City event to discuss if food skills are lacking in the 21st Century• by Hollie Jenkins
An all-day City University London Food Symposium in Westminster on October 13 2010 will explore the state of food skills in the UK, arguing that it's a Cinderella subject - able to transform society but only if allowed to enter the (policy) ball.
The Symposium, bringing together 20 experts ranging from 'high science' to 'consumer skills', including representatives from the food industry , civil society, agricultural research and 'hands on' labour, will explore whether the country needs new reforms to revitalise food skills and take them seriously.
Questions to be addressed will include: if UK food production is steadily declining, partly due to skills shortages, what can be done? And how can this evolve into opportunities in belt-tightening times?
"When global food and oil prices rocketed in 2006-08, political attention rapidly focused on food security. Even affluent Western societies were nervous. Would there be enough to eat? Would low food prices have to rise? Think-tanks got engaged. Proponents of technical solutions found new audiences. But this is not the whole picture.
"We need to clarify the role of skills in building food resilience. Does it matter if horticulture relies on migrant labour? Should consumers know how to cook? Just what skills are needed for the future?"
Professor Tim Lang, Centre for Food Policy, City University London
The Symposium will bring together leading voices and a capacity audience to explore challenges on and off the land and with regard to consumers. After a 'state of food' presentation from Defra's Chief Scientist Professor Bob Watson, the Symposium will address the state of skills in three blocks - 'on the land', 'off the land' and 'people' skills. Five specialists from each section will summarise where problems lie, and what could be done to improve them.
According to Professor Tim Lang there is now wide acceptance that the UK's current food system is not sustainable, but that policy thinking is less well developed on the role of skills in addressing the future.
"While organising this event, I have been touched by the unity of purpose emerging. Whether big companies or citizens groups, 'high' science or people skills oriented, farmers or caterers, thinkers focussed on the land or off the land, people are keen to map the case for action on skills.
"Throughout the food chain there are examples of inefficiencies and skills gaps. Horticulture is a glaring example. Less than 10% of fruit and 50% of veg is UK grown. We need skills investment if we are to reverse this. This event will piece together that overarching picture, exploring current gaps and what needs to be done to secure a healthy, low carbon, sustainable UK food system."
"A feature of the Food Skills Symposium will be its double focus on the entire supply chain and on the delicate issue of consumer skills. Are consumers savvy enough? Does learning to cook or grow food make a difference? Must the food industry change consumers or will consumers change it by becoming better skilled? The implication of exploring such questions is to pose the possibility that policy-makers need to combine 'top down' with 'bottom up' approaches to food skills regeneration."