Thurs June 10, Manchester. Eighty people tonight heard five speakers debate “Food and Sustainability” at the University of Manchester. The event, hosted by the now venerable EMERGE, covered packaging, carbon footprints, vegetarianism and supermarkets.
After brief opening remarks by Lucy Danger (including a shout out to the brilliant FareShare project), chair Mark Shayler (Eco3, previously Environment Manager Asda), gave a brief spiel (about embedded water etc) and introduced the five panelists; Stefan Stainsby (WRAP‘s Love Food Hate Waste Campaign)
Julie Bagnoli (Business Link & Isinglass Restaurant), Pat Foreman (Foods North West), Chris Shearlock (The Co-operative Group) and Debbie Ellen (Independent Researcher & Community Grower).
The first question was perhaps the best of the evening (that’s not to say that things went downhill – for the most part they didn’t).
What was the biggest threat to Manchester/Northwest in the coming decade(s)?
Chris Shearlock spoke of two- one being outbid for the “nice things” (exotic fruits etc) by the emerging economies,and also biodiversity loss (Plan B). He worried that the biodiversity crunch would come sooner than the climate crunch.
Debbie Ellen saw four interlinked problems 1) skills shortage (with lots of farmers being over 55, and only 5% under 35), 2) access to affordable land, 3) erratic weather and 4) lack of training in vegetarian and vegan cooking in the catering trade. She also gave a shout out to the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan (subject of the latest MCFly youtube video)
Pat Foreman endorsed the previous points and chipped in with concerns on the ability to innovate. Julie Bagnoli pointed to the tiny availability of locally grown food.
The next set of questions were, IMHO, a bit of a diversion- around packaging. It’s emotive and obvious, but as Chris Shearlock pointed out, not the biggest ‘carbon’ part of the problem, and needs to be weighed against increased spoilage if food is under-packaged.
The chair kept things moving along fairly nicely, giving both audience and panel chances to expand and interact. Shearlock came across as very well-briefed (as you’d expect of the point-man for Britain’s biggest farmer!), and adamant that life cycle analysis was crucial for looking at whether food flown in from Kenya was ‘lower carbon’ than locally produced. He defended Fairtrade while acknowledging it wasn’t always the lowest carbon option (pointing out its other advantages, of a secure price for Majority World growers).
On whether vegetarianism/veganism was the most important action an individual could take, Shearlock and Ellen and Bagnoli said yes. Foreman, in keeping with her general “let the market decide/let’s all be practisch” approach suggested it wasn’t but rather thinking about what was bought and when, while Stefan Stainsby, as befits his WRAP role pointed to not wasting food while proclaiming he didn’t want a nanny state.
MCFly ducked out slightly early (along with a few others who’d presumably found the two hour duration a bit punishing), so can’t say if there were any final surprises.
How could the event have been improved? More vegetarian food during the mingler! Name badges and the various forms of soft coercive mingling that help English people overcome their reserve. Perhaps a tighter focus on some of the really pressing issues facing us. A few fun memes like “Permanent Global Summertime”. But nothing fundamental, nothing structural. This was no Dire Mountain.
Other impending food related events-
Create your own Abundance – June 12 2010
Feeding Manchester 4 – June 25, 2010