The Harvest Festival Food Discussion Circle
At our Annual Harvest Festival, we organised a space for people to gather and discuss “The Future of Food” and a full room of delegates from all corners of the world were invited to think about what sustainable food meant for them and to share their thoughts. The Spanish Co-ordinator Sebastian Burch facilitated the event with great skill and seamlessly managed to “harvest” the thoughts of every attendant in the exact time allocated!
Some thoughts and memories of the Gathering
There was a great deal of cultural diversity present in the room from 3 continents and 12 countries. This gave a sense of a broad and diverse discussion and the theme of sustainable took on a very different meaning for each person there. For example even among 2 Irish delegates, one saw sustainable food as a small-holding and rearing their own animals to eat, whilst another interpreted sustainable as meaning vegan -not eating animals at all. The common ground would be an agreement that the present mass meat industry is not sustainable, but the solutions were different.
Discussion turned to how food is presently produced and permaculture was sighted as a way to engage meaningfully with growing food without harming the planet. A theme emerged on the type of plants we choose to consume and through learning how to grow perennial vegetables, we can think about the long term effects of our diet choices. Perennial seems to make so much sense-saving human labour and soil from apparently needless toil. The constant turning of soil might really be a waste of time, of energy and of the inherent forces of Nature.
Another theme that emerged was food preparation and nutrition-again there was a broad consensus that natural unadulterated foods, with minimal processing are the best foods for people and planet. One person recommended seed sprouting on windowsills for urban dwellers as a cheap way to ensure quality “live” nutrition when living in cities. This follows a theme of container gardening as a small but effective way of having availability to fresh foods all year round. Brendan Sanders, founder of Scariff Community Garden at East Clare Community Co-op, asserted it should be a basic human right for all people to have access to soil to grow their own food-whether urban or rural dwellers and that every school needs to seriously look at teaching food growing for children-is it as important as learning how to read, add numbers and learning about how to be a social being. He thought we need to start learning how to be responsible citizens on this planet. He asserted knowing how to save seeds, plant them, nuture them and grow clean food will grow healthy minds and bodies is a basic human right-ignored by many present educational systems. In Ireland there is an obesity epidemic-in common with many other countries in the “civilised” world where cheap, mass produced “food” laden with sugar and salt is the culprit, as well as a lack of good education on eating healthily. One attendant queried why are we in such a state with our diets?
After the circle closed, I reflected on the conversation and I think there is a dilemma facing those in power. How can governments please industries and corporate businesses and provide growing bodies with real, safe nutrition. There is a simple fact that an overweight person on a poor diet will feel hungry all of the time-their bodies are literally crying out for real nutrition but they are driven by advertising to want processed, denatured and dead foods lacking in vitality….so the more bad foods they eat, the more their bodies cry out and an obesity epidemic is the result. The future of food partnership is one real way to broaden discussion and grow our educational tools and learning materials on this vitally important subject-the future of food.
The anticipated growth in world population was my contribution to the discussion as I see a need to open a conversation about the issue of sustainably feeding the anticipated surge in population. From the global back to the local-and from the philosophical to the pragmatic- what can we do on a practical level? Where do we as individuals, as NGO’s , as smallholders, as communities, as youth workers, as educators and trainers and as social enterprises start? How can we free ourselves, our families and communities from the shackles of industrial food? Look no further than the end of your fork for the kind of future you are supporting, creating, shaping. It comes back to the power of individuals to buck global trends, one meal at a time.