Like many bloggers and food writers I went to the debate at the Real Food Festival on the Future of Food and have to say it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. With one exception (the corporate affairs director of ASDA, Paul Kelly) the speakers - Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, Raymond Blanc, Mark Barthel, director of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign and environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith - were all of fundamentally the same view: that the way forward must be organic and sustainable. Speaker after speaker outlined the apocalyptic future facing us. No-one really provided any solutions.There was a bit of ritual supermarket bashing but no-one seemed to me to get to the meat of the subject which is how to feed a growing population with dwindling resources.
The figures are scary. There are 6.7 billion people on the planet now: there will be 9.2bn by 2050, it is projected. We need to increase global food production by 50-60% but it's more likely to decrease by a fifth and a quarter due to climate change, land degradation, water shortages and crop damage from pests,
I would have liked to have seen a more structured debate between two opposing views - Holden or Goldsmith, say, interviewing Kelly of ASDA then turning the tables half way through or two speakers actually offering a tentative strategy for tackling the crisis. (It was ill-judged not to have at least one woman on the platform, who, Goldsmith apart, were all white, middle-aged, middle class males. Or an academic who worked in the field of food policy.
My heart is with the 'real food' campaigners but my experience of trying to buy 'real food' is that it's often way too expensive for families on a budget. People end up in supermarkets because it's easy and affordable. They could go to cheaper outlets like street markets but many don't know how to cook.
If the Government really wants a healthier nation it needs to have a much more coherent agricultural policy and regulate the food and advertising industry much more effectively than it currently does. The supermarkets could do far, far more than they do now to get over a healthy eating message. (Look at those full page ads and spreads for their special offers in the tabloids - almost all for unhealthy processed foods).
Like it or not - and I suspect many of the people in the hall yesterday wouldn't - the problem will have to be solved by big institutions rather than small ones and until they change things won't start to improve.
What do you think? Do you think the problem can be solved from the grassroots up or by national or international institutions? And what needs to happen for things to change?