a nuclear Britain.

Climate Rush again did an amazing job of highlighting Tesco’s un-green credentials with their TESCO2 stunt.

The inspirational founder of Climate Rush, Tamsin Omond summed it up perfectly after their Tesco greenwash expose saying “for all their talk about ‘Doing The Right Thing’, few companies are more committed to the status quo than Tesco. Rather than set itself ambitious short-term targets, matched with holistic, honest reporting, Tesco spends its energy on token gestures like sponsoring Climate Week and Green Clubcard points. Fighting climate change isn’t the responsibility of the PR department; it’s time Tesco committed to delivering real, long-term value for its shareholders and the communities on which it depends. You can’t make money on a dead planet.”

Tesco have an amazing opportunity if they wanted to be serious about being green as oppose to playing green. Packaging would be a great place to start, not just by reducing the amount of packaging on food items but using the packaging that does have to exist as a platform to warn people about the dangers of climate change.

I accept some packaging does have to exist on certain products (e.g. yoghurt, eggs etc). But in instances where it does exist three simple facts about tackling climate change on all packaging could make a massive difference in changing mainstream attitudes towards lowering carbon emissions.

3 carbon emission reduction tips:

1)      Only use as the exact amount of water you need when making tea

2)      Take shorter showers

3)      Walk or cycle when taking short journeys

These small actions are the starting points for many people in starting to live in a greener and more sustainable way. It wouldn’t cost Tesco much in the way of money to actually start raising awareness about a cause they claim to support. Of course the likely scenario is that they will continue to sponsor ‘climate awareness projects’ whilst continuing their whole array of unethical practices. They would do well to remember you can’t buy green, you need to be green.