A Food Manifesto for Wales

On June 3rd we held the final event in our Food Values project – a day-long workshop in Cardiff involving stakeholders from a range of food and sustainability focused programmes, including representatives from Welsh Government’s Waste Strategy Team, Public Health Wales, through to local schools, church groups and gardening projects. We were also joined by Peter Davies the Sustainable Futures Commissioner and Jane Davidson the former Minister for the Environment who now is now heading INSPIRE at Trinity St David’s.

The workshop had two aims: firstly to disseminate the findings of our research over the last year, sharing the lessons we have learnt and now published in our ‘Food Values’ report (which is available here: Food_Values_Report). Secondly, to begin a wider conversation about the food futures that people in Wales would like to see, reflecting explicitly on how a values approach can help us move towards this goal.

This aspiration for a Food Manifesto is set out as a key recommendation in our report, where we outline the importance of bringing different people together, across the food system, to find common ground through discussion of our values. Peter Davies and Jane Davidson began the day championing this goal, outlining how a Food Manifesto could be central to informing the delivery of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which is the policy vehicle for advancing sustainability in Wales. They encouraged us to use the day as a first step in a wider conversation with people across Wales, taking a values-led approach to food.

We would welcome all of you to participate in the next step of this journey – so please get in touch if you have points to include or want to work with us to take this forward.

listening

Whilst we all have values, many of us don’t think too deeply or too often about how values affect our decisions – let along how values inform the food system we are part of. Our research is designed to get people to re-engage and appreciate the work values do in the food system. To kick-start this type of thinking amongst our workshop participants, Bec Sanderson from PIRC explained that everyone shares values and society can shape these by reinforcing particular messages. Values are not set in stone, they can be strengthened like muscles the more we engage them. This is important because we need to ensure our institutions and policies actually reflect and engage the values that people care about – otherwise we can unwittingly undermine them. Bec also demonstrated how values connect issues and can help us move beyond single-issue thinking – which is so important for the consideration of food where we have previously taken a divided approach to issues of food poverty, health, and environmental sustainability.

Presenting findings from our research, I then outlined how people across Wales have been talking about food at our events. Key themes included:

Good food should be available to everyone -it shouldn’t be a luxury commodity. Fresh, healthy food ought to be available to everyone – whatever their social status.

soup

Looking beyond money – People did talk about money but we found that it didn’t dominate the conversations and people could emphasise issues like social justice, which they factor into their ‘economic’ decision making. This reminded me of a statement that Henry Ford once made: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business”

Getting back in touch with food. The provenance of food was a commonly cited concern. Participants also stressed a need to re-skill themselves to cook, to grow, preserve and forage.

seedlings

Drawing together the conclusions from our report, I outlined that:

Food has enormous potential as a social equaliser. It is immediately understandable, fun and emotional for people of different ages, classes, regions and nationalities. We all eat!

Values help connect food to other issues & move beyond our differences. Getting people to consider values and motivations allows participants to look beyond narrow issues, and areas of disagreement, to engage with the deeper motivations that underpin a variety of actions. By digging deeper we can often find commonalities in our aligned values.

Enhancing values of Universalism and Benevolence though food is relatively easy. Many people identify with them, supporting community-building through local food or sharing mealtimes, for instance. Food education therefore offers an important way to reinforce and enhance these values that are so important to the wider well-being and sustainability of our society.

community

In the afternoon we moved into workshop groups to enable participants to share their own values and responses. Workshops were themed as follows to address the four pillars of sustainability:

  • Society – Tackling food inequality
  • Economy – Growing Wales’ fruit and veg sector
  • Environment – Is food an environmental issue?
  • Culture & identity – Why Welsh Values matter

We will present the findings of these in our next blog… but in the meantime please share the report and have a look at #foodvalues for more insights from the day.

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Listening for a change

Preparing for our final dissemination event next Wednesday Jane Powell reflects on the difference the project has made to her practice…

alice and table

When we started the Food Values project it was because after many years of putting on educational events of one sort or another, all designed to increase public understanding of food and farming, it felt like time to stop and question what we were doing. What were we trying to tell people? What did they want to learn? What attitudes do people bring with them to a food festival, a farm visit, a community meal? It seemed like there were some fundamental questions that hadn’t been asked.

Thus at our recent food events, which have included serving soup to the public in inner city Cardiff, sitting schoolchildren and pensioners down to lunch together in north Wales and getting students and staff at Aberystwyth to discuss responsible food sourcing and reducing food waste, we’ve been concentrating on listening to the participants, trying to find out what they really think and care about.

We have gathered plenty of material in the form of sound recordings, video clips, post-it notes, pictures and our own observations. What I hadn’t expected though is how much the task of gathering data would transform my own experience of food education. Accustomed as I am to addressing groups of schoolchildren, engaging visitors at our stands in public events, leading farm visits and so on, I am good at telling people stuff, but less good at listening. After all, if you stop talking, you will lose your audience, won’t you? And what they really want is information, isn’t it?

Once the voice recorder is placed in the middle of a group of children, it’s a sign both to them and to me that what they are going to say matters. I’m after the thoughtful quote, the couple of coherent sentences that will say it all, and for that the recipe seems to be an attentive silence. Given the right sort of listening, children will dig deep inside themselves and try to express what food is about for them: growing up big and strong, enjoying treats with their friends, making sure that banana growers earn a fair wage, caring for animals and wildlife.

Adults too have plenty to say. I’ve met a Sudanese woman talking about breaking the Ramadan fast with soup, a student explaining how she would like to make compost but didn’t know where to start, a retired school cook remembering the joys of catering for the masses in school and then rustling up meals for farmworkers at home, a food bank volunteer describing how she likes to get out of the house and be involved with the local community, a homeless man asking for fruit to take away.

And I’ve been surprised to find how rewarding it is. When we listen to people properly, we enter their worlds and we find out a lot about how they live and what matters to them. Food is a subject which touches many areas of life, so a food conversation can end up being about family, religion, sport, homelessness, holidays, health – just about anything.

How does this help us design transformational food education events? That is something that is still emerging from the project but it does seem that listening to people talk about what they care about makes for a better connection than telling what we want them to know.

Putting the Glue Back in to Society

Jane Powell reflects on the progress of the project to date…

Writing in the introduction to Feeding Britain, the all-party report on food poverty published in 2014, the Bishop of Truro made a plea for a discussion about values. As he put it, “We believe it is time to look again at the state of our country and to review the fundamental values that led to the creation of our welfare state.” He went on to describe how we have lost the glue that holds society together, that is, the informal networks of families, neighbours, community groups and so on that people can turn to in a crisis, and how we need to put it back.
soup event

Food poverty is often framed as the problem of certain unfortunate individuals, an attitude betrayed by suggestions that if only they knew how to cook from basics, they could afford to eat on a tiny budget. The Feeding Britain report suggests however that food poverty is inevitable in an economy where the minimum wage does not allow people to live with dignity and calls for radical moves to put the situation right.

At a recent conference on food poverty in Cardiff, the lesson that emerged for me is that our entire society suffers a disconnect from food, buying much of it in prepared form, processed with sugar and salt, and never having set foot on a farm or grown so much as mustard and cress. No wonder that obesity, heart disease, tooth decay and all the rest are affecting our quality of life, while our farmers are at the mercy of the commodity markets and public subsidy.

Our Food Values project, which has been running for six months now, has been looking at some of the underlying values that determine people’s attitudes to food. We’ve supported food events with local partners in Cardiff, Newtown, rural Gwynedd and Aberystwyth (twice) and talked to people about food. What does it mean to them? How important is local food? What’s their favourite recipe? Do they grow food themselves? How do they decide what to buy? And what is organic food all about?

As we expected, food is very close to people’s hearts, and everyone has a view on it or a story to tell. It connects us to each other and to the local area, it is associated with cooking and growing skills passed down through the generations, it is precious and should not be wasted, we want the people who produce it to be fairly rewarded. These conversations brought out, through food, some of the fundamental values that we live by: those of meeting our own basic needs for security and health, looking after ourselves, caring for others, creating pleasure, finding our own way in life, caring for nature, and creating a just and peaceful world.

Which brings us back to the Bishop’s plea that we look to our values, and begin a much larger and deeper conversation about how we live together. The organic movement has a vital contribution to make here. Based as it is on principles of health, ecology, fairness and care, it has always been aware of the social context of food, and promoted a vision of a healthy soil supporting a healthy human population. In this view of things, food is not so much a commodity as a human right.

Happily, although the values by which we live have clearly resulted in an unjust society where some people are going hungry, food is also an important part of the solution. At a soup event organized by a church in Cardiff in February, a young man living in a hostel and getting by on a mixture of low pay and benefits came in off the street and accepted a bowl of (organic) soup and bread, which he wolfed down before eyeing up the fruit and vegetable display nearby. It was a sobering reminder that there are people for whom a food event is just that. We talked about why we were doing it, and he said “Yes, food is like music, isn’t it? It brings people together.”

Our project has shown some of the power of food to connect people and to start a conversation about the food system and the society we want. We will be presenting the results at our closing conference on 3 June in Cardiff, where we explore how a shift in values might improve food security and sustainability for the people of Wales, and also how food itself might be the means of building a more just and sustainable food system in balance with nature.

Is small still beautiful?

Guest post from David Frost:

In a blog, “Reducing the price barrier for organic food”, I argued that the ‘two-price system’ which operates in some organic shops in Europe, offers the better off an opportunity to pay a little more for their food order to help the less well off. There are other ways in which the price barrier might be tackled of course and one of these would be to change the whole system of subsidies paid to farmers.

It’s now nearly fifty years since the Mansholt Plan proposed that agriculture in Europe should be modernized and that small farms should be forced out and the land amalgamated to make holdings of increased size – but it’s also forty years since the publication of E. F. Schumacher’s, Small is Beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered. Schumacher was a leading critic of Dr. Mansholt’s plan. He believed its effects would be rural depopulation, the breakdown of rural culture and the increased exploitation of irreplaceable natural assets. So in contrast to Mansholt’s policy to accelerate the drift out of agriculture, Schumacher called for policies to reconstruct rural culture and for more employment on the land. He also argued that economic policy was doing nothing to help the poor but in fact had “the result of making those already rich and powerful, richer and more powerful.”

Although hostile reaction to the Mansholt Plan meant that many of the proposals were whittled down, the drive to modernization was under way and the trend toward larger-scale agricultural units accelerated. Over the ensuing years we have seen a fall in the total number of farms across the EU but this overall trend masks the process of consolidation (aka mergers and acquisitions), which has seen the swallowing up of small-scale farms by large-scale farms. Between 2003 and 2010, for example, the total number of European agricultural holdings fell by 20% but the fall was only in the number of smaller holdings under 50 ha because the number of holdings over 50 ha increased – by 4%.

One of the drivers of these changes is the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). According to the European Commission, 20% of the 13.7 million full-time farmers in the EU receive 80% of CAP aid and this state of affairs is explained by the fact that 20% of farmers own 80% of farmland.

Under the CAP most of the money goes to farmers who are least likely to need it and because organic farmers tend to have smaller holdings, they receive a very small proportion of overall CAP payments.

One of the more vociferous critics of CAP farming support payments is George Monbiot and at this years’ Oxford Farming Conference he asked “what do we get for £3 billion of farm subsidies?” and in an age of austerity, “does this spending help the poorest in society?” Monbiot did what good reformers should do, and pointed out a dramatic contrast between the situation of the rich and that of the poor. He contrasted how large farmers’ benefit from CAP subsidies while the poorest in society are suffering from welfare cuts. He argued that there is a dual standard in the current situation – deregulation for rich landowners receiving farming subsidies but increasing re-regulation of the poorest claiming welfare support. His talk also underlined the dis-benefits of the current farming subsidy arrangements – most of the payments go to farmers who don’t need them, the rate of farm consolidation is 2% per year- faster than any time since the enclosures, and land prices have becomes so high it prevents new entrants to the industry.

George Monbiot called for a change to the CAP so that it becomes a smaller overall scheme aimed at those who need it most and at areas of the countryside that need protecting – but a more radical social justice argument would propose that the scheme should be targeted at organic farmers, not to support the environmental benefits of organic farming (those would be delivered anyway) but to increase the supply of organic food to the market at prices within the reach of all consumers, even those with the lowest incomes.

Other groups are also calling for changes to the CAP. The Landworkers Alliance, for example has proposed a cap on Pillar 1 payments at €150,000 with the money saved being directed to support new entrants and stronger greening measures. They argue, “Subsidies should be directed towards those farmers who are delivering social and environmental goods as well as producing food, to bring prices for ‘eco-products’ in line with conventional food prices.”

The arguments about social justice need to be directed towards more calls for CAP support to be targeted at organic farmers for the ultimate benefit of low-income consumers. Helen Browning, CEO of the Soil Association says that, “better news about organic support payments from 2016 should boost the confidence of farmers”. This and the call to remove the 5 ha threshold for subsidy payments – which means that small-scale farmers and growers get no subsidy support at all – are welcome moves for producers but are not addressing the price barrier issue for consumers. A real reduction in the price barrier for organic food requires much greater support for organic farmers and growers and a massive and long overdue redirection of subsidies. Forty years on from the publication of Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, it’s time we reversed the process of making those already rich and powerful, richer and more powerful and it’s time we used subsidies to ensure organic food is affordable for everyone

Student Food Initiatives

After a very successful ‘Student Food’ event in Aberystwyth last Friday I thought it would be useful to share some links to other student activities going on elsewhere.. this is a link to something one of our partners in Bangor brought to our attention:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-31737280  which looks like an excellent way to tackle the cultural and aesthetic factors creating food waste.

We will be sharing more on the Aber’ event shortly, but please let us know of any other exciting student ventures out there…!

‘This is Rubbish’ share their experiences…

Guest post from Poppy and Mickey at TiR:

Following the inspiring introduction to Jane and Sophie’s research into Food Values we were naturally excited to attend and present our recent work on a new project called Edible Education for the anti food waste campaign This is Rubbish (TIR). We considered the format of a rap battle : Creativity VS Success Criteria as different way to present our findings, but we recognised our poetic limitations. We did, however, use the opportunity to reflect on where certain approaches met well and where they were at odds with each other. Overall, the project aimed to teach young people ‘what causes waste’ and ‘what waste causes’ but without the usual limitations of the classroom. We strove to focus on the value of food in terms of resource use, distribution, enjoyment and to strengthen learners’ own positive values relating to this.

Over one term Edible Education delivered 3 ‘Scratch Feasts’ as a warm up act to provide feedback for the half day theatrical learning journey we had devised. We visited The Oxford Pumpkin festival, Oasis Play Venture and The Arcola Theatre then went on to deliver this production to 5 classes from Year 3 and 6. It consisted of a carousel of 3 activity stations highlighting how waste occurs in the supply chain and what, exactly, that was. These were curated by our Theatrical Development Officers.

Concurrently we delivered a 6 week after-school club with children from Years 3 and 4 and a comparable program condensed into 2 days for a secondary school group of about 15 students. These culminated in shows designed by the students during which they could share what they had learnt and their attitudes towards waste. The students from Lammas Secondary School achieved 3rd prize in a UN competition for their slam poetry show Eat My Words!

At the start of our project we workshopped our core values using Common Cause material. There were many mutual values and ambitions but it was interesting to discover how differently they might be prioritised and presented. One principle was clear, any project of this kind needs to be inclusive.

The seminar made us consider how inclusive Edible Education currently is through questioning how it could be rolled out in Wales. Presently we do not have Welsh speakers in the group but this did make us consider to what extent we are succeeding to reach children with English as an additional language, which is common in London where we are based. Since the seminar, unprompted by us a teacher emailed some really heartening feedback, ‘For me as a spoken word educator in a school where 70% of students have English as an Additional Language, it allowed me to introduce global issues that have an impact locally with the aid of experts. The role of This Is Rubbish was instrumental in engaging the students in this complex issue.’ (Ms Brogan)

As a group working with values we had to be cautious of acting in a way that sets out to ‘change values’. No one felt comfortable with telling young people what to think or what to do, yet ultimately the programme aims to encourage behaviour change. An important point was raised at the seminar; no education is values neutral but that authenticity in how we deliver information is essential for positive outcomes.

All our workshops are designed to engage children through a variety of visual and kinaesthetic activities. Importantly, they all have the opportunity to eat food made from surplus. The underlying message is that there isnothing wrong with any of thisfood and it should not be thrown away. It was a values based choice not to focus on money as a motivator to reduce waste but let children think about what better solutions there are to throwing food away.

The overwhelming reaction to the scale of waste was that it was a bad thing that some people had too little while so much rotted in landfills. This is Rubbish are committed to presenting ‘waste’ food as good enough for everyone to eat and are opposed to the idea that redistribution through charities is the correct and only response to the problem. It is certainly one solution, but there is a danger of food surplus being presented as second hand food for second class people. How far the children we worked with were able to grasp this is unclear. Many suggested that it could be given to “poor” people but this is where the evaluation let us down. How does one ask the right questions in surveys or present the opportunity to explain what lies beneath those kind of statements? We are keen to encourage values relating to equity. However, some of the children were as young as 7. Can they be expected to understand more than this? Does it matter? Isn’t it good enough that they are beginning to to make connections between the negative impacts of food waste at all?

We had underwhelming results from tick box surveys we used. There seemed a pretty unanimous agreement at the seminar that in values led work that kind of assessment was quite meaningless. Our final activity, letting children write or draw what they thought was important, was not initially intended as an assessment but yielded much more interesting material. However we are still struggling with the wording of the question. The more imaginative the question, the more inspiring the answer. The more imaginative the question, the further we drifted from having any evidence that children were meeting our differentiated learning outcomes;

  • All children should know the food supply chain.
  • Most children should know where and why food is wasted.
  • Some children can say what should be done about it.

TiR evaluations

This presents a good case for us abandoning our rigid learning outcomes or success criteria but in so doing we lose a valuable tool by which we can evaluate our areas for improvement, the degree to which we are achieving inclusivity and tangible results for teachers and funders.

We are now in a position where we must decide if all our data necessarily must be comparable for analysis or whether we encourage expression at the expense of standardisation of assessment material. The next phase of this project will see us examining our objectives in order to answer some of these questions, but it remains safe tosay, the children have all enjoyed the work we are doing and seem keen to act to fight food waste, however they perceive this.TiR performance

The Values of Participatory Action Research

At the start of this project we acknowledged that values were not only central to the food education we wanted to deliver, but also to the way we ran this action research project. In their position paper on Food and Values, our project partner the Public Interest Research Centre remind us that we need to look inside as well as out when we are delivering values based education. So, we need to consider the values we promote within and through our project by, for example, considering how decisions are made and how the people we work with are supported and engaged. ‘Being the change you want to see’ may seem a clichéd aspiration, but it has been a central guiding principle to the way we have worked together on Food Values. In this blog post I will reflect on what this has meant for us.

The Food Values project involves a lot of partners in the delivery of the education events. We have also called on a range of individuals and organisations to inform our approach, asking them to share their experiences and learning from similar projects. Finally, at its core the project has involved collaboration between the Organic Centre Wales (OCW), the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) and me – Sophie Wynne-Jones – at Aberystwyth University. All of us have different motivations and agendas which we bring to the melting pot of this work, despite being unified around a central aspiration to explore values-based education. Keeping a hold on the values that our project embodies in its day-to-day working can, therefore, be challenging. But, it has also been a great pleasure and inspiration to work with so many different people and organisations, and more fundamentally we simply couldn’t do what we are trying to do without them all.

The food education events we are involved in have been initiated by different community actors in a range of contexts across Wales. We are working with existing networks and instigators who are embedded in their locales. Our approach is to explore how a values-led approach can support them in their work. We are not aiming to duplicate a formula of how to run successful food education events, it depends on where you are, who you are with, what issues they face and their current stance. We do want to share learning and reflect on good practice, but we have no one-size to fit all. The ideas for different events have, therefore, come from the communities we are working in. We have facilitated and supported this approach more or less- depending on what was needed, but the community actors own the event. They have also decided what sort of data they would like to collect and the outputs that will be useful to them. We can help collect, process and analyse data, and we will produce an overarching report comparing learning across the events.

 Are we getting it right then?

Whilst I am not imagining that there are no tensions or concerns permeating in the project, or indeed moments of miscommunication and mismatched expectation, I have been really heartened by how positive the overall experience has been to date. Some contributing factors at work here may be that we have very applied aims in our project, the proposed written outputs and individual events have a clearly practical focus which appeals and has clear relevance to partners. This is not to suggest that theorising is irrelevant to people outside of the university. As our research seminars have demonstrated, a wide range of individuals have been keen to take the time to reflect on their applied education and communications work, to take stock of what they are doing and why it is effective or isn’t; and most of all why it mattered to them in the first instance. This is the powerful thing about values framing – we get to reconnect with the deeper implications and drivers behind campaigns and programmes, which can often be forgotten in their day-to-day delivery. Thinking about values clearly strikes a chord – it is not always the case that academic discourse excites or entices people…

Another critical factor is the flexibility of our funding which has enabled us to support partners with their own established projects rather reinventing the wheel or overly imposing and dictating. Our funding is through the Welsh Government Rural Development funds for Supply Chain Efficiencies, and part of the broader ‘Better Organic Business Links’ project. It does, therefore, differ from a research council funded project and places clearer focus on the applied working. Nonetheless, it is refreshing that research funding councils are increasingly attuned to the benefits of applied working and on-going knowledge exchange, so this type of work is becoming more normalised. I would be interested to hear how our experiences compare with those working with more ‘conventional’ research funding, and perhaps this gives participatory researchers a push to be more innovative and experimental in the funding they seek?

Finally, to return explicitly to the concern with our personal values and interactions, social dynamics are a key concern – ensuring that everyone is listened to and respected in meetings and other exchanges, for example. We have also tried to ensure that the project management has reflected a fair balance of work that each individual can realistically manage amidst the competing demands of their wider professional and personal roles. This has meant taking project planning seriously so we can deliver what we are setting out to do, ensuring that the days allocated actually match the funding we can offer, and not creating bottlenecks of work where people are pressured to go above and beyond the contracted arrangements. Working on an issue that people care deeply about means that the project can become a labour of love. Some of the event planning and delivery has involved voluntary work from some partners, but we want to ensure that we can make this as fair and personally sustainable for them as possible. So, for instance, if we can allocate funds for data collection and analysis to community partners, rather than bringing in external university personnel, this is what we have done. I am sure we haven’t got everything right, but these are some steps we are taking and we are very much open to suggestions and reflections from others.

Overall then, our experience shows that there is clear value to participatory working as it has opened so many doors. But equally, we have been reminded that that it is important to be aware of the values involved in this type of work to ensure that it can be meaningful and rewarding for everyone.