Despite the lure of the ‘Best Sponge in Stokey’ competition at the Church Street jubilee street party, I opted to spend the majority of my long weekend at the third Stoke Newington Literary Festival.
The Literary Festival programme was commendably diverse, all the time catering to the tastes of the local residents, well this local resident at least, featuring food, beer and music (and sometimes more than one at a time. See: Pete Brown beer and music matching – it turns out music and literary festivals aren’t all that different, both allowing one to get more merry than is usually deemed acceptable in the early afternoon).
And so to the title of this post – Global Food, Local Food. Whilst not the most coherent of the events I attended over the course of three days, it certainly got me thinking. Pitting investigative food writer Hattie Ellis against food scientist Dr Giles Oldroyd threw up some provocative points about our relationship with food.
On the one hand was Ellis, passionate about buying local food wherever possible, relating tales of a hospital sourcing produce locally and the Fife Diet. On the other hand was Oldroyd, deeming the local sourcing of food a romantic notion and attempting to tackle the much bigger picture question of how in 20 years time we will feed our burgeoning global population.
The arguments, or should I say points of view, as it wasn’t really appropriate to pit the two against each other, were both very interesting and caused me to question why my eating and shopping habits are as they are.
I’m the first to express concern at unethical production methods (I’ve been vegetarian since the age of 11, but will cook high welfare, responsibly farmed British meat), avoid buying air mile laden products that originate in lands far away, feel a warm glow inside every time I place an order with Farm Direct and the letters GM instantly fill me with fear. But why? What do I really care about? Am I dressing my cultural/lifestyle preferences up as something deeper and more meaningful? Is it even possible to reconcile all of these factors into one responsible system for living and if so would I have the time to hold down a full time job and stick to it? Is genetically transferring the nitrogen fixing ability of a legume into wheat or maize really so different to selective breeding? Especially if it means that at some point not too far down the line Africa could be within reach of food security?
Oldroyd asserted that if everybody were to purchase food locally, in the current system, we would find ourselves eating a carbohydrate heavy diet, with meat maybe once a month and dairy even less frequently. Which certainly makes me feel very selfish that I aspire to stick as far as possible to a way of living that would not be sustainable if everybody suddenly signed up to it. But does this mean that mass production GM monocultures are the way we have to live in the future? I sincerely hope not, because as much as it is crucial that we are prepared for the extra 2.5 billion people who are expected to share this planet with us by 2050, food is something that should be enjoyed and respected.
Even so, maybe the global and local concepts aren’t as far removed as I first thought? Maybe it’s naive to think that they are? Maybe the two should be aiming to meet in the middle?
I for one will certainly be doing some further reading.