To impact change on a larger scale, we need a bigger movement. And to build a bigger movement, we need to listen to everyone’s point of view – not just those in our echo-chamber. This means understanding the wider impact of our current food system, what options people are given, and what changes they’d like to see to make better food choices.
I’m Chess (they/them), and I’ve been working in the sustainable food sector for over 4 years. This blog series is about listening to the lesser heard voices of the food movement in order to understand their take on the current state of affairs, free from expectation.
For this month’s blog, I spoke to Stuart (he/him) who talked me through his current understanding of the food system, how he’d improve it, and what food means to him in general.
Do you love or hate Marmite?
I actually like Marmite a little bit, but I don’t love or hate it.
Do you prefer sweet or savoury food?
If I had to choose by putting chipotle against synthetic grape flavour candy (my favourite of each), then the synthetic grape flavour wins by a whisker. So, probably sweet overall.
What is your understanding of the term, ‘UK food system?’
This is actually the first time that I’ve heard that term. But if I had to take a guess, I’d say that it is the producing and delivering of food in the UK.
What kind of foods did you eat when you were a kid?
Mostly just simple things like cereal, beans on toast, fish fingers, potato smiley faces, etc.
What did food mean to you as a kid? Would you eat with others or on your own? What memories do you have?
I used to eat with my brothers and sisters, and my Mum would normally eat later. I think a lot of the time I ate my dinner after school just so it was done and I could go and play video games. Although, I also remember my Nan putting quite a bit of importance on food and encouraging us to eat more. And we were ‘being good’ if we finished everything. Luckily for me, there weren’t many things I didn’t like, and even then, mint sauce or gravy could solve that.
Has your connection with food changed since you were a kid?
Yeah, since moving out and having to prepare food for myself, I’ve eventually become more interested in which ingredients are used for different meals and how they affect the outcome. I have become more and more curious about traditional and authentic Mexican food, as over time, it turned out that almost everything savoury I like is in some way related to Mexican food.
Can you talk a bit about when you first learned to cook and what you needed to feel excited about cooking and recipes?
I first learned to cook (other than helping my Nan make cakes) at work. I got a job washing up when I was young and found myself learning food prep and progressing up the kitchen. I wouldn’t say that I actually learnt to cook though – more like I learnt how accessible cooking is. So, once I was used to using the equipment and had a rough idea of what to expect from different cooking methods, it helped influence me into looking up recipes to learn new meals. Then, with more and more practice, I started adjusting ingredients to make things how me and Michelle [Stuart’s partner] would like them.
What do you trust supermarkets to offer you, and what might you not trust them about?
With the supermarkets, I trust that the more expensive ones like M&S or Waitrose have got fresher and more well-grown fruit and veg. Also, I expect the meat in those places comes from better sources than the other supermarkets too. I don’t tend to trust anything in their own brand range to be that good – taste wise and also chemical-ingredient wise.
How does food interact with your sense of community or relationships?
Food doesn’t normally interact in a community way for me, except for a few occasions like Christmas. Also, a few years ago, me and my friends had a funny idea to make lots of tuna-based dishes and have an evening eating tuna. Food does have a fairly big place with me and Michelle though.
What does ‘high quality’ food look like to you?
I think high quality food is, basically, just everything done correctly – from the choice of ingredients to how they’re used, with no corners cut or ingredients replaced with substitutes. I think I first became aware of what I considered high quality when I first splashed out and got a punnet of strawberries from M&S. And I guess from then on, I started to think that practically everything can come in a range of standards
How do you feel about where your produce comes from?
I think blueberries seem nicer if they’re grown in the UK or Sweden, and I really don’t like the taste of strawberries from Egypt. But other than that, I don’t tend to worry about where things are from. And if there was an option to get locally grown things, I would be up for trying, but would also just as much like to get more things imported from Mexico than what is currently available.
If you had £5 billion to make a better food system, what would you do? (Beoutrageous!)
If I could do anything, I would like to have some sort of regulation on the honesty of packaging and advertising. For example, there are extremely few ice creams in the supermarket that are actually made with cream. If people were told that the reason ice cream A is cheaper than ice cream B is because it’s technically frozen water, oil and powdered milk they might make a more informed decision. It’s the same with most cheaper products as well. You notice that if a croissant, for example, is made properly with butter it is called an ‘all butter croissant,’ whereas one that’s made with palm oil to save money is called a ‘croissant’ and not a ‘palm oil croissant.’ So, it seems in cases like that, cheaper products are holding back information that would help people choose more wisely.
I also think it would be a good idea for products to have a barcode you can scan with your phone to find more out about what it is and how it can be used. For example, when I first used saffron, I wasn’t using it the correct way, which meant I used more than necessary. With things like that (which are quite expensive!), people could probably benefit from knowing how to get the most out of them.
What would ‘better food’ mean to you?
For me better food would mean that the ingredients are grown/produced in a good way and that the meal itself comes with all the right nutrients. By ‘good way,’ I mean fruit/veg planted in the right climate for what it is, by someone that knows what is good and what isn’t. For example, Asda’s scotch bonnets have no spice, so the person growing/picking them doesn’t know what they’re supposed to come out like.
Because they are meant to be super fiery, right?!
Yes, indeed, they should be very spicy!