Recently in Food Category

Terraced housing & cars The new economics foundation (nef) tells us that, as of today, the UK has used the levels of resources it should consume during an entire year, if it were environmentally self-sufficient. In 1961, nef calculates, the UK's annual eco-debt began on 9 July; by 1981 it was 14 May, but in 2009 it falls on 12 April, Easter Sunday. But how can we help people in their daily lives to address and cope with these frightening calculations constructively, rather than such information just causing further alarm? Science and 'facts' alone won't get us where we all need to be.

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

I'm not sure that those of us already concerned with sustainability approach these matters in the best way to engage others yet to be converted - nef* says Easter Sunday (eco-debt day 2009) is 'a day which for many has become synonymous with over-indulgence'. That's a pretty unempathetic perspective on one of the UK's few annual family holidays.

Sometimes perhaps the force of our convictions and fears about sustainability can make us sound a bit crass.

Offering hope, not inferring guilt
Inducing guilt and/or alarm is not often the most effective mode by which to gain mass support, in an open democracy, for complex and uncomfortable change. Personally, I'd rather see Easter as an occasion with a message, whether sacred or secular, of new beginnings and hope - an opportunity for positive reflection on the future.

Eco-protagonists and scientists are vitally important to our understanding of what's happening to the environment. But they're not always good at helping people in the wider community to face up to the enormous environmentally-related challenges which, we must urgently acknowledge, are already upon us.

Research findings and predictions based on rational calculation do not always translate as clearly as the scientists imagine into policy acceptable to the wider citizenry. To the person in the street it can all seem just too difficult and scary, well beyond the scope of 'ordinary folk'.

Engaging people for positive change
Nonetheless, the UK's increasing eco-debt is desperately alarming, and something we need to get everyone to think about, right now.

The question is, how?


[* Andrew Simms (2009) Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, cited in Transition Network News, March 2009. Andrew Simms is nef Policy Director and Head of the Climate Change Programme.]

Read more articles on Sustainability As If People Mattered.

derelict site What’s the reality of low carbon communities? You can have your say about the future of zero carbon development for two weeks from today. The Homes and Communities Agency Academy is hosting an open, on-line debate about creating low carbon communities, addressing issues like the carbon implications of the credit crunch and lessons from the international experience. Contributors include podcasts from high profile speakers such as David Lock and Paul King So now have your say....

Sustainability As If People Mattered
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Academy, for which I am a tutor, has existed only since 1 December 2008, when it arose from the previous Academy for Sustainable Communities; but already it is reaching out to engage people in debate about critically important issues.

The first of these open-access debates begins today, Friday 23 January 2009 (until 6 February), on the new HCAA Debate Place portal.

The question under discussion is how we can rise to the low carbon challenge?

The weblink to this national debate can be found here.

Creating low carbon communities
The HCA Academy will be asking:

What is the reality of creating low carbon communities and what can we learn from International experience?

The debate will be facilitated and you can post comments, ask questions and watch video clips on climate, connectivity and community issues.

The on-line discussion will probe issues such as:

- Will the Code for Sustainable Homes be affected by the credit crunch?
and
- How do we reduce the carbon footprint of new homes in the UK?

Low carbon case studies
The debate will be supported by a series of on-line films from high-profile speakers, including David Lock from David Lock Associates and Paul King, CEO of UK Green Building Council.

Research published by the HCA Academy which examines lessons learned from international case studies will provide further insight into the latest issues and skills implications of low carbon developments.

Continuing the debate
Following the debate, a short summary report will be published on-line.

'Debate Place' will also host links to resources such as the website Demystifying Climate Change, a resource designed to help practitioners navigate the low carbon debate and work out relevance for their own work.

We hope you can contribute to this high profile and important debate, and that you will encourage others to do the same. To join the debate please click here.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered and about Carbon Neutral Villages.

fish market Recent advice is that, to 'save' the planet, we in the developed nations should eat meat at most four times a week; but we should also recognise the current fundamental economic centrality of meat in many parts of the developing world. Discussion of these recommendations has produced some very interesting ideas about what might constitute almost zero carbon food and even zero carbon meat. Hill grazing sheep, jellied eels and lobster aquaculture are amongst the food items and techniques coming to mind.

A recent Food Climate Research Network report says that we should reduce our meat consumption to four portions a week, to avoid 'runaway climate change'.

By a coincidence, this topic came up when I was at a Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Farming) Consumer Consultation in London last week, with other consumer people and Defra senior policy makers and stakeholders . Food and food security were debated in some depth, and amongst the topics we considered were future trends in the production and consumption of food.


Food security and self-sufficiency
How secure and / or self-sufficient is the UK, or indeed Europe, in the way this very basic commodity is used?

Actually, it transpires that the UK is about 60% self-self-sufficient in food (even though we are a small island with a lot of people, 70% of the UK's land is still in agricultural use), and Europe as a whole almost completely food-secure, if it chooses so to be. It's not just the self-sufficiency in food as such which counts, but also food supply security overall.

And this is where the discussion of the move towards vegetable-based food came in; generally, it uses much less carbon in the process of take-to-table. Nonetheless, this carbon equation cannot always be judged simply on the basis of e.g. 'food miles' alone.

Mostly-meat based local economies
As is frequently acknowledged, there are many places where moving to a vegetable-based food economy any time soon is not an option. Some of these economies are in Europe, and quite often they are very local, but meat is also basic for many much more challenged food economies in the developing world.

As examples, we might consider sheep grazing on rocky hillsides (to quote: "Forages constitute 75 to 90 percent of the total diet for sheep. Sheep are excellent converters of forage to meat and fiber") or perhaps eels in estuaries ("Jellied Eels were once a staple food of the poor in the East End of London").

Other functions of food animals
Not much else edible is likely to grow in these environments, and sometimes (aka the sheep) the animals also perform other functions, such as wool production, or keeping the balance of plant life in check.... which both in turn help rural tourism and other rural trading and local economic functions.

This is of course critical in some parts of the world where local economies (and local ecologies?) are particularly fragile.

The management of naturally occurring meat sources
Another example, which involves deliberate human agency, is an aspect of the newly-termed aquaculture. Work at the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, Cornwall has I gather shown that if baby lobsters are nurtured in a protected environment (i.e. with fewer predators) until they are a few centimeters long, they can have a survival rate about one thousand times greater than if their initial growth is totally 'in the wild'.

Just think what a thousand-fold increase in good food could do for some communities in the developing countries... (and what more immediately it can do for fishing-based economies closer to home).

Transitioning to low meat economies
These few observations are clearly only the tip of a very big 'carbon iceberg'.

There's strong evidence that in general cutting back on meat (in the developed world anyway) is a move in the right direction for sustainable living and sustainable food supplies.

And there's also the very real issue of how to make the global step-by-step transition - probably over decades and even longer - from meat economies, to those which are likely to be more realistically long-term food sustainable. Even in New Zealand you can't just stop growing beef at a stroke....

[Later note: A colleague, responding to this agenda, has suggested that part of 'food transitioning' should be to link sustainable energy technologies with sustainable foods, e.g., marine wind turbines should also have a facility to grow edible mussels.... the scope is no doubt becomes endless when we start to think about it.]

Food for thought
It's not up to me to decide who eats what, and for which reasons; and 'even' vegetarians can't assume that all they nibble is virtuously eco-good. And there's nothing virtuous in those of us who are more blessed criticising a way of life elsewhere which requires meat-eating, if meat is the basis of an already desperately poor livelihood.

But if I were a meat eater - and especially if I were a younger meat-eater - I'd be thinking quite hard about all this.


Read more about Food and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Ratatouille Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive - it 'saves' energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it's good for us. So how can we make vegetarianism more often the diet of choice?

Nobody expects an immediate cessation of meat production, let alone a stop right this minute to diary farming. Many people, admittedly not all, will be happy for now to see the continued consumption of vegetarian diets could just be 'meat-free', with all the benefits that would bring.

But one of the things National Vegetarian Week can do is introduce us to the wide and tasty range of foods which a vegetarian diet includes and the reasons for choosing it. And it can help raise awareness of how to prepare and cook vegetarian ingredients.

Long-term business
And, most importantly, perhaps National Vegetarian Week can help along the debate about how in reality the transition to a more sustainable food economy might happen. There have to be ways to protect the livelihoods, for instance, of people who currently produce meat, but who in the future will need to farm differently. Food production is self-evidently critical for us all. It's the nature of the product, not the supply, which must change.

At last we're beginning to act (albeit far too slowly) to the idea that carbon needs to be conserved in our industial, domestic and transport arrangements, as does water.

Canny investors have already realised that now is also the time to get a grasp on how to make meat-free food an integral part of the move towards what we all hope will be a sustainable future.


Read more about Food (a series of postings on this theme)
Food, Facts And Factoids
Beans Or Beef? The New Eco-Moral Choices
Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?.

08.04.02 place laid for dinner 140x78 010a.jpg Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water.... Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

Modern society has moved from food as nutrition and survival to food as an element of our leisure experience. Until recently it's been seen by many as an issue to be left to dieters or even ‘health freaks’.

But now people are beginning to ask what food's about. The immediate answer to this question could be, it’s all very confusing. There are 'facts' and there are, it seems, 'food factoids'; and there are some consequences for action, when we think things through....

Here are some general headings and questions about food which may help:


Nutrition (Should we eat it?)
Strange as it may seem, for most adults there is still more concern about calorific value and ‘losing weight’ than there is about the nutritional value of what we eat. Almost everyone wants to be slim; yet despite concerns in many parts of the world about obesity and health relatively few people actually eat their fruit and veg ‘Five A Day'.

We as consumers still don’t fully appreciate nutritional information or understand the significance for our health and well-being of salt and other minerals and vitamins, various sorts of fats, fibre, ‘additives’, sugar, glycaemic index, units of alcohol and so on; and in some respects nor, completely, do the experts.

The healthy eating message is beginning to sink in, but questions around nutritional labelling and how to project the public health message continue to loom large.


Children eat too (Is food for kids especially important?)
Even (especially) for children, the health impact of being overweight, along with issues around longer-term well-being and educational outcomes, are now major concerns, as Jamie Oliver and his School Dinners campaign keep reminding us.

It is not altogether clear however that poor children necessarily have ‘worse’ diets than better off ones – possibly because even wealthier children eat ‘the wrong things’, albeit from choice (kids of all sorts it seems won’t eat their greens). But perhaps some groups consume ‘nicer’ food than others, even though the direct nutritional value - or not - of food consumed by children may (sometimes) vary independently of income.

So what more if anything needs to be done about family eating patterns, or advertising food to children, on the television and elsewhere? How much value should we put on meals together as a way to promote family well-being and cohesion?

And how important, as a good start, is breast-feeding? Should we as a society do more to encourage it?

Or should we emphasise exercise more than nutrition, to protect children's physical and mental health?


Organic? GM? Nano? Sell-by date? (Is it wholesome?)
Confusion reigns when we look at the science behind modern food production.

Is organicWho says so, and why is it so pricey?) What about free-range? What's a superfood? And do superfoods really exist?

Has the product we're about to eat, or an antecedent of it, been genetically modified? Is that good or bad? – and for whom? consumers, farmers or other people in the developing world? Also, how has it changed the food?

What of new techniques? Are any food nanotechnologies involved? Whatever would they be for? Are they good or dangerous?

Who decides ‘sell-by’ dates? And by what criteria?

Can we trust the Food Standards Agency, the government and European legislation and everybody else involved in food regulation and statutory labelling? What about the consumer organisations and the supermarkets? Who knows best?


Presenting, preserving and not wasting our food (Is tinned OK and who needs packaging?)
How can we tell whether tinned food is as good as frozen or fresh? How much packaging is required for hygiene and how much is, for instance, simply there to make food look good?

What's the relative energy and resource cost of different ways of preserving food?

And, crucially, how can we ensure that food we buy is not wasted? At present one third of food purchased - in restaurants, shops or wherever - in the UK alone is simply thrown away: hence the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Perhaps even with today's relatively higher prices we are more careful about food if we're locavors, when we know locally who grew or prepared it, and where, than when we don't?


Food miles (Does it cost the earth?)
Food travels the world in strange ways. We (in the UK) get tomatoes and lamb from the other side of the globe, yet we also grow them ourselves.

How to tell people usefully about the food mile cost of what they eat may be a moot point. It’s not just how many miles, or even carbon footprint: it takes some eight units of grain to produce one unit of beef; but some people still reckon that good value - including, no doubt, growing numbers of consumers in China and India, who have a preference for an affluent Western diet.

So sometimes the real cost or value can only be calculated by comparing what would happen if foods of equivalent nutritional or other sort of value were produced in a different way. And how would you put that on a label?


Biofuels (Is growing 'food for cars' acceptable?)
We all know that we're using too much oil, charging around in cars and planes when often we don't need to.

Biofuels seemed for a while to be the perfect way out of this - grow crops to substitute for more usual oils. But now, as the UK's Chief Scientist has said, we know there are costs too; some biofuels are neither sustainable, nor ethical.

And on top of this we must acknowledge that biofuels, like food for people, takes up valuable land space. The question is, what's the 'right' balance - if there is such a thing?


Water used (Will it increase global tensions?)
There is an emerging awareness that food is mainly water, and that water is the also the most precious (and sometimes wasted) commodity in its production.

If the beef-to-grain carbon ratio is high, the equivalent water ratio is many times more so. (Let us pass on the comlex issues around food for domestic animals and pets - there is an important balance to acknowledge here between these animals' functions as sources of security and comfort for people, and their costs to the environment - but who has looked at this balance?)

There are those who believe that water, not oil, will trigger the next global disputes; but as yet few of us have thought how to approach the global issues of water scarcity and food.


Food prices (Can we afford it?)
The cost of food against income has fallen for most of us in the first world over recent years. Now it’s beginning to increase again to more traditional levels – though it will probably stabilise - as global issues such as draught, climate change and biofuels impact on the market.

Food habits have changed from agrarian times, but often seem nonetheless to lag behind the reality of what's available, and may say more about cultural expectations or how a person ate when they were young, than about what's now regarded as 'best' for them (or, indeed, with modern advertising the converse may also be true on occasion).

Perhaps people need to know about less expensive and more nutritious alternative foods, if the ones they’re used to become more expensive, or may now be known to be less 'healthy'? But who can best tell them?


Commercial advantage and competition (Do supermarkets cause ‘food deserts?)
Allied to this is now a fear that supermarkets placed in disadvantaged or poor areas will result in so-called food deserts, where poor people can no longer afford to buy even the basics of a decent diet.

But some observers say that food deserts are really different types of access, or actually an urban myth or 'factoid'. Evidence for these food deserts is to date far inconclusive – indeed, some research indicates that when supermarkets come to poorer areas, both the economy and local people’s diets may improve.

So how can we indicate economic ‘value’ and nutritional benefit in the contexts of where people live, what they expect to eat and how they get access to their food?


Customs, symbols and traditions (What sort of foods for whom?)
Shared food has always been a way of bonding - we cut cakes and 'raise a glass', offer potlatch, drink tea and conduct many other ceremonies across the world to denote belief, position or togetherness.

Then there's the fascinating question of why different people in different places and at different times eat different sorts of food. Sometimes it's easy to explain - 'luxury' and difficult to obtain foods are reserved in almost all cultures and communities for conspicuous consumption on special occasions, for instance - but often there are other styles and patterns to eating too.

And what do we know about 'healthy' diets across the world? Why do people in some places live longer and fitter lives than others? What traditions and customs help us keep our communities intact? And is any of what we might learn about customs and habits of food consumption transposable from one community or culture to another?


Seasonal, allotments and home grown (Should we grow it ourselves?)
Locally produced foodin season' is the new mantra, but it can’t be the whole story. There are many localities which can’t provide the full spectrum of nutritional need. Varied diets often require varied sources.

Nonetheless, an appreciation of the cycles of nature helps us to understand how our food is produced and what makes it special. ‘Seasonal’ recipes draw attention to the possibility of ingredients with a low carbon footprint, just as allotments, smallholdings and local market gardens offer the possibility of learning about how what we eat grows.

Producing and sourcing food locally may not resolve all our problems, but they certainly have their place in the spectrum of things we as consumers can enjoy and need to know. How about allotments for everyone who wants one (there are long waiting lists in some places), and special efforts to grow – and eat - vegetables and fruit in schools and other community locations?


The food economy (How does all this fit into UK plc?)
There are many things to think about here; just ask the politicians, farmers and market gardeners. And that's before we get to talk about European subsidies and farming compensation packages...

That however is not the whole story. Slowly, we are grasping the interconnections between the economic impacts and needs of farmers and growers, and how official policies affect the welfare of the wider rural and urban economies. Never again, hopefully, will problems like foot and mouth be addressed without understanding the fragile complexities of the rural economy as such; and hopefully too in future the wider public will perceive the business and scientific complexities of matters such as animal vaccination.

But let’s understand that not all food needs to be produced in rural areas. There’s plenty of scope also for townspeople to develop opportunities and skills via commercial companies and social enterprises around food, as is evident from the popularity of city-based organic foodstores, local vegetable deliveries and farmers’ markets... not to mention the universal interest in restaurants and cafes in modern day society!


Food, farms and famine (What about the developing world?)
If opportunities for stabilising the food economy remain to be developed efficiently, effectively and well in Western economies, how much more so is this true for those parts of the globe where even the grain supply is critically under-resourced, and where water and food are in desperately short supply. These were the sorts of concerns of the Downing Street Food Summit in early 2008.

Many people would like reassurance that the food they purchase is ethically sourced and gives a fair return to the farmers who produced it. And we need to understand much more about the food supply chain, as Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy has been saying for years.

Movements such as Fairtrade are gaining wider recognition – plus a greater share of commercial shelf-space - and are critical to our understanding of food as a global issue.


Sustainability and ‘food security’ (Will there be enough food for everyone?)
There are those who fear we are sleepwalking into a global food disaster. We need to find ways of adjusting our eating habits (and other consumption) without delay.

Currently it’s said that humankind acts a though we had three planets-worth of resources at our disposal, not just one. And that's before we start to look at how population is increasing (in the UK as well as almost everywhere else).

It is also suggested that, in contrast to the current situation, the UK (and doubtless numbers of other nations) could with ease be self-sufficient for food if everyone were vegetarian - even though our lifestyle in the Western world is many times as water and carbon intensive as that of people in developing countries. Veganism, of course, is even more effective as a way of feeding everyone. Becoming 'selfsufficient-ish' (and largely vegetarian-ish?) can be achieved in most, except perhaps the most extreme, locations.

These last few observations offer a rather pointed context for all the other matters discussed above.


Read more about Food
and about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

What questions and views do you have about food?

The New Harvest Festival

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Seasonal vegetables harvest festival pumpkins 2520 (88x103).jpg This is the time of year when churches urban and rural across the nation urge us to attend their services for Harvest Festival. For many of us however this annual celebration is now marked more secularly, observed at one remove, via our newspapers, rather than physically in our communities. Media celebration of seasonal food is the order of the day.

The Guardian, like other similar publications, is hot on seasonal food. A story in that newspaper today gives a flavour of that theme: 'Green' shopping possible on a budget, watchdog says.

What then follows is that irresistible combination of knocking the supermarkets (fair enough if they're not up to scratch), going rustic with references to in-season fruit and veg. (why not, it really is good for you), and angst about affordability and carbon footprint (fair enough again).

Contemporary perspectives
So here is the contemporary version of We plough the fields and scatter...

Way back over the centuries people have known about crop rotation and storage and the seasons, and have celebrated all this with Harvest Festivals of one sort or another. Now we know about food miles, sustainability and ethical buying.

Appreciating our sustenance
This is the better informed (or at least more techno) version of the wisdom of the ages, translated for those of us who hope for the future but have no bedrock of faith on which to base an annual thanksgiving.

Perhaps it doesn't matter how we demarcate the changing seasons and the beneficence they offer. What does matter is that at least we notice.

Pinhao smallholding & boat 2007 (small) 115x117.jpg This week is U.K. National Allotments Week, promoting 'the awareness and availability of allotments both locally and nationally, to show ... the strength of support and interest for the heritage of allotment culture.' This excellent initiative is quite new, but allotments themselves have stood the test of time. Here is an example from rural Portugal, on a tributary of the Duoro River, of a smallholding which has probably been in place for centuries.

Pinhao smallholding, Duoro River, Portugal August 2007 (480x439).jpg
























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Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Flowers In Pots For All

Liverpool Botanic Garden, Edge Lane

Visiting Valencia

Love Parks Week!

Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?

Read more about National Allotments Week here: National Allotment Gardens Trust

Beans, lentils, falafel pulses (small) 80x112.jpg Vegetarians have long maintained that 'beans are best'. Morally and practically, they say, vegetarian diets win over carnivorous varieties. Now there's another string to the non-meat-eaters' bow: veggie, especially vegan, is eco. So will people choose carrots, not carne, to reverse climate change?

All of a sudden, it's eco to eat veg. Revisiting the 'emissions issue', (preferably seasonal, locally-produced) vegetable-based food is now officially deemed less stressful to our environment than animal-based nutriment. And even before this, it has often been said that grain directly consumed is many times more efficient as food, than is beef produced via the consumption of grain by cattle. In other words, if we want to help reduce world hunger, one way to do this is to eat less meat.

But the snag in this simple idea - beans not beef - is, so we're told, that people won't wear it.

Commercial or customer opposition?
OK, so there are lots of commercial interests in keeping things as they are; progress here will probably be slow, as the likely necessity for change gradually dawns. But this necessity for change, assuming it arises, will come from consumers ('customers' as they used to be called).

So should we all be moving towards a vegetarian - possibly even a vegan - diet, to assuage a very big environmental and humanitarian problem? I'd be very interested to know, especially as I'm on this trajectory myself...

Some quarter century ago my family and I became lacto-vegetarians, for all sorts of reasons. Now we're beginning to think our inclination towards a more vegan way of life is timely.

But what do you eat?
That's a very easy question to answer: It's everything except food associated with ex-living things which had a face. And, if I may say so, our wider family and friends would largely agree we are evidence that vegetarianism is not a difficult choice; when our guests go home, their dinner is rarely still on the plate. Vegetables have proven edible, in a wonderful variety of presentations. Indeed, internationalism is the flavour of the day, once the vegetables have their way.

So, is it true that, however compelling the rationale, people 'won't stand' for becoming vegetarian? The floor (or table) is yours...


Evidence Strategy (small) 75x59.jpg Avian influenza ('bird flu') has again made us aware of the scientific research which underpins government policy. Some have great faith in this science, others have none. Our growing understandings of how scientific research and public policy inter-relate can however help inform both science itself, and how political / policy decisions might be taken in real life.

Avian influenza has provoked quite a debate in The Guardian about how science and politics inter-relate.

Recent contributors to this debate include Erik Millstone and Simon Jenkins, who are right to raise the issue of scientific advice to the Government in respect of avian influenza – just as Ministers are right to take this advice seriously.

But in reality there is no such thing as ‘pure’ scientific research. All research, whether ‘natural’ or ‘social’, is predicated on often taken-for-granted understandings of context.

However inadvertently, therefore, the gap between scientific advice and policy / politic, whether in the case of avian influenza or any other issue, is wide not as Prof Millstone and Mr Jenkins might in different ways seem to suggest.

The questions underpin the research
Scientific advice arises from scientific research questions, and scientific research tends to be structured largely around ‘received’ understandings of the issues involved - including, inevitably, contexts of those issues.

In other words, natural scientists, as non-experts in matters socio-economic, will tend, if unchallenged, towards uncritical acceptance of the status quo or predominant contextual view of the situation in the same way as any other ‘person in the street’.

It is not surprising therefore that science, in selecting which techno-scientific issues to address, has in the past often focused on the interests of the most collectively powerful and visible operators.

Socio-economic impact and policy
This is now changing as questions about socio-economic impact are, rightly, articulated more loudly.

It is encouraging that Government politicians and policy-makers are beginning to recognise the critical importance of framing scientific research, from its inception, around contextual as well as ‘purely’ scientific questions.

Articulating these wider understandings better from the inception of any piece of research is the way to ensure that scientific advice can best inform political decision-making. And doing this certainly does not diminish the robustness of scientific endeavour; rather the converse.

Scientific and poltical responsibility shared
The selection of ways forward in policy is ultimately a political responsibility; but making sure that ‘scientific’ questions acknowledge the whole spectrum of contextual interests is a responsibility which, thankfully, scientists advising decision-makers are themselves increasingly aware that they must share.

A version of this posting was published on The Guardian letters page of 17 February 2007.


Further commentary follows the e-bookshop.

Hope Street Farmers' Market 06.11.19 (small).jpgThe regular calendar of Farmers' Markets in Hope Street has at last begun. From now on the third Sunday every month is scheduled as Market Day for Hope Street Quarter. Farmers' Markets are something different to look forward to: a great day out for adults and children alike, with fun opportunities to learn where our food comes from and who grows it.

H.St. Farmers Market 2.jpgAfter a false start in October, yesterday was the long-awaited commencement of the regular calendar [see schedule at the end of this article] of Hope Street Farmers' Markets. At last, with luck, we have lift-off, and not a moment too soon.

And we were incredibly lucky with the weather, brilliant sunshine for the duration, not even really cold. The atmosphere of the event was cheerful and relaxed, just the right ambiance for a happy family Sunday outing - though I have to say I was surprised just how few children were actually around....

It's really good to see the grown-ups enjoying themselves in such a time-honoured and positive way, but are we missing a bit of a trick here if we don't bring the kids? Perhaps someone will begin now to think how this could be an occasion for them as well. It's not often the opportunity arises naturally in the city centre for youngsters to meet people who have themselves grown the food and prepared the produce displayed before us.

Varied and fresh
H.St.Farmers Market 7 (veg).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 8 (cheese).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 10 (romanesca cauliflower).jpgHaving said that, here was produce for everyone. Vegetable and fruit - including a variety of cauliflower (romanesca, a brassica with stunning tiny, spiral green florets) that I'd never seen before - plus cheeses, food of all sorts to eat right now, and much else, including candles and preserves for the coming festive season. Judging from the public response, everyone loves this sort of browsing and shopping.

One of the many attractions of farmers' markets is that much of this produce had been grown or made by the actual people who were selling it - not a connection which is often so direct these days, when much of what we buy comes shrink-wrapped and complete with a fair number of attached food miles.

H.St.Farmers Market 4 (.Xmas).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 5 (preserves).jpgThis was an opportunity for locally-based people to purvey their wares; hand-made goods and food which may well still have been in the field a few hours before.

Trading busily
H.St.Farmers Market 6 (Farmers).jpgThe people running the stalls were pleased to be there, trade was brisk. I suspect that over time the current size of the market will grow considerably, if the regulations allow - already it stretches all the way along the Hope Street wall of Blackburne House.

We know of course that, locals though some of the growers and sellers may be, Geraud Markets, the organisation behind the venture, is big business; but someone has to organise all the detailed arrangements which these events entail. It seems Geraud now have a contract with Liverpool Council to do just that on several sites around the city.

Knowing more and feeling good
That however is only part of the story. This is the sort of enjoyable meeting-friends event that offers, especially, young people in the city a chance to see that fruit and vegetables don't of necessity arrive covered in plastic.H.St. Farmers Market 14 (Minako).jpg

It gives us a feel, too, for seasonal food. It reminds us, walking out in the open air as we make our purchases, that there is a cycle to things; we can eat for a whole year without bringing produce from across the world, should we decide to do avoid doing so. We can be 'eco-', and enjoy, at the same time.

The market reminds us about nutritional quality - seeing produce presented so directly perhaps also helps us to think more carefully about what we are actually eating. Of course, food sold in supermarkets can also be fresh and nutritious - canned can be as good as 'fresh' - but the connection with its production is less overt.

Encouraging a healthy life-style
H.St. Farmers Market 15 (children).jpgBy a strange co-incidence, just today there have been articles in the local Daily Post about vegetables and health -the local Primary Care Trust has a Taste for Health campaign -and The Guardian, which offers thoughts by Zoe Williams on 'Vegetables and how to survive them').

Liverpool people have the worst health in England and we owe it to our children to make sure their diet is as good as it can possibly be, encouraging them to understand the connection between what they eat and where it comes from. How better could we do it than by bringing them to a farmers' market where they can see for themselves what it's all about?

Liverpool City Council have contracted with Geraud to provide farmers' markets. Perhaps they can now follow the example of the authorities in continental Europe (where Geraud began) such as Valencia and Aix-en-Provence, where, as I have seen for myself, the local markets make children really welcome?

It would do us all good, in every sense of the word.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Calendar of Geraud Farmers' Markets in Liverpool [subject to change, please contact to check as below]:
Monument Place Farmers' Market (Lord Street) ~ Every 1st & 3rd Saturday of the month
Lark Lane Farmers' Market ~ Every 4th Saturday of the month
Hope Street Farmers' Market (Blackburne House end) ~ Every 3rd Sunday of the month

Other Geraud Markets in Liverpool
:
Broadway (Indoor) Monday ~ Saturday
Garston ~ Friday
Great Homer Street ~ Saturday
Monument Place ~ Thursday, Friday & Saturday
Speke ~ Thursday
St Johns' (Indoor) Monday ~ Saturday
Tuebrook ~ Thursday & Saturday
Toxteth ~ Tuesday
For more information contact: 0151 233 2165 / info@geraudmarkets.co.uk

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