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The future of food policy needs to be more inclusive say food experts

The 2016 City Food Symposium saw expert speakers from across the world discuss how to do food policy in the 21st Century


Leading experts from across food policy and food industry discussed the future of the subject at the 2016 City Food Symposium. It also saw the launch of a report covering the Centre for Food Policy’s 25-year history and its achievements.

Food policy so far

Professor Tim Lang, founder of the Centre for Food Policy, opened the symposium reflecting on the centre’s achievements from helping to bring around changes to food tax to ensuring food is included in conversations about climate change. Professor Lang went on to talk about things the Centre needs to concentrate on in the future - for example, a continuing need to focus on changing diets, investing in ecosystems and protecting the infrastructure food systems rely on.

A panel session in the morning also explored how far food policy has come, what lessons have been learned and what still needs to be done. The panel included David Barling (University of Hertfordshire); Kath Dalmeny (Sustain); Liz Dowler (University of Warwick); Terry Marsden, (Cardiff University); and Aileen Robertson, (Metropolitan University College, Copenhagen).

During the panel, Kath Dalmeny, the Chief Executive of Sustain talked about the importance of converting science into policy.

“We are starting to learn about taste development in unborn children,” she said. “We know that they have an innate preference for sweetness and we know that introducing them to the bitter flavour of vegetables in the first nine months is important for them to develop a taste for this. The science is there, but we just haven’t converted it into policy or action plans.” She added:

Imagine a world where children like vegetables. Where they go round the supermarket asking for broccoli or spinach to be put in the trolley.
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain

Audience Voices

A big focus for the symposium was how to bring more people into conversations about food policy. In the afternoon, members of the audience gave their opinions during two Audience Voices segments. Fair pay, affordable food, education and listening to “normal people” were among their suggestions for how to make the conversation fairer.

City alumna Clara Widdison, (MSc, Food Policy, 2016) manages Community Shop in London, a store that sells surplus food at a low cost. Clara said that providing affordable food to the poorer people in society means they can focus attention on campaigning and joining discussions. “It’s hard to have a voice when you’re hungry,” she said.

Headteacher and food policy PhD student, Jason O’Rourke said that there should be a bigger focus on nutrition and food in the national curriculum. He reiterated Kath Dalmeny’s earlier point from the morning session, arguing that food policy should always be backed up with concrete plans. In education, this could involve the inclusion of nutrition in the Ofsted framework to ensure schools make it a priority. He added:

If I had the same stats for Maths and English as obesity rates I’d be worried about my job. 
Jason O'Rourke, PhD student

Another key issue discussed was how to make sure everyone in the food system receives fair pay for the work they do. Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy from the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University said: “There’s a lot of talk about Fairtrade but what we’re missing is a living wage. Earning enough money to afford the basic costs of living should be a right, not something we need a special label to highlight. When you look at the food system, there’s a concentration of wealth at the top of the chain and this needs to be redistributed. We need to expect that workers receive fair payment for the work that they do.”

BBC Cook of the Year, Dee Woods said that “ordinary people” already have a voice – the important thing is that the people who make the decisions actually listen to them. “I don’t want other people to speak on my behalf,” Dee said.

I just want my voice to be heard. Those with the power to make change, should listen to the voices of normal people. We have a lot to offer.
Dee Woods, BBC Cook of the Year

Bringing people’s voices into food policy

A unique way to present a range of voices, is through art and artists, argued Tom Wakeford from the Centre for Agroecoolgy at Coventry University. Tom performed in a roleplay alongside the People’s Food Knowledge Collective, featuring Hull Solidarity and Nomad, to highlight the varying issues that exist within the food system. This approach, Tom argued, is an effective way of creating change as it brings the issues to life.

Later, Tom took part in a panel discussion, alongside Carlo Cafiero (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations); Karen den Hertog, (Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme); Cecilia Tacoli, (International Institute for Environment and Development); and Dee Butterly, (Landworkers’ Alliance).

Karen den Hertog is the Programme Manager for Amsterdam’s Healthy Weight Programme and she talked about implementing the obesity strategy in Amsterdam. Karen said they started by using personal experiences of individuals and families – putting children, their parents and grandparents at the centre of policymaking. “The key was to stop asking and start listening,” Karen said. They used storytelling, social marketing and a neighbourhood and community based approach. Since starting the programme they have seen a ten percent reduction in childhood obesity in Amsterdam.

In her concluding comments, Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of Food Policy at City emphasised the need to set aside political division to ensure there is a diverse range of voices in the conversation. She said:

To take forward food policy into the future, we need to engage more with people affected by the problems being created by our modern food system. Food policy should tackle deeper structural causes of problems while recognising people's lived experience of food. To create better food policy, we need to be less judgmental and more curious.
Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of Food Policy

A full video of the event will be posted online soon. Visit the webpage to view the report.

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