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Local food needs to raise its voice

While planners have addressed all the essentials of human life, they have traditionally ignored food.

Only in very recent history has food found its way onto the political agenda, but the explosion of interest in the issue was clear from the packed conference hall at the second Making local food work conference in Bristol yesterday.

Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University reminded us why we can no longer afford to ignore the issue: food security, carbon emissions from food supplies and rising obesity levels place food at the heart of some of our most urgent regeneration problems.

‘We need to think of our cities through the prism of food,’ Morgan said.

He was, of course, preaching to the converted.

Throughout the day the stories emerged of gargantuan attempts to shift our entrenched, unsustainable food systems.

Local Food Links has battled the system to take healthy locally-sourced food into schools in Dorset. Barny Haughton’s Bordeaux Quay restaurant and cookery school in Bristol is an inspirational case study in how responsible business can make a difference.

But the fragmented nature of local food initiatives and the resistance they face is preventing real change in the UK. Morgan challenged the audience not to fall victim to being ‘islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity’.

He suggested a social clause in government procurement contracts to enshrine local food within public authority budgets, but those at the frontline know that this is not as easy as it sounds.

During lunch (supplied entirely by local food producers, a grueling task for Bristol’s Marriott hotel), one council delegate compared his attempts to change local procurement to pushing heavy sacks of potatoes up a steep hill with his legal and procurement bosses pushing in the opposite direction.

So what will make these fragmented islands of excellence really make a difference?

What’s needed is the political will to recreate our lost food culture. While the bottom-up is flourishing, the powers that be are holding up real change.

Projects like Incredible Edible have shown what being cheeky can achieve. In the last speech of the day Haughton urged local food aficionados to stop being so polite, to take our city councils by storm, demanding they provide accommodation and land for food initiatives.

‘This is a world movement whose voice is not loud enough,’ he said.

The ladies from the Country Market movement selling pots of local jam don’t look like revolutionaries but, if we are to meet the challenge of reforming our food supply, they will need to become so.

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