Emergency food provision supported millions during the crisis, but it’s a short-term solution and doesn’t tackle the root causes that lie behind people having difficulties accessing food. The long-term answer should focus on resilience – the capacity of our food system to ensure that all people have access to healthy food whilst supporting decent and fair livelihoods, and protecting nature and society in the face of shocks.
Resilient networks and infrastructures already exist across our food system. A resilience audit to identify them and understand which policies and structures support them would help us scale up and develop an economic plan for food with resilience at its core. This plan must be aligned with government efforts to ‘build back better.’
The pandemic has shifted the way government, society and individuals think about food. Attention has turned to what food means to us, where it comes from and who produces it. It has brought people together like never before, connecting us to local producers, to caring in the community, and to nature. We cook and eat together more and throw less food away. We’re buying better quality food and supporting small and local businesses.
To embed resilience, we must capitalise on these shifts. Government, businesses, civil society and individuals must invest in and support local and small enterprises and the local food economy. Government policy must prioritise a supply chain transition to direct selling models and local logistics, and diversifying farming. Commitment to UK food production, fairly paid jobs and working conditions in food and farming, to start-ups, land for growing and affordable housing will all support resilience. Concurrently, there must be wholesale disinvestment from industrial agriculture.
Connecting people and organisations creates resilience. Local connections, partnerships between ecosystems service providers and links between the sustainability and climate agendas must be fostered. Data must be intersectional and support the government to provide food, power, housing and connectivity to all. The Right to Food must be enshrined, and upheld through education by nurturing cooking and growing skills. How we talk about food and food workers must be reframed, building on the narrative shift from ‘unskilled’ to ‘essential’ workers.
The road to resilience has three staging posts. The first is Coping – living with COVID-19 until a vaccine is found. The second is Transition – where a vaccine is rolled out and things are improving. The third is Recovery. At first, recovery may appear anything but: the looming recession will break down many financial and economic structures and cause high, structural unemployment. But from the ashes comes an opportunity to build back different – supporting community and food systems resilience. That way, we’ll be able to adapt to the inevitable future shocks and hopefully mitigate them too.
This summary draws heavily on a report of the event, written by the Food Ethics Council. The full report is available here.