What do you think are the best ideas for improving the food system that the city has to offer?

Led by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon restaurants and author of the School Food Plan, the Government is asking for evidence to inform a new National Food Strategy. There is a strong ambition set out in the briefing paper: “We have a moral, as well as practical, responsibility to consider the role and impacts of the food system. The purpose of the National Food Strategy is to set out a vision for the kind of food system we should be building for the future, and a plan for how to achieve that vision”.

I attended the opening consultation event on behalf of the Food Partnership. At tables across the room people were taken through a facilitated process of ‘food dialogue’ – a system for finding solutions to food system challenges by bringing together different perspectives. It was an impressive room with an array of experience and opinions – at my table were the Chair of Natural England, people with lived experience of food poverty, experts in environmental licences for fish farms, a quality director from Tesco and food policy academics.

This bringing together of different sectors and an alignment of the current disparate approach to food policy by the government is a core ambition of this work. The aim is that the National Food Strategy brings together work that currently sits in different parts of government / different government bills. This is welcome, for years we have been saying we need to put food at the centre of policy in its own right rather than having it as a small element of other areas – health, environment, farming and many more.

The National Food Strategy is intended to be an overarching plan designed to ensure that our food system:

  • delivers safe, healthy, affordable food; regardless of where people live or how much they earn.
  • is robust in the face of future shocks.
  • restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country.
  • is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector.
  • is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers across the country.
  • delivers all this in an efficient and cost effective way.

Given that politics are so tumultuous won’t this bit of work just get lost?

Well maybe, but all political parties have stated their commitment and the strategy and consultation process also has support of some of the big players in the food system including the National Farmers Union, the Food and Drink Federation as well as campaigning organisations like Sustain. So true to our value of believing that food has the power to bring about change (even at difficult times), we are going to take this opportunity to share our views and encourage other food strategy partners, sustainable food businesses and local people to do the same.

How to respond

The consultation is open until 25th October via an online form. They say:

“We are looking for innovations you have seen work in your home, your neighbourhood, or your business, in this country or beyond: ideas that help citizens make informed decisions about the food they eat, or which increase access to and affordability of high-quality food; ideas that make food production more environmentally sustainable, creating a flourishing countryside rich in wildlife; ideas that help farming, fishing and food businesses and communities thrive, benefitting employees and the wider community; or that promote the highest standards of animal health and welfare; or that could put England at the forefront of innovation and reshape our food system in the coming years”.

They are asking for ideas and solutions that can be supported or scaled up – not just a list of what is right or wrong with the food system. As Henry Dimbleby said to a group of campaigners at the launch event “you aren’t knocking at the moat-door demanding to be let in anymore – you are in the castle, tell us what should happen”.

We are still creating our response but some of the things we will be including:

  • Having a cross-sector food partnership with a co-operative approach, long-term vision and short-term action plan. Resourcing work at a city level as well as a national level.
  • Enabling community-led food activism including gardening and shared meals and their role in increasing access to high quality food and improving wellbeing.
  • Investing in community businesses in deprived neighbourhoods such as the Bevy.
  • Community Composting as a response for people without gardens who want to compost.
  • How to use demonstration projects and strong communications to harness urban support for food production systems that also capture carbon such as Sussex Wildlife’s Help our Kelp project, planting fruit trees as part of landscaping and using allotments and community gardens to improve soil quality in urban areas.

Let us know if you submit, and send a copy if you don’t mind sharing to info@bhfood.org.uk.

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