As the purchaser of food for Chomp, I would like to discuss the ethical issues we face as a consumer and provider. We find ourselves in an evolutionary period where our food system encourages us to buy pre-made highly processed foods at a much lower cost than if we wanted to make the dish ourselves from fresh produce. Buying foods that have been grown without the use of pesticides cost more than those grown with. We might wonder how we have ended up with a system like this?
Our system has evolved over time and developed to meet dietary elements difficult to find in the wild, and of course the fast rising numbers of people on the planet. In this sense, we have succeeded in being able to feed millions of people. This became possible during a period which was named the Green revolution, in which industrial farming was discovered and put into place. Farmers were able to mass produce ingredients such as wheat, sugar and oil, making it more refined and cheaper. This enabled food manufacturers to use these cheaper ingredients to make and market highly processed food; that are now cheaper than less processed and fresh foods.
‘Highly processed foods - high in salt, refined carbohydrates, sugars and fats and low in fibre - are on average three times cheaper per calorie than healthy foods.’ (National Food standards agency, The Plan, 2021)
Food system and responsibility. Where we come in.
As we know, industrial farming and highly processed foods are damaging our planet and our health .
‘The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution, and the collapse of aquatic wildlife. It is the second-biggest contributor to climate change after the energy industry.’ (National Food standards agency, The Plan, 2021).
As a Charity who provides meals for an average of 120 ppl per week when our provision is running, with a small budget, we need to keep our costs low. Does this mean we should just buy the cheapest products and fill people up?
We don’t believe so. Yes, our Charity was originally set up to make sure holiday hunger was reduced for families in receipt of free school meals, and this is still our main objective. Yet we believe that in delivering this mission we should not view our families as grateful just to receive any food. They deserve fresh food that nourishes them nutritionally as well as filling a gap. Sometimes this is a luxury that they cannot afford to put in place at home.
‘ Of the manufactured food products sold in the UK, 85% are deemed to be so unhealthy they are unsuitable for marketing to children. (In 2018, the home-grown fruit and vegetables market in the UK was worth £2.2bn, whereas confectionery alone – one small section of the processed food market – was worth £4.2bn.26
(National Food standards agency, The Plan, 2021)
The responsibility goes far beyond our own food choices, and at Chomp we believe that as a project we hold some of that responsibility. How we shop and what we offer needs to be in line with moving towards a sustainable food system for people and the planet.
Produce and Planning.
Therefore we want to be transparent about how and where we shop and the thinking behind our choices. Our provision runs year round, which means that we try to follow the British and European food seasons. We use a local wholesale fruit and vegetable supplier, which omits single use plastics from that part of our purchasing. We have a small local butchers whose animals are raised naturally and, be it through a supermarket, we still prioritise buying organic dairy products.
Our approach to planning our meals is to use as much seasonal produce as possible as this is more sustainable and inexpensive. This has to be balanced with providing food that is familiar to our families as well as giving them the opportunity to expand their food choices and try new things. Part of our system in place that we find encourages this, is asking family members to help in the prepping, setting up, serving and clearing away of the lunch, as well as rewarding anyone trying anything new with our Chomp stickers.
Moving toward a better food system is complex and will take dedication to creating change. It may be obvious that part of that change is education. We have children growing up having to eat the cheaper processed foods, that do not know what foods in their natural state look, feel or taste like. Convenience foods stop people cooking and many are growing up not knowing how to feed themselves well. This is a societal issue that many grassroots food projects are aware of and working to create local change through accessible educational activities. At Chomp we too want to contribute as a project, which is why you will often find an activity at our sessions that is dedicated to learning about food. These are intended to be fun and interactive, getting children and adults alike talking about produce.
It is a dedication to the empowerment of children and the future generation. This is a societal issue that needs the collective and consistent work of adults in homes, schools and outside organisations to keep working on and fighting to improve. At Chomp we are proud of what we serve and are always looking for ways to create community, growth and sustainability within what we do.