“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It's not about nutrients and calories. It's about sharing. It's about honesty. It's about identity.” Louise Fresco
The Food Values report has just launched! This 9-month research project has attracted a large network of teachers, researchers, community growers, farmers and campaigners working on food in Wales. Through a series of events, we’ve shared stories and recipes of soup in Cardiff, worked on the promotion of organic food by Organic Centre Wales (OCW), and recorded traditional rural food practices in North Wales with children and older members of the community. All of our events involved sharing a meal and learning about some aspect of food. Using this as a basis for reflection on how values-based food education is delivered, PIRC, OCW and Aberystwyth University have pulled it all into a report (Welsh version here). We are now setting our sights further afield: on the food system in Wales.
Speaking at our launch event in Cardiff, Jane Davidson (former Minister for the Environment in Wales) and Peter Davies (Sustainable Futures Commissioner), citing the opportunity for political leverage ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections next Summer, gave an enthusiastic call for the next step in the Food Values project: a Food Manifesto for Wales.
So - what have we learned about food values? And what’s next?
Findings from the Food Values report
First off, sharing food is a good thing, pure and simple. Sitting down for a meal together is an enormous social leveller; makes us feel at ease and encourages us to listen to others.
“My best memories are of my mum and dad cooking. It’s everybody time! Everyone can sit around the table.” Workshop participant.
At the events, we introduced the framework of values and frames in various ways, either directly and indirectly, and found that values give people a useful reference for critical analysis during their discussions.
During one event with Aberystwyth University, we hosted a discussion about strategies to reduce food waste on campus. One participant offered the idea of introducing a market mechanism to control waste, whereby students would be charged for the volume of plate waste they had at the end of their meal. Other participants probed this idea, with reference to values, asking questions such as what kind of motivation will that encourage? First, the problem is framed as one of student behaviour, rather than decisions made by the university or the catering company. This suppresses any consideration or chance to raise awareness of ways in which the university can respond to food waste further up the supply chain. Second, it encourages a personal focus on the values of money and efficiency, rather than linking food waste to wider environmental justice, or raising awareness of ways in which the university can respond to food waste higher up in the supply chain.
This conversation prompted participants to suggested other ways to respond, such as creating art exhibits on campus to illustrate food waste, making smaller portions available in the cafe, and donating kitchen surplus rather than throwing it away.
One thing is clear - a consideration of values encourages us to treat food as integrated with other social and environmental issues, rather than a series of isolated behavioural problems.
“The event made me see very clearly again just how connected food is to every aspect of life, locally and globally, and to all issues - social, environmental, economic, psychological …” Workshop participant.
Despite the differences in the events, there were particular conversations that kept coming up:
- Good food should be available to everyone. People strongly rejected the notion that ‘good food’ was a luxury, citing the image of certain organic brands and the way that food tourism has become associated with niche consumption. Instead, good food should be available to all, whatever social status.
- We need to look beyond money. While cost concerns can dominate decisions about food, we found that the values approach encouraged much wider reflection on the role of the economy. People noted certain economic irrationalities in behaviour - such as fretting over the expense of food, but then being relaxed about throwing it away - but the thrust of economic arguments often came down to Social Justice values. People were concerned about how ethical decisions over animal welfare, fairtrade or organic food interacted with cost, and also wanted to see healthy local food production that would support local economies.
- Food provenance is important. People expressed Self-direction values, in the desire to make informed, independent decisions based on where food comes from, Sense of Belonging, in seeking connection with growers and the land, and Security values, in making sure that food is safe and healthy.
- We need to get back in touch with food. Many participants, particularly people from older generations, spoke about the need to re-skill ourselves in what we can grow in different seasons, how to recognise when food really goes off and how to understand the soil system. This was not thought of as a deficit of factual information about food, but as a way of living that was important for maintaining connection to the land.
Read more about our findings here.
A food manifesto for Wales
We introduced the idea of a manifesto at our launch event, running a series of workshops around the 4 key pillars of sustainability:
- Society – Tackling food inequality
- Economy – Growing Wales’ fruit and veg sector
- Environment – What makes food an environmental issue
- Culture & identity – Why Welsh Values matter
Many people cited the Food For Wales, Food From Wales report (2010) as already containing a number of values-aligned strategies for the Welsh food system, and that this could be a useful place to start. Others made the point that the process of writing the manifesto was as important as what it contained, looking to the example of The Wales We Want, which ran a series of public consultation last year in the run up to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015.
While this process has only just begun, some ideas raised so far include:
- Making it a requirement for every minister portfolio to mention food
- Supporting a more comprehensive national diet survey for Wales, so we can understand the specific nature of food poverty and food-related public health problems in Wales
- Creating an accessible and editable land map of Wales that shows what can be grown where