Food for thought

Last week the wife and I went to Leveller’s Day at Burford. The event is held in commemoration of the Levellers killed there by Cromwell in 1649. This year the theme was about food sustainability and the speakers gave some fascinating facts. Here are just a few of the thought-provoking nuggets which I jotted down. They come from talks given by Tim Lane, and Tristram Stuart.

  • In the UK 0.5% of the population owns 97% of the land.
  • 20-30% of all food that is fit to eat ends up as waste.
  • 70% of all potable water is used by agriculture.
  • By 2050 £50 billion per year will be spent on obesity-related healthcare.
  • If everybody followed our diets we would need 3 planets to eat as the British do; and 6 planets to eat as the Americans do.
  • An estimated 20 million tons of food are wasted each year.
  • 25% of the food bought by consumers ends up in the bin.

No idea about the sources – or should that be sauces – of these food facts. But the people were experts so they are pretty trustworthy, I guess. Anyway, for me the key message of the day was: ‘Food thrown away is taking food from the mouths of the hungry.’

My mother used to ‘encourage’ me to eat my cabbage by telling me that people were starving in China. I couldn’t quite see the connection at the time, or, indeed, imagine why anyone in China would want to eat cabbage, starving or otherwise. But these days it’s much more likely to have a connection. So much of our food comes from overseas, where it is shipped to us instead of used to feed the local population. Wasting food, therefore, is a moral issue.

Tristram Stuart – whose book Waste, Claire is reading at the moment – said that there is enough food waste in developed countries to feed the rest of the world 7 times over. We need to develop on one-planet diet. So here’s what I’m going to do:

1. Eat less meat. This won’t be easy because I am a carnivore.

2. Waste less food. We already compost almost all our food waste, but it would be better not to have to throw it away at all.

3. Shop for local food. (We already do this quite a lot, but as this story in the Grauniad indicates, it’s more complex than simply ‘buying British’.)

4. Eat the whole animal. I like offal – liver, kidneys, etc. But if an animal dies to feed me, I should at least eat as much of it as I can. This book looks good. I’ll let you know how the food turns out!

The jury is out on whether we shall end up keeping chickens or not.Given that our hamster keeps escaping that may not be the wisest move.