Modern organization of food supply is one of the most heavily criticized areas of contemporary life. From nutritionists to journalists and investigative reporters, everyone is eager to provide his or her view on what is so utterly wrong with the food environment we currently live in. Several book and documentary reviews I have written here is just a glimpse into a jungle of negative publicity surrounding modern food system. But talking aside, what has been or is being done in practice to remedy the defective foodways we are currently forced to rely on? One striking example that immediately comes to my mind is Jamie Oliver’s food activism. Inspired by his much laudable and, in fact, successful efforts to induce visible changes in the way we feed ourselves and our families, I was curious to know who else is engaged in the warfare against industrial leprosy our food supply is struck with and is trying to change the food philosophy through real practice.
Since the beginning, Jamie’s much media-covered food activism has grown into a nation-wide campaign. His Children’s Food Campaign has been a tangible success and has induced real changes in government approach to children’s nutrition – school meal standards have been significantly improved and children’s nutrition has become one of the major areas of various forms of social activism. Now the head of Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, he is managing several formidable projects intended to revive withered food culture, raise nutritional awareness among population and preserve important cookery skills. His Kitchen Garden Project is a children-focused campaign aimed to bring nutritional messages into school education and teach children healthy eating through practical skills of growing and cooking food. The project is conceptualised as a part of the nation’s battle against diet-related ill health, including obesity and diabetes. Another big project, The Ministry of Education, which sets the goal of bringing cooking back into fashion, takes its inspiration from the World War II rationing of food when cooking healthy and nutritious meals from the most basic ingredients was key to keeping the nation not just healthy but alive. Today’s sky-rocketing obesity levels impose equally serious threats to the nation’s future which is the reason behind Jamie’s strenuous efforts to not only raise people’s awareness about the importance of balanced diets but to actually teach them to incorporate healthy meals in their daily rations through core cookery lessons. There are Ministry of Food centres throughout the country, and we have one at Leeds market too. Finally, his Fifteen Apprentice Programme is a social enterprise offering young people from deprived backgrounds an opportunity to learn valuable skills that would introduce them into a career in the restaurant business and help get a second chance in life.
Jamie’s food activism has surely been an inspiration to many other projects and campaigns for the reconnection of people with healthy food the amount and scope of which has grown exponentially. I will only cover a couple of examples, but the number of people engaged in the struggle for better food is far from being limited to them.
UK Food Group is a major network of more than 30 organisations working on different aspects of the global food system but united by the common goal of achieving a more sustainable and environmentally safe food supply. The network’s agenda covers issues of fair distribution of food resources, eradication of hunger and food insecurity, fair trade, preservation of ecological biodiversity, and achieving economically, environmentally and socially sustainable production of food.
Eating Better is an alliance promoting changes in population consumption patterns with the aim to achieve physical well-being and healthier environment. The philosophy behind the alliance can be understood from the messages it is trying to incorporate into the public thinking. The broader “Eating Better” message advocates modest consumption of meat and increased reliance on the variety of plant-derived foods as a way to healthier diets and more sustainable food system. The accompanying ‘less but better meat” message implies an emphasis on quality over quantity of meat with high animal welfare standards, well-established provenance, and natural production being indispensable conditions of sustainable and environmentally safe animal rearing. Fair, Green and Healthy are three co-constituents of the ideal system of food production that the alliance is actively promoting.
One of the most extensive networks of organisations in the area of food activism is Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, whose overarching goal is to promote food which is better for people and the environment. Many projects are run under its umbrella and many have already been a success, as for example, the Children Food Campaign (officially Children’s Food Bill) fighting for better food and better food education for children. Specific solutions advocated by the campaign include restricting children-focused food advertising, introducing compulsory cooking classes at schools, improving school meal standards, encouraging children to drink more water by getting drinking fountains in children’s playing areas, developing clearer food labelling. They are currently promoting an initiative to get junk food off supermarket check-outs.
Another fascinating project is the Real Bread Campaign advocating the return to traditional bread baking – from locally sourced ingredients and with no artificial additives. As part of the campaign, bread baking lessons are being run in schools and local communities to facilitate the exchange of baking skills between professional and home bread bakers, children and all those adhering to the lost values of a real loaf.
Many other projects are run under the umbrella of Sustain with names like Ethical Eats, City Harvest, Sustainable Fish City talking for themselves.
This is just a cursory account of some of the major organizations that actively campaign for better food, healthier environment, and safer food production. Indeed, the number of individuals involved in the food battlefield is progressively growing. Changes in people’s approach to food and eating are increasingly visible and at a fast pace translate into real consumption practices. The growth of alternative food chains and increased availability of greener products in supermarkets are indicative of the fact that industrial food system, however powerful it may be, cannot and, in fact, do not remain immune to the rising power of social movements and consumer activism for better food for all.