Bristol to be the sustainable food city of the UK by 2020

Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson, along with a number of other inspirational speakers set the tone “that food really matters” for the second Eat Drink Bristol Fashion two week food fiesta in Queens Square, which opened with the Sustainable Food Summit.

It was an overwhelming day full of foodie activists and do-gooders in the organic, local, seasonal, sustainable Bristol food network. Delicious good food recipes (ticking all the boxes above) were demo’d and provided by Pony & Trap who in River Cottage style appear to be making everything they churn out of their restaurant from scratch.

The Bristol Food Policy Council stated some staggering facts, which highlighted even more, the absurdity of our current food system:

  • 90% of UK fruit is imported
  • Wholesale markets are in decline, Bristol is the last outpost portal for trade in the whole of the South West, if this goes small growers nearest centralised trade point will be London!
  • 82% of seeds are now patented (prohibiting the right to save seed) by 10 agri-giants

And a break out, brain storm session to come up with solutions resulted in the call for shrinking the supply chain and making local, seasonable the affordable, convenient option.

One network called Foodtrade, which is still in its infancy, is proposing a Link’d In professional networking space where the local option is made the convenient one, simply through a mapping and easy to share information tool between SME’s, whether they be small-scale local growers or independent restaurants or catering businesses.

All-in-all lots of food for thought… Sign the Bristol Good Food charter to pledge support for creating a good food system in Bristol and for more information on what this might look like and how we can achieve this read the Who feeds Bristol? report  by the Bristol Food Policy Council.

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Ours was the Fen Country – Flat, Flat, Flat!

A dance-theatre documentary-style performance of the few Fen Country folk living and working off the lowest lying area of England – 4 metres below sea-level in some parts – offered an unexpected deeply personal insight to life there. Using a mixture of audio-tapes from interviews with the personalities that colour a notoriously flat area, the Director Dan Canham artfully wove together a nostalgic portrayal of a community in decline.

The haunting presence of the various character’s voices being played back and mimed on stage shifting to a complete impersonation mid-sentence was a new technique to get used too, but the subtle mimicking of their imagined gestures and mannerisms along with the music gently eased the audience in. Intricately layering the key slices of the recordings he’d made through repetition and extension, Dan gradually built up the atmosphere of the Fen country, along side images of the engulfing skies and “wild” track, perhaps to reflect his own personal experience as he continued to re-visit areas and build up relationships.

The hardy, determined attitude of people who remain in what appears to be a desolate place often conveyed a sense of hopelessness, especially when one older man mentions how it has all gone quiet now… silent – and you could hear the silence, no birds, just the wind keeping the status-quo. But there are moments of relief as essentially a very private group of people who generally keep themselves-to-themselves gradually open to share their rare perspectives and deep knowing insights from their connection to the land. A young man of about twenty talks about his love for the simple work he describes, as “shovelling shit”. This gives way to elation by the end and a celebration of the abundance of life, the vibrancy of the soil and a life deeply connected to the land.

I left feeling Dan had successfully made the views of a people, whose way of life is so separate, perhaps considered insignificant to dominant UK culture – terrifyingly accentuate, by contrast, the majority of the population’s extreme dislocation from the land off of which we survive.

As one of the last eel-catchers who still weaves his own nets while remembering the many who have done so before him, said in his gruff, matter-of-fact way, “Nature always wins, yes… and we’ve lost respect for nature we have.. so we’ll lose out.. and you know what.. i hope we do.. i hope we do.”

Touring now – find performances here

Are we really ‘The Age of Stupid’?

I went to a talk yesterday by an Agroecologist Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia and was surprisingly entertained for a full couple of hours, when I assumed it would be a long dry lecture on how high input industrial agriculture is going to be the ruin of the human species future.

Rather than tell us things most people there well knew – the imbalance of the food system when 1 billion people go hungry and another billion eat unhealthy foods (when one third of food produced is wasted and soil fertility is in global decline). He showed us the many farcical truths we live by and by the end of the performance had successfully ridiculed the status quo – to the point where I personally felt stupid, as well as on behalf of all the people working hard to do the right thing but heading in completely the wrong direction.

Things we accept as a given –

* Life is mechanical / sterile / safe / hygienic / soil is inert / a commodity to be used not sustained

BUT THERE ARE MORE LIVING THINGS IN A HANDFUL OF SOIL THAN THERE ARE HUMAN BEINGS ON THE PLANET, AND WE ARE FUNDAMENTALLY DEPENDENT ON THE INVISIBLE WORLD OF SOIL.

* Monoculture = Efficiency / Single use capital intensive infrastructure = freedom

BIODIVERSITY and CROP ROTATION combined with modern PORTABLE INFRASTRUCTURE TO FARM THE NOOKS AND CRANNIES = fertile soil

* I teach nature, I’m smarter than nature = GM / protective cell walls /human genome project

BUT WE DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO GET RID OF PLASTIC? THERE ARE ENOUGH LAWNS AND PASTURES USED FOR HORSE GRAZING IN THE U.S. TO FEED ITS ENTIRE POPULATION. WE CANNOT SEGREGATE THE GOOD FROM THE BAD, THE WISDOM OF DNA IS SMARTER AND INTEGRAL TO THE WHOLE.

* Government knows best

BUT THEY PRESERVE WHAT IS / WHAT FALLS IN LINE WITH REGULATION WORKING AGAINST INNOVATION – EMBRACE THE WEIRDOS

* Farmers are idiots, we want people pushing buttons

WE NEED FARMERS, THERE IS A HUGE DISCONNECT, KIDS CAN’T TOUCH COWS ON SCHOOL FARM VISITS

* Food should not spoil / rot / = stabilise food, extend shelf-life

WORMS WOULDN’T EAT HALF THE FOOD WE EAT – HOW CAN WE FEED THE WORLD IF WE CAN’T EVEN FEED OURSELVES PROPERLY

* Cheap food policy is because we care

ABOUT THE VESTED INTERESTS OF AGRI-GIANTS  – decline in nutrient density, and increase in externalised costs (when it should be fair prices and internalised costs)

* Freedom must be feared

WE ARE MOVING FROM THE AGE OF INFORMATION TO THE AGE OF REGENERATION – healthy and vibrant culture honouring life and death of all things

He did not preach about organics – his farm is not certified organic as he does not buy into complying with regulation. He did not deride eating meat, he simply thinks that vegetarianism is not the right response. The issue is the disconnect from what we are eating.

If anyone has the chance to go and see him talk, you definitely won’t be bored but enthralled. I always listen to someone speaking about their values more, when they look healthy and energetic themselves. He is a mesmerising speaker and knows what he is talking about from hands-on soil and dirt experience.

Who hasn’t bought something from Zara?

I nearly walked out of Zara the other day looking like one of the mannequins in the window, with a full matching outfit. And a few days later nearly everything I happened to chuck on in the morning was a Zara piece. Yet somehow we don’t walk down the street past someone wearing the same jacket from Zara very often, and they are good at jackets! Most of my friends own a Zara jacket. The trick is they change their stock almost fortnightly, feeding your compulsion to buy in case it is not there the next time, and also making you feel reassured that not too many people will have made the same buy. And it is cheap… not cheap and stinking of sweat shops like Primemark but still cheap enough to raise a few eyebrows. Someone along the line is definitely not being paid their due. (The Bangladesh factory collapse is a prime example of this – sign a petition to demand safer working conditions in the garment industry with avaaz here)

I have a friend who has opened up an ethical clothes boutique called The Keep Boutique in Brixton Village. Rather than cluttering the shelves she has one size of everything on display and all her pieces have been treated with great precision and care from the initial design to the finished product. This is how shopping should be, carefully selected pieces, chosen by a retailer you trust and whose style you personally share.

My fear is that we are becoming less artful in our purchases and Zara’s increasing monopoly on women’s day-to-day dress sense is just a small example. With not enough time or money to care for the origin of the stuff we buy and its individual story, perhaps considered to be a luxury of the privileged,  we undermine our own personal identity. I guess one way to overcome this, is to regard “Less as more” – a simple quality over quantity – and not fall into the safe-buy Zara trap but dare to rock clothes that truly reflect your own mesh of style, colours and attitude. And then learn how to use a sewing machine when they begin to fall apart!

Don’t we all want to be in the position to hide away a few well-weathered, treasured pieces one day, to then dig out again for our children and remember the good old days by?