On 3 June in Cardiff we held the final conference of the Food Values project. At the conference, which drew together some 50 people from health, education and other food backgrounds and presented our findings, drawn from analysis of five food events held around Wales. We also used the conference to launch a conversation about food in Wales, by inviting people to contribute to a Food Manifesto. There’s a report of the day here.
The message of the project was that food has a lot of meaning for people, and especially that in ordinary life we see it as a source of pleasure and connection with others, with strong links to family and culture. We do not ultimately see it as merely a commodity that can be traded like any other, and yet that is the way our food system tends to work, treating us as consumers who respond to low prices and pretty packaging.
The idea of the Food Manifesto conversation is to ask people what they really want, and not to be afraid to challenge the notion that it’s all about prices and profit. In fact, people are concerned that everyone should have access to good food, and that we should know where our food comes from, and that food skills such as cooking and growing should be transmitted down the generations – they told us this again and again.
So how have we ended up with a food system which is so different from the one many of us want, and that is so far from being sustainable? There are many reasons for that, but one way of looking at it is that our wish for community, equality and balance with nature is very easily drowned out by our craving for individual security and status, expressed as the profit motive, the consumer society and so on.
This is where education comes in, as a means of widening our perspective and putting us back in touch with those universalist values which lead us to set our individual concerns aside and think of others. A shared meal, over which people can talk about food, their communities, their lives and hopes, does seem to be a powerful means of transforming consciousness, engaging and strengthening values of benevolence, kindness and equality while also carrying out a very practical and necessary activity – eating.
The Food Values report, policy analysis, case studies and other materials are available here and the Food Manifesto is at foodmanifesto.wales or maniffestobwyd.cymru.