There is a rapidly growing movement of people across the UK working to make healthy, sustainable and local food a defining characteristic of where they live.
The empty supermarket shelves we experienced in Spring this year were a shock to most of us and a sobering reminder of just how vulnerable our food system really is.
Up until now, many of us never had to think about how or where our food is produced or the complex just-in-time supply chains that bring us that extraordinary kaleidoscope of choice in the aisles.
The Covid-19 pandemic reminded us of the role food plays in our daily lives. More than anything else, perhaps, it has shown how important it is that everyone has a healthy diet and can access affordable, healthy and sustainable food in their local community.
The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities in our food system, particularly for those most in need. And while Marcus Rashford and numerous charities did a brilliant job highlighting the importance of school meals, the issue of hunger and access to good food goes way beyond schools.
As well as the current Covid-19 crisis, we are faced by an epidemic of obesity and diet-related ill-health; a deep and drawn out economic crisis that can only be exacerbated by Brexit; and a potential slow burn climate and nature catastrophe.
Common to all of these is a dysfunctional food and farming system and a growing number of vulnerable people unable to access good nutritious food or, in many instances, enough food at all.
But there is hope. Good Food has the power to change lives. There is a rapidly growing movement of people across the UK working to make healthy, sustainable and local food a defining characteristic of where they live.
At its heart, the Sustainable Food Places Network is about recognising the pivotal role that food can play in driving positive change.
It is about a wide range of public agencies and departments - including health, sustainability, planning, economic development and neighbourhood renewal - working together with businesses, NGOs and communities to develop a joint vision of the food culture and food system they would like to see and then working together to turn that vision into reality.
It is about completely re-imagining a city - or town or borough or district - through the lens of good food.
So… imagine a city where every nursery, school and college, every hospital and care setting, every restaurant and workplace canteen serves only healthy and sustainable meals; and where everyone has access to affordable fresh, seasonal, local and sustainable produce within 500 metres of where they live, no matter where they live.
Imagine a city where good food is visible and celebrated in every corner: in local markets and independents retailers, at food festivals and events (when these can happen again), in gardens, parks and borders, on the radio and in the papers; or where people of all ages and backgrounds are developing skills in growing and cooking, are developing new food enterprises and are practically involved in creating a vibrant and diverse food culture in their own community.
Imagine a city where healthy and sustainable food is embedded into every relevant policy and strategy - from health and economic development to procurement and planning - and where communities, NGOs and public agencies are working together with food producers, processors and retailers to make good food a defining characteristic of their place.
Now imagine the potential impact all this could have in improving people’s health and wellbeing; in creating new businesses and jobs; in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste; in breaking down cultural boundaries and fostering community cohesion.
This isn’t a pipe dream - it’s a reality for some places already in the UK. Brighton and Hove has just achieved the first ever Gold Sustainable Food Places Award, setting the bar of what is possible in transforming a local food system for the better.
Recognising that food is not only at the heart of some of today’s greatest challenges but is also a vital part of the solution, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership are leading a vanguard of more than 50 pioneering local food partnerships as part of one of the fastest growing social movements in the UK today.
Brighton and Hove, along with many other pioneering places across the UK from Aberdeen, Birmingham and Cardiff to Tower Hamlets, Edinburgh and Middlesbrough, have illustrated just how possible it is to create a healthy and sustainable, equitable and resilient local food systems that is less exposed to shocks like the pandemic and give continued food supply to people in the face of crises.
People powered change that is, quite literally, saving lives and protecting the planet.
Tom Andrews is a member fo the Sustainable food Places Network.