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Thought for food – changing the way we view food

By Helen Collingborn, Head of Food & Hospitality

It goes without saying that from the very first days of our existence: from the first cave dwellers, to the hunter gatherers through to this year’s feta pasta Tik Tok recipes, food is a fundamental cornerstone of who we are.

With the publishing of its first white paper on Food Strategy, the government is recognising that how we grow, produce and consume food needs a bigger focus in our lives – particularly with the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and supply chain issues that have manifested themselves for a number of reasons.

Food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, bigger than automotive and aerospace combined and according to the government’s white paper, the agri-food and seafood sectors create over £120 billion of value, employ over four million people and touch every single community in the UK.  This, to put it mildly, is a serious business.

So how can we, as a nation, press the reset button on the way we view food?

The white paper has included many different initiatives to overhaul our approach, from looking at how we grow it to how we make it and also use it.  One area it touched on was the importance of training, education and communication in helping society adopt this different approach. As with other paradigm shifts, (digital transformation, sustainability and diversity and inclusion), it is important that people have the skills, the reasoning and the understanding to help them change their behaviour. The same could be true in shifting our attitude to food and there is an opportunity do it from the ground up.

Supporting the industry

The white paper highlights the importance of upskilling the workforce as a key initiative to improve food production.  “Ensuring our agri-food industry workforce has the necessary skills to take advantage of new and emerging innovations will help drive greater efficiency and production”, but it could also help attract talent into the industry as job functions could change to include new and emerging skills.  Training could not only include the food producers but the food preparers with, for instance, a focus on training chefs to use more seasonal and local ingredients.

Supporting the land

The white paper also refers to the need to ensure that we protect our land (and seas) for today and the future. “We will use the Agriculture Act (2020), Fisheries Act (2020) and Environment Act (2021) as frameworks to incentivise farmers and food producers to adopt more sustainable practices.”  Again, training could play a huge part in helping food producers use a range of new technologies and innovations to help achieve a more sustainable industry.

Supporting the people

There is a really interesting point in the white paper about how we can encourage a shift in the way we view food, starting with children, ‘a school revolution’ as the government referred to it. “We will introduce a suite of measures to improve school food and build a strong food curriculum, including up to £5 million to deliver a school cooking revolution and a new pilot for local authorities to assure school compliance with school food standards. This will support every child leaving secondary school to achieve a healthier lifestyle and pave the way for a future generation to work in our food system.”  Home Economics used to be the forgotten subject on the curriculum – now it looks like it is re-discovering its role in developing our society.

Where, perhaps this focus on education at every level is most interesting, is in this point made in the white paper: “We will also provide consumers with the information they need to make more sustainable, ethical, and healthier food choices and incentivise industry to produce healthier and more ethical and sustainable food.” With training comes a responsibility to ensure that everyone benefits from making those right choices.  Communication must sit alongside training to further the impact and create the shift that’s needed, to bring everyone along the journey.

During the pandemic, helpful, clear and human communication was vital in protecting society in the most unprecedented of circumstances.  And if the government’s food strategy is to deliver on its promise, training and communication will be critical in making this happen, from the ground up.

 

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