In other words, we are more than happy to scream from the rooftops when our food is definitely not what we ordered, but when it comes to the chronic lack of transparency in our food system – particularly in the stages between ‘farm’ and ‘fork’ – we don’t really care.
|Farm to fork – we are at the root of it.
Source: Pinterest Farm to Table series
Take Joanna Blythman’s investigative article into the health foods industry as an example. She aims to lift the lettuce leaves from our eyes, uncovering what technical and artificial processes go into giving an illusion of ‘natural’ and ‘fresh’ when it comes to our fruit salads to chicken. A label simply indicating the geographical origin, a stamp of approval from the Food Standards Agency, or nutritional information of our salad allows for these processes to remain hidden. As Joanna Blythman states:
From water-injected poultry and powdered coagulated egg, to ultra-adhesive batters and pre-mixed marinades, the raw materials in industrial food manufacturing are rarely straightforward. In fact, they commonly share quite complicated back stories of processing and intervention that their labels don’t reveal.
Our daily brew
Let us put our teabag into hot water. I recently attended a TOAST event on the science, politics and history behind our tea; a staple that we regularly consume without a second thought. For example, the average teabag contains leaves from over 36 origins, all bundled up in the same papery mesh.
Sarah Roberts, director of the Ethical Tea Partnership, spoke of how the Fairtrade label – indicating minimum wage for plantation workers – does not reflect other challenges: soil degradation and changing climates, gender inequality, poor living conditions and worker’s rights, unethical trade agreements. These are also bundled up in our everyday brew, however the only question we tend to ask is ‘how do you take yours?’.
How much are we lovin’ it?
One reason for this is pure economies of scale, but another is a relative lack of attention on worker’s rights – one of the most important connections between ‘farm’ and ‘fork’. In recent months, evidence has emerged that 33% workers have to treat burns and other injuries with condiments such as mustard, butter and ketchup due to lack of proper health and safety measures. Labour unions have also shown how McDonald’s abuses minimum wage requirements, paying staff as low as $8 an hour. A non-violent ‘Fight for $15’ protest resulted in a $1 an hour raise; an increase that many still believe is not enough.
How can we progress our food labelling system?
If we truly demand honest information on what we eat, then we need to start practicing what we preach. No more simply relying calorie information, slogans of ‘fresher for longer‘, or country of origin; we need to know the full story.
I want to give several examples so, along with knowing the story, you can become part of it too.
The Honest Crust, Real Bread Campaign
The Real Bread Campaign is an inspirational movement subsumed within Sustain, the international campaign for better food and farming.
In a quest to get people to support ‘real’ bread and local bakeries rather than our mass-produced industrial supermarket loaves, they propose the Honest Crust Act. Chris Young of Real Bread summarised the Act very simply: we need to bake without the use of artificial additives or processing aids, and go by the moto that ‘If your grandmother doesn’t recognise the ingredient, you shouldn’t eat it’.
Petition for an ‘Impact Facts’ label, Avaaz
Avaaz, a campaign organisation based in the US, is petitioning for an ‘Impact Facts’ label. They give the example of fish and how it can be labelled as ‘locally sourced‘ even if it has been shipped off to another country to be processed, then shipped back again. They state that better labelling is not just an environmental issue, but one to help reduce global inequality within trade of our staple foods. Our labels need to answer the questions:
- Where do ingredients come from and where were they processed?
- How much energy and water was consumed?
- How many times did they travel by air, sea or land?
You can sign the petition here.
True Cost Accounting, Sustainable Food Trust (SFT)
There is a clear discrepancy between retail price and the actual cost of our foods. More often than not, the cheapest foods are those that have the most pernicious impact on our communities, bodies and environments.
Just imagine walking into a supermarket and finding the cheapest option available. I found a 67p beef lasagne ready-meal; half the price of an organic bag of carrots at £1.50, but more expensive in terms of the long term cost it has on our bodies, community and services, environments and climate.
This needs to be addressed, and the SFT advocates ‘true cost accounting’ as a means to do so. They summarise this as:
Placing a clear monetary value on the benefits and impacts of different food production systems, would enable the introduction of policy mechanisms to penalise damaging practices and reward the development of systems that deliver positive environmental and public-health outcomes.
Find out more about true cost accounting here.