Five years ago we were a couple of months into our new London lives and I was loving it! I loved walking and catching the train to work, I loved sitting out in the parks in the summer and I loved our house share and the new friends we were meeting. Money was still quite tight, but I was even enjoying bargain hunting for cheap food to get us through each week.
I was also really enjoying my new job – though I must admit I was also finding it slightly terrifying! When I’d started at my organisation I was told I’d be working on food policy for the foreseeable future. Ummm… What? I didn’t even know the difference between food security and food sovereignty (most people don’t… But it’s more than a slight problem if you’re meant to be the food expert!) So my first 8 months on the job were a major learning curve.
But through this unexpected turn in my work I really did learn so much. I learnt that hunger is at crazy levels in parts of this country and in places around the world… And yet there’s enough food in the world to feed everyone! I learnt that whilst some people are struggling to feed themselves, elsewhere food waste is, simultaneously, at humongous levels. I learnt about small scale farmers who produce most of the world’s food and yet under the current global food system don’t earn enough to be able to survive. These are issues of justice and ethics.
This was all fascinating and infuriating. Something I could get passionate about. But in my mind it was still separate to me, and my existence. I could try to change an unjust food system through my work, and encourage others to fight the injustice too – through limiting their food waste, buying fair trade, petitioning government or big supermarkets for a fairer price for farmers and so on. But I didn’t join the dots to me… At first.
About 4 or 5 months into the job I started getting sick. Nothing life threatening – but all sorts of tummy issues, rashes and welts all over me, funny skin pigmentation, exhaustion. You know the kind of thing. After struggling for a year to work out what it was through countless doctors visit it’s and horrid tests, I was losing hope.
At just the right moment I chatted to a friend who described very similar symptoms and linked it all back to food! I hopped along to her nutritionist (shout out to Laura Mussell if you’re looking for a wonderful nutritionist) and bam… found out I was intolerant to pretty much my entire diet!
What shook me up the most was that it was food – the very thing that was meant to be sustaining me – that was making me feel so yuck.
Suddenly the (rather slow) wheels in my mind started to turn. I am IN the food system. The same system which results in the very people who grow our food – those small scale farmers – not earning enough, is the same system that sees extravagant portions of food wasted each day… and is the same that system that was making me sick.
The cheap food that I was taking such delight in finding was a MAJOR problem… It was both making me sick and causing someone somewhere in the production line (who knows where) to be suckered in the process! No one was winning – except maybe the big supermarkets.
A year (and a brand new way of eating) later, I was so much better… And on a seriously new journey in the way I buy and prepare my food and live my life. The biggest change has been that I now cook whole food from scratch rather than buying all the high sugar, processed, bottled, pre-made stuff that I was eating before. This way I know what’s in my food and I know that it’s real rather than a bunch of chemicals and ‘E’s’ with numbers after them (I’m not kidding, go and look at the ingredients list of the things you buy) Where I can, I try and source as locally and organically as possible so that I know where and who my food is coming from and how far it’s travelled to get to me (why this is important will have to wait for a whole nother blog but for now if you’re interested there’s a reading list at the end).
Apart from being so much healthier in myself (and losing all that weight that had snuck on over the years) I also started understanding how all these parts are interconnected. I can choose who I buy from, how I spend my money and what type of food system I ultimately invest in. I also started seeing how so much of this justice stuff we’re going to be talking about on this blog is linked together. Food… Economics… Environment… Society…
I’m still on the journey… And have so much still to learn. I’d love to hear if you’ve gone on a similar journey. Please feel free to post a comment below or get in touch if you’d be interested in blogging for us about it.
- Read more about food miles and why it’s important to buy local here and here – and if you want to think more about really reducing your carbon footprint when it comes to food, here.
- Joel Bourne’s The Age of Plenty is a very useful read – there’s a great book review here.
- Organic food can be a bit contentious. But some intereating reading can be found here.