A Right to Food Systems
A Right to Food Systems
The way we grow, process, distribute and consume food produces a range of interlinked social and environmental problems. In the United Kingdom, hunger, food insecurity and nutritional issues continue to impact the lives of millions of citizens. People subject to precarious working conditions and low pay endured by millions of workers and families are currently encountering spiralling food costs and supply chain issues, making a healthy diet increasingly inaccessible to many. At the other end of the food chain, the social and environmental impacts of the contemporary agricultural system grow ever starker. Food production is linked to ecological and environmental harm in numerous ways, from air and water pollution to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. This comes in addition to the social impacts of our dependence on so-called ‘cheap food’: low wages, gruelling work dependent on migrant labour and precarity for small food producers worldwide. What this report tries to do is ensure that these two problems - hunger, and the environmental impact of the food system - are considered inseparable. Rather than suggesting that in order to ensure people are fed we must turn a blind eye to the damage caused by intensive agriculture, this report proposes ways forward which attempt to ensure that problems related to consumption and production are address simultaneously.
In order to do this the report enters the debate surrounding the legal establishment of a Right to Food in the United Kingdom. Calls for a legally defined Right to Food have grown across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland in recent years. This report looks to build on the existing campaign by connecting the argument for a legally defined Right to Food with the need for a Right to Food Systems that uses the legislation and momentum of a legal Right to Food and the responsibilities it creates as a starting point for food systems transformation. This transformation, inspired by campaigns advocating for food sovereignty and widespread community-led efforts to develop alternative food networks, would be built on policies that facilitate and support the development of institutions and infrastructure that would create resilient shorter supply chains. This represents an effort to develop diverse means by which the public, particularly those currently facing food insecurity, could access more produce grown in the United Kingdom to high social and environmental standards. In doing so it would look to create greater citizen involvement, ownership and power in the way food is grown and shared.
To help set out how this transition might look in practice this report sets out three speculative future food chains based on a Right to Food and a Right to Food Systems. The first explores the production of a fruit salad for a universally free school meal. The second envisions the production of a curry at a community restaurant. The final scenario follows the supply chain for a loaf of bread baked by a cooperative and sold at a community shop.
The final section of the report then offers some programmatic suggestions for the policies and practices which could help ensure that a Right to Food serves as a platform for broader food systems change. These suggestions fall into three interlinked categories: legislating for a Right to Food, national level policies and local actions. The discussion around legislating for a Right to Food explores the responsibilities required of national and local government to help catalyse this transition, as well as reflecting on the institutions and governance required to ensure that change was happening effectively. The national-level policies look to embed this vision in a broader programme of agricultural and social transformation that makes scaling The Right to Food Rob Booth2out and refining more ecological ways of farming possible. This includes ensuring suitable supportive investment, policies for facilitating alternative ownership models and plans to make land ownership more equitable across the nations of the United Kingdom. Finally, the section exploring the role local authorities can play in this transition looks to build a bridge between the campaign for a Right to Food, the vision of agricultural change set out above and the growing movement promoting Community Wealth Building as a central tenet of fairer, local governance in the future.
In all, this report attempts to offer progressive solutions to complex interlinked social and environmental problems across the food chain. It recognises that systemic change is needed to guarantee food justice in the United Kingdom and across the world, but as a first step looks to offer some ways forward to begin building the institutions and frameworks to make this change both possible and lasting.