Why Food Can Change the World

This December I was lucky enough to contribute to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival (all the details here) in the form of an online talk about Human Rights and Organic Farming. Thanks for the invite Jacqueline.

Alongside two other speakers, I talked about fairness, the principles of organic growing and human rights. I really enjoyed taking a wee bit of time out to think about these interesting topics and prepare a little 5 minute talk about the subject. Here it is:

Why I believe food is uniquely placed to change the world – and how organic growing is at the heart of this transformation.

Hello everyone. My name is Jo Facer and along with my wife I run a little supper club and catering company called The Edible Flower. I’m here to tell you why I believe food is uniquely placed to change the world – and how organic growing is at the heart of this transformation.

Carrie Davenport

I have always loved food, loved eating and loved cooking – more recently I’ve fallen in love with growing food. So, it made sense that five years ago we decided to set up a business that is all about good food.

As with many small businesses, we both do a bit of everything, but primarily it is my job to grow and source the ingredients we cook and it’s Erin’s job to make everything taste delicious.

Food is uniquely placed in human’s lives. It is something that we all need, on a daily basis to stay alive. This universal need connects us in a metaphorical sense across the globe, but food also has the amazing ability to bring us together in a more literal sense too.

In non-Covid times, Erin and I run supper clubs. These are pop up events, where we publish a menu in advance, people buy tickets and everyone comes, sits round big long tables and they share a meal together. It’s all about sociable dining. There is something magical about the process of eating together – making new friends and generally having a good time. People, jointly nourishing themselves physically and perhaps spiritually nourishing too! And my goodness, don’t we all need a bit of spiritual nourishment at the moment.

Sharon Cosgrove Photography

Food is incredibly personal – your likes and dislikes shaped by your own life experiences and by your childhood memories, but it is also a cultural thing. Groups of humans around the world (from entire nations to the smallest local community) have their own food cultures, recipes, produce, traditions and festivals. It unites humans at many levels.

However, I am more aware than ever, that we need to be enjoying food and feeding ourselves without undermining future generations ability to do the same. And that’s why underpinning all of this, we need good, clean, fair produce (to steal a phrase from the Slow Food movement). I believe we should be following organic principles of growing in order to leave the planet, the genetic diversity of crops, and the soil, for future generations to have the ability to feed themselves. “Intergenerational equality” or to put it another way “Live like you might die tomorrow, farm like you will live forever”.

Sharon Cosgrove Photography

I think small scale organic farming is brilliant. Organic growing is about working with nature rather than against it. And the key is understanding the living organisms that you’re working with (whether it’s soil bacteria, worms, plants or livestock) and creating environments in which they can thrive.

Producing food fundamentally shapes the landscape we live in and always has (at least since humans started settling down, inventing agriculture around 13,000 years ago). We have an amazing opportunity to create biodiverse, ecologically balanced, healthy landscapes that produce great, nutritious food and bring great joy to the people who work in them and the people who visit them.

And that connection between food production and food consumer is so important. Important in terms of changing how people eat, and how people value local, seasonal food. Even just the act of seeing things growing is so powerful in terms of basic education about what is in season when. Something I found to be a tricky academic exercise back when I lived in London and now it a simple matter of looking out the window.

Sharon Cosgrove Photography

An organic approach means more nutritious, more delicious food. It all sounds pretty great!

Ah but it’s not so simple. There are plenty of reasons why not all farmers take an organic approach but my basic understanding (knowing a little about organic growing and very little about non-organic farming) is that organic farming takes more time and effort and therefore the produce costs more. It costs a little more in terms of the pounds in your wallet – but it costs the earth so much less. I hope one day people will realise what ridiculously good value local, season, organic produce can be.

Buying food has never been cheaper in terms of average incomes in the UK. But as someone who has never truly been hungry is with some trepidation that I argue food should be more expensive. I think it should be. We’re not paying the true cost of the cheap food we buy. We’re passing those costs onto future generations or we’re underpaying workers in far-off, or not-so-far-off countries! I think that by valuing food just a wee bit more, there could be a huge surge in local, well-grown produce and a surge in local, joyful, satisfying jobs – not necessarily more people going hungry.

So, affordability is an issue, but I think there are other accessibility issues too. Erin and I grow and prepare food for our clients and our family with care and love. And we believe in a “from scratch” approach. Our whole lives are about food so it’s not so crazy that we don’t buy pre-chopped onions, we grow them from organic seed instead, cure them and then chop them ourselves! But I do realise those are not the actions of typical people living in the real world. People are busy. They have jobs and obligations and little free time.

The stories of female emancipation and the growth of processed, convenience food have gone hand in hand in the 20th century. If I’m demanding (or perhaps encouraging gently) a change in the way people feed themselves and their families then (on average) it would be women who pick up this burden of additional unpaid work. So, we have affordability issues, we may have gender-equality issues but I still believe organic growing can teach us a lot about how to live.

If we all embraced organic principles not only in the way we grow food, but in the way we live, then the world might be a pretty awesome place.

We would celebrate diversity. Embrace polyculture over monoculture. We would take time to understand the nature of things, understanding what things need to flourish and grow. We would seek to understand the connections between all things and how to encourage healthy mutually-beneficial relationships.

And fundamentally we would leave things in a better state when we left, than when we arrived.

And whether I’m talking about you living your life on planet earth, or you making a cup of coffee in the office kitchen, it doesn’t really matter. Organic principles could lead to a more equitable life for all.

Sharon Cosgrove Photography

Lovely photos by Sharon Cosgrove and Carrie Davenport.

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