8 Takeaways from the 2019 IFSTAL Public Lecture

The IFSTAL Public Lecture provides an excellent opportunity to sit back and reflect on the learnings from the year. Sue Pritchard’s talk in particular, had just the right sort of messaging we needed to think more systematically about our food. Saher Hasnain reflects on where it all landed and some key takeaways.
  1. Do we have courageous and committed leadership? We need to recognize that the deeply complex issues of our food system needs the courageous and committed leadership by different types of people, from all walks of life to drive the necessary changes.
  2. Where is power concentrated in food systems? Current food systems are seeing an incredible degree of consolidation and global presence. These concentrations of power in agricultural inputs, financial systems, data, and retail have serious implications for incomes, autonomy, sustainability and health.
  3. Can farming be a driver of change? Our farmers and rural communities are suffering under our broken food systems. Farming and farmers have enormous potential in driving positive change, if there is a radical rethink in how we invest in food systems.
  4. Are we producing what we should be eating? The brokenness of the food system can be immediately observed in the misalignment between the food crops currently being produced, and the recommendations for a healthy and sustainable diet. The world needs to produce greater proportions of fruits, vegetables instead of starches, sugars, and unhealthy fats.
  5. How is our food consumption changing? Taking the example of the UK, we can see that takeaway and delivery services alone are having a critical impact on diets (and waste!). Besides the impact on the environment, such trends indicate a shift in how we, as a society approach the experience of eating.
  6. What is the cost of UK’s ‘cheap’ food? While food insecurity in the UK looks different from insecurity in other parts of the world, increasing numbers of overweight, obese, and otherwise malnourished people are exerting pressure on the country’s healthcare system, employment system, and the economy on the whole. Maybe cheap food on its own is not a straightforward fix for food security issues.
  7. Where are the UK’s small farmers? The numbers indicate that small farmers in the UK are on the way out. Farms are being consolidated, productivity is declining, and farming is not an attractive financial prospect. Why are the primary producers getting the least benefit from the food system they support?
  8. Will a shift to plant-based eating solve everything? Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Plant-based diets can also be unhealthy, and food processing still relies on the industrial aspects of our food system. It is necessary to acknowledge that vegan food is not automatically a healthy, sustainable, or ethical choice.

Many thanks again to Sue Pritchard for delivering the public lecture last year. Please make sure to read the RSA’s report on Food, Farming and the Countryside, and the slides from Sue’s presentation.