Vegetables in Whole Foods Market

Food is essential, yes, that’s obvious, but it’s essential in so many ways – not just staying alive.

Food (and drink) are at the heart of every celebration, they punctuate and define the working day. What you buy and where you buy it from says more about your social class, income, and your values, than just about anything else.

We have a schizophrenic relationship with food. Most of us want and demand cheap food; we spend less of our disposable income on food than any other European country. Most of us also want and demand high animal welfare standards and wildlife friendly farming. But most of us never see the contradiction. We are obsessed by cooking programmes and celebrity chefs, yet most adults have little or no idea how to actually prepare and cook anything. We demand choice, but always buy the same things, from the same supermarket, and from the same producers. We buy food that’s fresh to throw away, food to keep that will last for months and years, yet still gets thrown out in the annual spring clean, and we actually eat take-aways and ready meals warmed up in 5 minutes.

We live in a fantasy food world created by ad men working for some of the biggest companies on the planet: Tesco (every little helps screw the farmer down one more notch), Asda (where good food costs less, which means it’s either not good or the price bears no relation to the true cost), Coca Cola (the real thing is water but we’ll extract all yours so you have to buy our sugary brew) and dear old MacDonald’s (whose happy meals make chubby children and millions of throwaway plastic toys).

Our diet consists overwhelmingly of food that bears little or no relationship to where it came from. In fact, food that, by and large, is deliberately disguised to hide its true origins, except for the idealised countryside packaging which is usually the biggest con of all. Most of our food is adulterated with sugars and sweeteners, starches, mysterious ‘e’ numbers, the ubiquitous corn syrup and the frankly evil hydrogenated fats. And of course the more full of crap the food is, the cheaper it is.

So we end with the highest childhood obesity in Europe thanks to subsidised multi-nationals, advertising cheap adulterated food to our children. But we mustn’t complain because we mustn’t restrict choice – yes, don’t forget a hundred varieties of teeth-rotting, fat-laden candy bars made by the same three companies from 95% of the same dirt cheap, subsidised ingredients, is choice!

You thought that choice was something to do with knowing what was in the product? No, no, no.

You thought choice was something to do with knowing where the product came from and how it was produced? No, no, no.

You thought choice was something to do with you making an informed decision? No, no, no.

But there is another choice: to grow a little of your own food, to cook actual unadulterated meat and veg, to pay a fair price to the producer. If we paid the true cost of food, recognised the true value of the soil that produces it, and the true toil of the growers and harvesters, then food would cost a little more in the shops. But if we paid the true cost what would actually cost way more would be the crap… because it wouldn’t be subsidised, the workers all along the production chain would be paid a living wage, all the chemicals spewing on to the land and into the rivers would be cleaned up, all the packaging would be honestly labelled, and all the ads aimed at kids would be banned. In fact, if we paid the true cost and had real choice none of these products would be eaten at all.

We should not be proud of cheap food because it comes at a huge price. We should all. even the poorest of us. pay a bit more, eat a little less and waste a lot less.

Our food habits are the perfect example of our disconnect with the planet. We don’t need to recognise seasons, we don’t need to grow anything, we don’t know how food is made, we don’t care how food is made, we don’t see the role of insects – we just squash or swat them. We don’t even know what most vegetables look like, and vast numbers of our children don’t eat any.

Its time to change – to see the whole picture – why not make some midsummer resolutions: to buy proper food (with nought taken out or put in); to buy local food; to buy less food; and to waste none.

Every little helps…!