Category Archives: Local food
Billed as the biggest and best trade show in the South West for the food and drink sector; the Source Trade Show 2020 took place last week at Westpoint in Exeter.
Here visitors sampled speciality foods and quality drinks and were inspired by ideas for hospitality and corporate entertainment. More than 200 exhibitors gathered from far and wide with 45 first-time exhibitors. It’s not just local produce on offer. Exhibitors also included innovative cooking equipment, venue furniture and the latest EPoS systems as well as advanced business services.
Among the new exhibitors were BeeWraps. This is a natural way to wrap food without the fear of any toxins leaching into the food. With zero waste, and made from 100% cotton, beeswax, pine rosin and a touch of jojoba oil; the wraps are ideal where plastic is usually used, for instance, sandwiches, fruit, cheese, fresh bread. They are also reusable.
Drink and Be Merry
For those who enjoy a little tipple, British Mûre Liqueurs exhibited small batch liqueurs from the winner of the UK Masterchef, Mat Follas. Their liqueurs on offer included Just Blackberry, Blackberry Gin, Marmalade Whisky, Roast Coffee and Rum and Properly Bitter Lemon. All of the products are made with no artificial colours or preservatives with minimum sugars used.
Still with the alcohol, Deck Chair Gin was on display with its award-winning smooth, light and refreshing 3D London Dry Gin. This is created in the heart of the English Riviera. It is crafted with seven botanicals using pure Dartmoor spring water, sweet on the tongue with a refreshing zesty orange finish. The gin is created in small batches using traditional methods and modern technology.
Cocktails All Round
New for 2020, Cocktails and Charcuterie went down a storm. Obviously, a collaboration between Somerset Charcuterie and Ginjar, the feature offered innovative flavour pairings between award-winning charcuterie and refreshingly twisted gin. Participants enjoyed pairings such as air-dried duck with burnt orange gin; black pepper salami and burnt orange gin and fennel salami with rhubarb and ginger gin.
Not Just Drink
The Innovation Kitchen brought together a variety of inspiring chefs and passionate artisans. The South West Chef of the Year winners demonstrated their winning dishes amongst other features. The programme included talks on food allergies and intolerances with Richard Valder, owner of @Angela’s in Exeter. As a small restaurant it can be tricky adapting menus to suit lots of specific dietary needs. Richard shared some of his tried-and-tested methods.
There were also demonstrations from Jim Fisher, head chef and co-owner of Exeter Cookery School. He served up a range of techniques to simplify breakfast. This included tips and tricks on how to serve the perfect poached egg time after time. He also demonstrated how to plan and produce the perfect picnic.
Ash Hamilton of The Curious Kitchen explained how to handle vegans, vegetarians and allergies; and how he creates an atmosphere that welcomes all kinds of eaters. His menu includes a whole host of fantastic dishes that focus on local, high-quality ingredients first and foremost.
The Source Trade Show 2020 demonstrated the great opportunities to learn from others in the South West on how to stay abreast of current trends.
With the ongoing debates on climate change and with plant-based foods on the increase in terms of both popularity and availability; the meat industry is being vocal in explaining the “vital importance of livestock farming” to the South West region.
At a recent seminar, stakeholders heard from a panel of industry experts and farmers. They educated visitors on a sector often unfairly blamed for its contribution to global warming.
The seminar focused on long-standing reports that livestock farming involved a choice between food production and caring for the environment. This has long been a contested issue. As Jonathan Foot, head of environment at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) pointed out, producing one kilo of beef takes a fraction of the water used to produce two pairs of jeans. He also highlighted the high nutritional value of meat.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “UK farming has some of the highest standards in the world both in terms of animal welfare and the environment…we need to encourage a return to whole foods.” The seminar also advocated the benefits of livestock resources to improve the quality of soil. This is becoming degraded but good soil equates to better crops. Livestock is also a source of natural fibres which will become more important in the move away from plastics.
Farmers in Wales are also having their say. This follows a statement by the UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change hinting at the need for taxes on meat and dairy products to curb consumption by a fifth. There is also the suggestion of increasing UK tree cover from 13% to at least 17% by 2050.
According to the Farmers Union of Wales; even if all UK food production ceased overnight, the carbon emissions of the country would fall by just 10%. Farmers believe that introducing such measures will simply increase Britain’s reliance on food imported from countries with greater carbon footprints. This clearly defeats the object.
FUW president Glyn Roberts commented: “as acknowledged by the Committee, switching away from UK red meat would increase the nation’s carbon footprint because we have some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of meat reared anywhere in the world.” In addition, farmers in the uplands of Wales argue that on windswept thin soils; only livestock rearing is suitable as crop production is impractical.
Moreover, the union stressed that plant-based foods aren’t necessarily more environmentally friendly. All manufactured food, it argues is very dependent on agricultural systems and available natural resources; as well as transportation and how far the product has travelled.
Give Us Your Food
Meanwhile, down in Devon, ‘imaginative’ stallholders and food sellers are being sought for the 2020 festival in Exmouth in May. The four-day event is the largest free festival in the South West and now in its 24th year.
An Exmouth Festival spokesperson said: “We’re looking for imaginative and customer-focused local food sellers, offering a wide variety of tasty choices for our hungry festival-goers to cater for their different tastes and diets”. Time to get your applications in!
There is a school of thought that advocates eating seasonal produce , this is an interesting dietary and ecological idea. As it reconnects us with food and the land and alerts us to the reality that different crops such as pumpkins, are produced at different times of the year.
It also cuts down on the carbon footprint of importing and transportation. So for us in the UK, this represents a viable option.
We live in a temperate climate but with the assistance of technology; we can grow many exotic crops in the UK which would otherwise perish in the climate.
It’s easy to follow this in summer as we can feast on a wide range of fruits and vegetables. We can literally eat the rainbow with a broad spectrum of colourful fruit and vegetables as possible. Think strawberries, tomatoes, radishes, blueberries, summer leafy salads; but as we enter autumn, much of the more delicate foodstuffs start to disappear. This is when the roots come into their own, with carrots, beetroot, potatoes, swede and parsnips; as well as the leafy brassicas such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
Going Back to Our Roots
And that brings us to pumpkins! It’s very nearly pumpkin time and luckily for those planning to spend hours of frustration carving a hideous and unrecognisable face out of a solid block of fruit for Halloween, the fruit is now well and truly in season!
Although the UK doesn’t have as much history with pumpkins as in the Americas, where pumpkins actually originated over 9,000 years ago, there is no doubt about the value of the fruit. In fact, worldwide, the production of pumpkins exceeds 27 million tonnes, with China and India the main producers.
Pumpkins are part of the squash family. When cooked, the whole pumpkin is edible from the skin to the pulp and seeds. The nutritional value is undisputed; a great source of potassium and beta-carotene, and containing minerals including calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins E, C and some B vitamins.
Another root vegetable that has accelerated in UK popularity in recent years is the sweet potato. This is also about to come into season. With a creamy texture and sweet-spicy flavour, this food has become the norm on menus to replace the humble chip. And its nutritional value is also high, as it is rich in fibre, vitamins A, C and B6, and an excellent source of carbohydrates. There are two varieties and the orange-fleshed one is also rich in beta-carotene.
Other fruits and vegetables reaching their peak in autumn include apples, aubergines, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, dates, figs, turnips and marrow.
Pronounce It Keen-wah
October is harvest time for quinoa! Quinoa is fast becoming a staple food among vegans and vegetarians for its incredible health benefits. This is a bead-shaped grain with a slightly bitter flavour and firm texture, and unlike wheat or rice, quinoa is a complete protein.
It contains all nine of the essential amino acids and has been recognised by the United Nations as a supercrop for its health benefits from dietary fibre, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It is also gluten-free. Initially grown in the Andes in South America, it was known for thousands of years as the ‘mother grain’. High in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, it is potentially beneficial for human health in the prevention and treatment of disease.
All of the above-mentioned foods are now grown successfully in the UK. Once considered exotic and relatively rare, they are now acceptable commonplace foods. At the risk of mentioning the B word, who knows how self sufficient we will need to be in future? The rewards of a seasonal food supply are exciting, especially with the contemporary emphasis on health and environmental benefits. After all, variety is the spice of life!
With chaos in the world of politics, rain toppling World Championship cyclists in Yorkshire and Japan upsetting Ireland rugby; it is good to have sensible regional food news for catering business in South West England and South Wales.
Wales has received a pat on the back from new Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers who recently toured South Wales. She discussed opportunities for Welsh agriculture as the UK leaves the EU with key representatives of the farming, food and drink industries. This visit coincided with the publication of the latest export figures for Wales. They indicate that £231.5m of produce has already been exported in 2019. This includes a 14% increase in Welsh meat compared to the same period last year.
Elsewhere, food and drink from West Dorset has been recognised for its excellence. The Taste of the West Awards celebrates the best products and establishments in the region. Finalists included Bridport-based Bayside Bakery for its salted caramel brownies and Cedrics at the White Swan in Misterton for its beekeepers orange and honey marmalade cake.
Curious Pig beech-smoked dry cure back bacon by the Curious Food Company made the finals; as did the Devon-based Salcombe Brewery, which won the best drinks category for its Island Street Porter. While West Bay’s Baboo Gelato was in the finals of the Producer of the Year category.
Also in the South West, Bristol-based Swoon is celebrating being awarded supreme champion of the Great Taste Awards. Great Taste, organised by the Guild of Fine Food, is the acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink. It’s considered the Oscars of the food world. The gelateria serves a huge range of exceptional desserts including Neapolitan coffee, pistachio and hazelnut gelatos and its chocolate sorbetto.
Swoon’s nocciola gelato won over the judges, made from hazelnuts from a small property in Piemonte, a region of Italy. John Farrand, Managing Director of the Guild of Fine Food, said: “Simplicity has won the day at Great Taste again this year, rising to the top in a field packed with new concepts, innovative flavour combinations and products from every corner of the world”.
In North Wales, a micro-brewery with a range of vegan beers has also bagged one of the Great Taste Oscars. Dovecote Brewery in Denbigh produces exclusively vegan-friendly beers. These include Dove Down Under, a 4.8 per cent strength ale made with New Zealand hops. All Dovecote’s ten regular beers are vegan as are the 16 seasonal specials brewed. The brewing process adheres to the 503-year-old German Purity Laws, which insist that beer can only be brewed from barley, hops, water and yeast.
Finally, if you are looking for somewhere to go at the end of summer, try the Orchard Street Food & Craft Market taking place on Saturday 5 October and Sunday 6 October at Gloucester Quays. It features stalls and live music for all of the family by bringing the finest local food, drink, art design, vintage and modern craft all local to the South West.
AC Services Southern is always happy to share good news about food and catering companies in the region we serve. Look out for our next regional food news round-up for fresh ideas and successes.
The Speciality & Fine Food Fair celebrated a landmark birthday last week and the show provided a special 20th anniversary edition at Olympia, London. The event held between 1 and 3 September attracted over 10,000 visitors, food producers, exhibitors, speakers and VIPs.
The Fair has always had an excellent reputation as an environment to reach out and make connections with existing or potential new partners and customers. As a result, The Speciality & Fine Food Fair is eagerly anticipated by those involved in artisan and speciality produce. These include independent retailers, chefs, delicatessens, hoteliers, importers, restaurateurs, distributors and wholesalers. Each are given the unique opportunity to source, network and get up to date with the latest trends.
2019 saw nine Welsh artisan food and drink companies exhibiting under the Food & Drink Wales banner. The country has a long established status at the show for innovation and this year was no different. Halen Môn, the Anglesey Sea Salt Company launched DIY Brine kits for Christmas poultry. While Daioni Organic showcased its coffee range with 100% Fairtrade single-origin organic Arabica coffee beans from Mexico.
South Caernarfon Creameries featured its new handcrafted range of cheeses. These include Dragon Cavern Aged Cheddar with Penderyn Whiskey and Dragon Welsh Slate Cavern Aged Cheddar. The Parsnipship showcased its full range of vegetarian and vegan produce such as Glamorgan Crumble, stilton and spinach potato cake and tandoori mash-up.
The Welsh Government supported the nine companies to attend Speciality & Fine Food Fair in the dedicated Cymru/Wales Pavilion.
Seminars and Features
Elsewhere at the Fair, the Food for Thought speaker programme featured successful entrepreneurs and industry experts. Their topics covered sustainability, the reduction of food waste, customisation, plant-based food, fermentation and Made in Great Britain.
The Savour the Flavour live demonstration kitchen created dishes inspired by products from the show. The Fair’s portfolio director, Soraya Gadelrab commented: “Kitchens are so vibrant. It’s all about the taste and visual appeal of dishes so we’re delighted to translate this directly at the fair through the live demo kitchen…the Food for Thought programme offers an unrivalled insight into the latest trends set to influence menus, from fine to casual dining”.
In recognition of the expanding success of the booming drinks market, the Drinks Cabinet returned for its second year. This features luxury small and large batch spirits, beers, ales, wines and ciders, as well as the burgeoning low- and no-mixers and soft drinks sectors.
The Discovery Zone enabled visitors to find innovative brands created in the past three years. It included everything from antipasti to oils, seasonings, cheese and charcuterie, dairy and dairy alternatives and fish and seafood.
The Shop of the Year competition had a stand. It offers small independent retailers the opportunity to shine, with five main categories, namely delicatessen and grocer; specialist cheese shop; farmer owned farm shop; food hall; and specialist food or drink shop. There is also a Newcomer Award. Entries close on September 20th. So if you missed the Fair, there’s still time to enter the Awards to celebrate your success and generate more interest.
The summer is coming to an end and although we’ve had a blistering Bank Holiday, thoughts will soon be turning to the next major event in our calendar, the Big C. There’s even a Christmas tree up in my local heralding the start of the party season. Too soon, far too soon!
Meanwhile, the food industry is as busy as ever and more Bristol food producers are springing up offering alternative and sustainable produce. Farm Wilder is an excellent example of producers taking sustainability to another level. The company was set up in January 2019 in Bristol. It selects and labels the highest quality produce from the most wildlife-friendly farms. The rapid decline of the wildlife in the UK led the company to source the best produce from SW farms. It supports “farmers’ restoration of biodiversity and sequestration of carbon back into the soil.”
What’s in a Name?
The farmers producing Fritillary butterfly beef help protect Marsh Fritillary butterflies in Devon. These cattle are slower growing than modern breeds, but produce the tastiest and healthiest meat. Farmers producing Cuckoo beef help Devon’s cuckoos in Devon with native hardy cattle thriving on the meadows and moors.
Cuckoo lamb is also available, with the same aim as the beef. Grazing native sheep like Scottish Blackface, Welsh Black Mountain and Dorsets, maintain the habitat needed by cuckoos to thrive. All of the animals are pasture-fed feeding on a natural diet of pasture and forage such as hay in winter. They are less likely to suffer from disease and require little veterinary attention or antibiotics.
Bristol Community Producers
Once upon a time, Elm Tree Farm was used as an occupational therapy resource hospital farm. It now offers adults with learning disabilities and autism gain work skills such as animal husbandry, market garden, nursery or woodwork. With around four acres of growing land, including several polytunnels and an orchard; the farm produces fruit, vegetables, chickens and other livestock using native breeds. As the behaviour of the animals suits the landscape and the quality of the meat is higher. The meat is all slaughtered and butchered locally, then kept frozen and sold from the on-site farm shop.
Edible Futures was set up as a Community Interest Company, seven years ago. With almost 1.5 acres here and two 90ft polytunnels, fruit, herbs and vegetables are grown. The company sells around 50% of their produce directly to local restaurants. The rest is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture model called Salad Drop, where members get a small, medium or large share of salad once a week, delivered to one of three drop off points around Bristol.
Finally, if you are ever in need of goat, then Troopers Hill in East Bristol offers Street Group. This is a group of people who keep goats in the city. As well as female milking goats, the group have also raised male offspring; initially using them to clear overgrown allotments, then buying castrated males goats for conservation grazing on overgrown land to restore important habitat for wildlife. The male goats are then sold for meat.
Bristol food producers consistently offer variety and the new. Ideal for the catering businesses that AC Services Southern serves locally.
A fun quiz to start this week triggered by the question what’s in season now. The answer is at the bottom of the page.
- Who represented Ireland more than once at the Eurovision Song Contest in the 1980s?
- What bird does anserine refer to?
- Which actor had the starring role in Walker, Texas Ranger?
- Finally, what one word links these answers? Read on for clues!
Now, what’s in season currently? It’s a good time for asparagus, basil and beetroot which are reaching their prime in terms of ripeness and taste. Carrots and courgettes are at their best over the next two months and we are beginning to see blackberries and blackcurrants ripen.
Artichokes and cherries are coming along nicely as are broad beans and broccoli, not to mention the seasonal favourites of redcurrants and raspberries.
One berry that may not be very well known is the tayberry which should be ready for picking by the end of July. Similar to the loganberry, the tayberry is a cross between a blackberry and a red raspberry.
Cone-shaped, it has a strong aromatic flavour and is named after Scotland’s Tay River. If you want to know what one tastes like, try Waterhouse Fayre who produces an amazing array of jams from hybrids such as tayberries, tummelberries and boysenberries. The berries are either grown on site or sourced from local growers in the South West.
Have you heard of samphire? There are two types of this sea vegetable – marsh and rock – but only marsh samphire is widely available. Marsh samphire has vibrant green stalks, similar to baby asparagus, with a distinctively crisp and salty taste. It can be used raw in salad, though it tends to be very salty so it is more often boiled or steamed for a few minutes.
But the good news is that it is now ready for consumption! Head over to Devon and visit Riverford if you want to buy samphire that has been grown in an organically certified Devon field that was flooded by the sea.
Finally, it’s what you’ve been waiting for: the great British marrow is almost ripe! Marrows are commonly cultivated in the British Isles but it is the marrow growing competitions that send people into a frenzy. The British record is held by a marrow that weighed 171lbs. By the way, the courgette is actually just an immature marrow. If you head to Dorset, you can find all sorts of vegetables, maybe not of record-breaking dimensions, at Wessex Plants (1988) Ltd, a family business supplying professional growers, mainly in the South West of the UK. The present range of plants includes cabbage, cauliflower, calabrese, sprouts, leeks, onions and purple sprouting broccoli amongst others.
- Johnny Logan
- Chuck Norris
What links them all? They’re all berries of course and with Wimbledon started, so has the season for strawberries and cream.
Healthy and sustainable food procurement is increasingly important and in the BANES region, they are taking it very seriously.
In 2017, the West of England Food Procurement Group was set up by four West of England local authorities including BANES. This has the aim of providing leadership on healthy and sustainable food procurement, catering and public health. The group works together to exchange information, share best practice and identify initiatives and actions; to support healthy and sustainable food procurement across the West of England.
And there are plenty of producers in BANES from which to choose in every food category. If you are looking for vegetables, try Plowright Organics. Mr Plowright started growing organic vegetables in 2000. He now runs a very successful veg box scheme as well as supplying wholesale markets.
At the end of last year, the company added an even more attractive item to its menu to offset the leeks, potatoes, carrots, onions etc. This is a fully compostable (plastic free) bag which is used to pack leafy produce. The bags are made using GMO-free starch from thistles, and will break down fully.
If you really can’t live without quinoa, then the Bath Farm Girls can help you out. A family affair, the company provides the local community as well as the British Quinoa Company. The farm also produces wheat, barley and linseed grapes. It also runs a Countryside Stewardship scheme developing wildlife habitat areas and pollen and nectar mixes across the farm.
Oils and mayonnaise are the specialities of Bath Harvest Oils, pressed and bottled with love in Somerset. The company produces numerous flavoured oils such as lemon and basil as well as the trademark rapeseed oil, which contains vitamin E and Omega 3. This is produced by cold pressing small batches of seed grown on the Wilmington Farm. The family has been farming for four generations and can boast that Bath Harvest Rapeseed Oil is a fully traceable ‘field to fork’ artisan product.
Grown Green is a double award-winning sustainable market garden, based at Hartley Farm in Winsley. Founded in 2010, vegetables, herbs, salads and flowers are grown following organic standards year-round in polytunnels, herb beds and fields.
BANES Cheese and Meat
Do you need cheese? Then try Homewood Cheeses based in Ubley in the beautiful Chew Valley. The company makes its own cheeses by hand with ewes milk from two Somerset flocks. Choose from Fresh Ewes Cheese (curd), Halloumi, Ricotta, Pickled Ewes Cheese (feta-style) and a family of washed curd cheeses including Old Demdike. Homewood can be found every Saturday at the Bath Farmers Market and on the first Sunday of the month at the Frome Independent.
Finally, Larkhall Butchers is a multi-award winning shop situated in the heart of Larkhall, on the outskirts of Bath. A well-stocked traditional butcher’s counter supplements a selection of cooked and cured meats, as well as fresh fish and other accompaniments. The butcher’s is famous for its own sausages made freshly on site, using pea flour as a substitute for rusks for a range of delicious 100% gluten free sausages.
And these are just a few of the local food producers that AC Services Southern found in the BANES region.
Every couple of months AC Services takes a look at what’s been making the regional news in the area it serves in the food and drink industry. This time Welsh news is uppermost.
It seems that Wales is thinking ahead and planning for any contingency caused to the industry by Brexit. The Welsh government has pledged to pump £22 million into the food and drink industry. It cites its support for agri-food as a “strategic priority”. In 2018 the Welsh food and farming sector was worth £6.8 billion employing 217,000 people. The cash will support innovation and help navigate the post-Brexit landscape.
It has a particular emphasis on strengthening European partnerships. This is an attempt to minimise the chaos surrounding Brexit which threatens to damage trading relationships. Food Innovation Wales has become a network partner of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s Food KIK. With the funding from Wales, a dedicated EIT presence will be established in Wales. This links the Welsh industry to a wider consortium of industry players across Europe.
Denbigh fruit from the Vale of Clwyd has been given protected food name status by the European Commission. It now stands proudly up with the likes of Welsh lamb and Caerphilly cheese. Denbigh boasts the only native variety of plum in Wales. Over the past ten years, it has witnessed a resurgence of plums being grown in the area.
It is only the 16th Welsh product, and Wales’ first fruit, to gain the EU’s prestigious protected food name status. It will now receive Europe-wide protection against imitation, misuse and fraud.
Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs said: “I’m delighted The Vale of Clwyd Denbigh Plum has been honoured with protected food name status. I hope it will prove a welcome boost for businesses in the area. With Brexit fast approaching, we are determined to support Welsh food and drink businesses and ensure they are given all necessary help in a challenging marketplace.”
South West English News
The opening of a new vegan street food café serving vegan pizzas, wraps, smoothies and homemade pancakes and crumpets to the residents of Teignmouth has taken place. Nourish Plant Based Cafe has a tantalising menu on offer. This includes garlic mushrooms, rocket, sundried tomatoes, soft cheese, refried beans, roasted veg, spinach, creme fraiche, guacamole, bean salad, tomato salsa and house aioli.
In nearby Seaton, a café serving all-local ingredients has been opened to support West Country food producers. All the food and drink at Taste of the West @ Seaton Jurassic is guaranteed to be produced locally in the South West. Devon Wildlife Trust is providing the venue.
“This is the perfect partnership for us,” says Richard Drysdale, Head of Visitor Centres for Devon Wildlife Trust. “We are committed to supporting local businesses and offering the very best food and drink to our visitors.” Taste of the West plans to roll out the café franchise throughout the South West.
And finally, there’s good news for the seafood industry. According to the most recent HMRC statistics (March 2019), the South West now exports more seafood than any other region in England. Overseas sales now total more than £155.7m in 2018.
Sales to China jumped by 25.9% in 2018, compared to the previous year. This is driven by increasing disposable income within China’s rapidly expanding middle class and the UK’s strong reputation for the quality of its catch.
As a company focused on servicing and maintaining Rational ovens for all sorts of catering businesses; it’s not surprising we’re also interested in food sourcing and safeguarding the future. For many of our clients the choice of ingredients and being different is important. This is why the first UN study of biodiversity set our alarm bells ringing.
This warns of “humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity”. The Food and Agriculture Organisation issued the report and the findings are pretty stark. Over the past 20 years, around 20% of the vegetated surface of the earth has become less productive. In other words, our global capacity to produce food is weakening.
What do we mean by biodiversity ? According to definition it is the “variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part…diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” On the David Attenborough scale of climate-changing significance, it is way up there.
The Decline of Natural Assets
Scientists involved in the report found evidence the natural support systems underpinning the human diet are deteriorating around the world. Factories, farms and urban infrastructure in particular, are capturing land and pumping out chemicals. This is leading to a debilitating loss in natural assets. These include forests, coral reefs, soil biodiversity, grasslands, and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species.
There is a reduction in the amount of species indirectly involved in food production. Examples of these are crop-pest eating birds and water-purifying mangrove trees. Pollinators are at risk, and they provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops.
But if we are producing more food than ever before, as we are, how is this possible? The sobering reality is that we are relying on ever-expanding monocultures. Incredibly, two-thirds of crop production comes from just nine species. These are maize, sugar cane, wheat, potatoes, rice, soybeans, oil-palm fruit, cassava and sugar beet.
There are at least 6,000 cultivated plant species categorised as being in decline. At the same time wild food sources are becoming harder to find. Agriculture and urbanisation are taking much of the blame with habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, invasive species, pathogens and climate change.
Are We In Danger?
Is this overdependence on a handful of products a problem? Seemingly so, as the report cited the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s; the 20th century cereal crop failures in the US; and more recently the losses of taro production in Samoa in the 1990s as examples of when overdependence can have a brutal impact on humans.
Even the Lancett has joined the crusade, stating that “our diets are the largest cause of climate change and biodiversity loss is now overwhelming”. The global food system is responsible for around 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with the livestock sector on its own accounting for about 14.5% of that figure. Its solution? Halve global meat consumption, and more than double the volume of whole grains, pulses, nuts, fruit and vegetables.
If that’s too radical, in 2016, another report suggested an alternative solution. “Possible policy options include better protection of natural environments and ecosystems, limiting the scope of intensive agriculture, and finding alternatives to pesticides.”
Last word goes to Michael Higgins, Ireland’s president. “Around the world, the library of life that has evolved over billions of years – our biodiversity – is being destroyed, poisoned, polluted, invaded, fragmented, plundered, drained and burned at a rate not seen in human history. If we were coal miners we’d be up to our waists in dead canaries.”