How do we fix a broken food system?
Set in the backdrop of the Peak District National Park, God’s Lone Country exposes the very real problems facing rural communities and gives a voice to the millions of ordinary people who live in our countryside including farmers.
“I'm a farmer that's considered using a food bank. How ridiculous is that; someone who produces food can get to a position where they can't necessarily afford the food that they've produced for the supermarket.” James, Farmer
He is not alone. The 12-minute film, commissioned by the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, highlights the many people who produce our food, whether on farms, in factories or in food service, struggling to eat healthily themselves. The ‘cheap food’ mantra that every government has signed up to since the last war has backfired spectacularly. It has led to 30% of the food we produce being wasted and over-consumption of unhealthy foods costing the NHS billions; Type 2 diabetes alone is estimated to cost some 14 billion a year to treat.
What needs to happen to fix it?
The starting point is not to make food cheaper, but to ensure that everyone earns enough to afford healthy food. Then to make good food accessible everywhere and take unhealthy, processed foods away from our line of sight. My local swimming pool has junk food advertising right next to the changing rooms. Many high streets have far more fried chicken and betting shops than greengrocers.
For many farmers, like James, the challenges are immense. Low food prices often do not reflect the true cost of its production. But changing our farming systems is a huge task; farmers and growers may be trapped by debt or previous investments, by land suitability, skills or access to processing and markets. They may need help to move into producing the foods that are now wanted and needed, and to receive a fair price for their products whether through direct sales, co-operation, or a stake in the action beyond the farm gate.
Finding a solution requires teamwork
The RSA Food Farming and Countryside Commission was initiated because no single person or organisation can solve these problems alone. Environmentalists, farmers, retailers, consumers and public health experts must solve the problem together.
The Soil Association was a big supporter of the idea of a commission; as an organisation, we span a breadth of issues, working with everyone from growers, to school cooks, to foresters and policymakers. We understand that holistic solutions are needed. To support farmers, we require new markets to be developed, both for healthy food and for the carbon, water and wildlife that our farms should protect. It requires collaboration, new skills, investment, deep knowledge of both the real-life practical challenges, plus the confidence and entrepreneurial spirit to forge a new path.
More than anything, it requires the public to support change, to give our governments the mandate to act, to demand that our long-term wellbeing in prioritised over short term political or commercial interests.