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Food for Thought

Seven ways to connect with nature, nourish your body and support local food production beyond the Covid-19 pandemic

Phil Haughton is the Founder of Better Food, a Better Food Trader who runs a group of award-winning stores and cafés in Bristol that specialise in organic, local and ethical food and products. He is also a speaker on the subject of organic farming, and author of the book Food For Thought.

For many of us, nature is a healer. As a society, we have gradually journeyed towards a time and place where natural life is a side show at best but the Covid-19 pandemic has awakened us enough to shift this way of thinking. Listening in to the sounds of nature helps us connect to our vital being and this alleviates stress. The less we pay attention to this foundation of what it is to be human the less we are able to function as balanced people.

Phil says “At the start of 2020 we saw a global shift in behaviour of great magnitude. In parallel, we have also seen a temporary reduction in our CO2 impact on the planet. This has allowed nature to start to creep back in and for people to start to breathe clean air again. We did it in a matter of weeks. There is now a pressure to rush back to economic growth as fast as possible but we must take those lessons learnt and build a better world.”

These thoughts are echoes by celebrated chef, journalist, food writer and campaigner, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall.

Hugh says “The food that we eat and where it comes from is central to the quality of our lives. As we face up to an unprecedented set of challenges, both to our health and to the planet on which we all depend for nourishment and resilience, community is more important than ever. Food, and how we produce it, is at the very heart of making the world a better place.”

So, what can we all do to make positive changes? Phil gives us his top seven ways to connect with nature, eat well and support our local food economy:

  1. Grow your own. It is a wonderful thing to have your own garden or allotment. Your own produce always tastes so much better than anything else you will ever eat. The greatest action we can all take to mend our food system is to grow our own food, be that in a window box, a garden, an allotment or by joining a shared growing project.
  2. Fresh rather than processed. Following the Second World War there has been a cheap food policy operating in the United Kingdom. This has led to an immeasurable decline in food quality to the point where much of our food does very little to nourish us. We can counter this by using fresh raw ingredients that come from the soil via plants or animals and not from laboratories and factories.
  3. Go back to eating seasonal fruit and veg. We should stop much of the out-of-season imports and celebrate the short season produce more when it is naturally growing in our climate. Let’s import citrus from Europe because we can’t grow it here and go back to being extremely good apple growers in the UK, knowing we may well not eat a single apple between March and August. Extending our own seasons using greenhouses and polytunnels makes sense and as a grower it helps commercially to spread income over more of the year. Let’s celebrate our fresh produce and enjoy the food that is grown as near to home as possible during its natural season.
  4. Freshly baked rather than supermarket ‘fake’ good bread. Today’s manufacturing technology makes bread with a longer shelf life by the use of chemicals. Various preservatives including potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, both used to preserve silage for cattle, have also been used to inhibit mould. Healthy and delicious bread made from old varieties of wheat grown in fertile soils can nourish us in both body and soul. Sadly, supermarkets continue to sell ‘fake’ good bread, labelled as ‘multi seed’, ‘natural wholemeal’, names that conceal the fact that most of them are just factory preserved loaves with added foods to make them seem healthy.
  5. Country and city chickens. Commercial egg laying chicken farms have in excess of 4,000 birds and often up to 30,000 in one unit. These birds have little access to outdoors even when in full lay, and even if they are ‘free range’. A really good organic free-range unit will have no more than 2000 hens, all of which have daily access to outdoors from an early age. You can easily keep your own chickens. When it comes to feeding your birds, think about what you want to eat yourself and how the feed is produced.
  6. Organic AND local. Organic farms are havens for wildlife, producing food in a way that reduces environmental pollution, promotes biodiversity and fights climate change by sequestering carbon in soils. For many people, organic animal products are an essential because of the high standards of animal welfare guaranteed by organic certification. Eating less but better meat and dairy can positively impact the planet and people too – organic animals are fed a more natural, GM-free diet and come from well managed farming systems that don’t routinely use antibiotics. Although the organic market has grown a great deal since the 1980s, it still represents less than 3% of our total food consumed.
  7. Support local and organic retailers. The current system of food production required by the supermarkets is costing the earth. We should be thinking about nature first, then people and profit. Where is our food security if imports dry up due to lack of planting, harvesting and transport? Just eight weeks after Covid-19 emerged in the UK, fresh produce imports started to climb in price and availability began to decrease. Use the supermarkets when we need to, choosing local and seasonal if available, and seek local and organic retailers when possible.

Phil concludes “Global thinkers have one of the best opportunities ever to bring into being a network of learning that can help educate communities and be taken into schools. My plea is for us all to think, connect with others and form new ways that will become a force for change. The time is right.”

Extracts taken from Phil Haughton’s new book, Food for Thought. Find out more here: www.philhaughton.com

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