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Daily Archives: January 8, 2019

An Opportunity Underground for the UK’s Food Security – Food Security and Food Justice

An Opportunity Underground for the UK’s Food Security – Food Security and Food Justice

It has been estimated that the UK’s population will reach 76 million by 2045.  With issues of , there is growing concern on how we will feed our future population. Current intensive agricultural methods used within our globalised food system to feed the UK have devastating environmental consequences and with more people to feed, increasing food production through our current farming strategies will only worsen these environmental effects. Our growing population puts further pressure on our already limited arable land resources needed to produce food, causing concern over food security. To tackle these agricultural issues and ensure food security for the UK, it has been suggested that we grow our food underground, specifically in the thousands of abandoned coal mines in the UK as shown on the map.

What’s wrong with the UK’s current food production strategy?

An alternative food production strategy to tackle the environmental and limited land issues associated with traditional farming methods is vertical farming. Vertical farming (pictured left) involves growing crops on top of one another using hydroponics (growing crops without using non-renewable soil but with a water-nutrient feed) within a skyscraper. Its atmosphere is mostly controlled by technology, such as LED lighting as well as natural sunlight use to allow for efficient crop growth and more annual harvests in comparison to traditional farming. Vertical farms are often found in urban areas, as can be seen in Tokyo’s vertical farm named Pasona and allows for urban residents to have quick access to fresh food with low food miles. Not only does vertical farming boast an efficient use of vertical space and ability to grow food crops quickly to satisfy demand, it also uses significantly less water and energy in comparison to traditional farming

Professor Riffat argues that the UK has thousands of redundant coal mines that provide perfect underground agricultural spaces to feed our future population. Her vision (pictured left) uses the same methods as vertical farming with stacked crops grown using hydroponics within a controlled atmosphere to provide higher yields of fresh food per year with to the UK’s residents in comparison to traditional farming. But this will occur under our feet, addressing the issue of limiting arable land resources for food production. This would allow for land above ground to be used for housing or animal agriculture. Farming underground also uses even less energy than vertical farming, allowing for underground farming in coal mines to be a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective food security strategy. This is achieved due to the insulating, subterranean nature of the coal mines allowing for a consistent temperature to be sustained as they are less affected by temperature fluctuations above ground, meaning the only heat energy used to maintain optimum growing temperatures is from the LED lamps. Carbon capture systems would be used where the carbon dioxide produced is stored underground, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. The underground shelter of coal mines also promotes food security as crops will be protected from terrorism and war, allowing for food supplies to be maintained during times of political volatility.

A successful example of farming underground that could be a model for coal mine farms can be seen in Clapham, named Growing Underground (pictured right). Growing Underground is an abandoned World War 2 bomb shelter that has been transformed into an underground farm, providing London with fresh food. Unlike vertical farms that acquire energy from fossil fuels, Growing Underground uses renewable energy during off peak electricity timings and uses 70% less water compared to traditional open farming. A benefit of developing agriculture in coal mines is the potential for increased employment and green economic opportunity in areas where the coal mining industry collapsed in the 1980s, such as in areas of Yorkshire where residual deprivation exists.

What’s the problem?

Although less energy and therefore cost would be required to maintain a controlled climate underground, the technology needed, such as LED lights and hydroponics, are still expensive. Although this farming vision is successfully developing in wealthier countries, such as the UK, China and France, the scalability of this strategy is limited to those who can afford to implement it.

Growing crops in abandoned coal mines provides an opportunity for the UK to further its food security whilst farming with more sustainable, cheaper practices that use less water and energy than traditional farming methods. A successful model has already been achieved in Clapham, where residents have access to fresh foods within hours of their harvesting. There are approximately 1,500 unused coal mines in the UK that would provide perfect spaces for agriculture, so what are we waiting for?

The Social Eating Movement: Targeting Loneliness, Hunger and Food Waste Simultaneously – Food Security and Food Justice

The Social Eating Movement: Targeting Loneliness, Hunger and Food Waste Simultaneously – Food Security and Food Justice

Worldwide, ⅓ of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

In the UK alone, of post-farm food is wasted – 70% of which is avoidable.  This immense amount of food is valued at . Despite this huge surplus of food being wasted each year, a substantial number of people in the UK are going hungry. In the last 12 months, have skipped meals because of lack of money with going a whole day without food due to lack of money. people in the UK are living in severely food insecure homes with children often experiencing physical sensations of hunger. 

With occurring in households, it is crucial that people start to take notice of what they are buying and then throwing away. In a , less than half of people understood the “best before” label found on food items and that food can be eaten past this date. To prevent people throwing away perfectly edible food, from many of its fruit and vegetables.

of food is wasted by the food industry each year. Redistribution of surplus food is becoming more commonplace. Food that is past its “best before” date and due to go in the bin is collected from the food industry and then redistributed. Receiving redistributed food allows small organisations and charities to save money they would otherwise spend on food, allowing them to direct the money elsewhere and continue the good work they do.

is the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food waste simultaneously. They redistribute good food saved from food industry bins to schools, homeless hostels, children’s breakfast clubs, refugees and community groups. Enough food was redistributed in the past year to make over 1,600,000 meals for vulnerable people.

There are a number of other charities doing similar things across the country, including the in Sheffield and .

uses surplus food to serve tasty meals every day in cities and towns across the UK. Foodcycle not only focuses on tackling food waste and hunger but also on combating social isolation.

Regularly eating alone is the . Those who eat socially are generally more satisfied with life, have a larger support network of friends, more trusting of others and more engaged with their local communities. The health implications of loneliness are shown to be . Those who are socially isolated and lonely are more prone to and  . A guest of Foodcycle

Gives me a reason for getting up in the morning since living without my husband (who died at the age of 93)

Community eating projects are opening throughout the country. Students at the University of Sheffield run a “” every Monday using surplus food supplied by the . Social isolation is widespread in students across the UK with during their time at university. Wellbeing Cafe is an open and welcoming space for students to share a healthy meal together. The aim is to foster a sense of belonging among those who attend whilst also tackling food waste.

Also in Sheffield, is a community space designed to bring people together from all walks of life – students, the elderly, those without a home. They use surplus food collected from local supermarkets to prepare tasty food, served in a pay-as-you-feel fashion. Volunteer, Annie Vohra said,

I really enjoy volunteering at Foodhall. I have met so many interesting people from every background imaginable. The sense of community created by sharing food is something I am proud to be a part of.

Those at Foodhall are working towards growing a National Food Service, with the goal to create a public system of social eating spaces. The social eating movement is focussed on bringing people together to create a sustainable future, with all to benefit culturally, financially and in well-being. 

The  approach focuses on using the existing strengths and skills of residents to build a stronger, more sustainable community. An asset-based approach rather than a deficit-based approach establishes a level of resilience within members of a community that is more than just ‘coping’. The community develops a ‘transforming’ resilience which reduces the risk of members coming into difficulties in the first place. For the social eating movement to grow, a sense of community must be reestablished.

We have the potential to tackle the issues of social isolation, hunger and food waste all in one. But the question is, can people put their prejudices aside enough to sit and share a meal together as equals?

Should We Care About Nature? – Food Security and Food Justice

Should We Care About Nature? – Food Security and Food Justice

Nature is deeply rooted in our collective consciousness, from elements of nature worship in religions around the world, to wholly unnatural creations such as Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’s monster’, to the solace found in nature by many writers. It is a fundamental part of society and people care for it very deeply, so it’s unsurprising that they use the concept of naturalness to decide what they should eat. But when someone decides to buy what they believe is more natural, is this useful to them?

The Dictionary of Human Geography defines nature as:

Clearly, we already have a broad and conflicted definition of nature before we even start looking at how ordinary people see it. Importantly naturalness is emotional, people feel rather than deduce naturalness. Natural food is associated with less human interference, processing, artificial ingredients and additives. Natural farming is seen as respecting the independence of non-human life. Factories and laboratories are unnatural and their involvement ‘spoils’ the inherent naturalness of a product. A lot of value is attached to natural food, it’s believed to:

Counterintuitively, human contact (rather than machines) during production makes something seem more natural and therefore ‘better’. This paints a vague and subjective picture of nature and the competing concepts within it, creating arbitrary boundaries. For instance, salt (objectively an additive) has special legal status as non-additive for no obvious reason other than common use. Perceptions of naturalness are so strongly tied to emotion that it’s too vague to be useful in day to day decisions.

Perhaps we have such confused views of naturalness because there is very little left that is truly natural. The world is now in the ‘Anthropocene’. Biodiversity is plummeting; millions of years’ of stored carbon has been thrown back into the atmosphere and nitrogen being put into the ground has more than doubled. Chemical changes in the air, oceans and soil force living things to grow differently, if they can adapt successfully at all. If the environment food is produced in isn’t natural, can the product itself be natural at all? Furthermore, almost every species we use for food has never existed in the wild. Cows and chickens have changed drastically since we started using them as food. As for crops, selective breeding has twisted them into entirely different plants. Does the key naturalness of our food still exist?

Naturalness is a blunt tool for a complicated subject. For example, pursuing naturalness often means avoiding genetically modified (GM) foods. However, they have the potential to be more reliable, provide healthier food for more people, with less environmental impact and even fight disease. There are concerns around GM foods and we shouldn’t accept them blindly, but to reject them just because they’re unnatural puts the brakes on potentially massive advances for agriculture. GM is another case of arbitrary boundaries, many people reject GM food as unnatural but have no issues with selective breeding, which has had a huge and unnatural effect on livestock and crops.

Processing and additives are almost synonymous with unhealthy food, but this shouldn’t always be the case. Many people overestimate the risk of synthetic additives but underestimate the risk of contaminants in ‘natural’ foods. Additives such as folic acid prevent malnutrition. Preservatives make food last longer, reducing food waste. Processed food is cheaper, so fewer people go hungry. Some medical conditions such as coeliac require processed food. There are concerns about processed food and additives. Modern diets have far too much salt, causing cardiovascular diseases (although it’s treated as non-additive). We shouldn’t write off all processing and additives as unnatural, we should look in more detail at individual uses.

Businesses often market food as ‘natural’, particularly because this reassures customers regarding animal welfare. They convince consumers that their animals are ‘reared in nature’ when their animals never go outside and live in cramped unsanitary conditions. Advertisers use tactics such as upselling slight improvements on minimal standards of welfare and showing animals in open fields without explicitly saying this is the habitat of their livestock. Even simple changes to packaging: noisiness, roughness to the touch and different names for the same ingredients have a big impact on how natural products appear.

Should we be impressed that McDonald’s cows aren’t purple monstrosities? Source: Adsoftheworld, Youtube

Consumers aren’t always blameless. ‘Willed-blindness’ is when people accept the illusion and continue buying products that conflict with their values. There is strong evidence that when a person feels that a brand is more natural they’re more likely to trust that brand, meaning they will be less likely to question its authenticity. Regulators are unlikely to challenge naturalness. In Denmark it was decided that it’s reasonable to make any claim of naturalness about dairy products simply because milk is ‘a natural product stemming from the mammary glands of mammals’. Additionally, the EU has no legal definitions for natural preservatives, antioxidants, colours or sweeteners. These gaps give advertisers tremendous freedom to misrepresent products. Perceptions of naturalness are easily manipulated, companies use this to their advantage and there is little legislation to stop them.

The whole idea of naturalness is broad, vague and conflicted. Nature is no longer natural. By combining issues, it becomes harder to make informed choices. Emotional ties to nature make us easy to manipulate. Vague definitions lead to poor legislation, so misleading consumers on the ‘naturalness’ of products rarely has repercussions. The values that lead us to seek naturalness are justified in their own right, however naturalness as a proxy for these values is not a useful way to guide our choices.

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