Blog Series Part 4 – Chefs' Manifesto London Action Hub Spring Gathering
With an overall focus on the United Nations Food Systems Summit Action Track 2 - Shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, the Chefs' Manifesto London Action Hub Spring Gathering followed a 'menu of 5 courses.' The fourth course zoomed into a particular case study: the avocado.
How do we improve nutritious diets using local supply chains? Can we incentivise better agricultural practices, improve diets and still support global trade? These questions were at the heart of a conversation between Corinna Hawkes, Professor for Food Policy at City University, and Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub; framing the fourth session of the Chefs' Manifesto London Action Hub Spring Gathering.
Ingredients for successful green commodities policy: Coming into the conversation with years of experience in the area of food policy, Professor Hawkes first stressed that the most important ingredient for successful and effective policy is political commitment. Willingness and commitment can be created in different ways: either, there are political champions in governments who drive agendas, or; advocates are needed to make noise loud enough to be heard by politicians. Another important ingredient is the policy framework: a framework on sustainability and health is needed for the foundation for green commodities policies to be built around. Money, too, is an ingredient – which is too often spent on businesses and skills which are not going to advance the agenda on green commodities.
Public policy lives on different levels; including international, national, but also, the municipal and local level. Especially on the latter levels, exciting activities and actions are gathering pace. Smaller communities increasingly decide what changes they want to see in their localities and then take matters into their own hands to realise and implement these changes.
Supporting nutritious diets – the individual level: Moving to an individual level, Professor Hawkes addressed the question of what citizens should do to support nutritious diets, particularly through local supply chains. People with the means to do so, should – and have a responsibility to – buy healthfully from businesses supporting environmental and social sustainability. Too often even those with the resources and means still chose to purchase cheap, unsustainable food. This mindset needs to shift; people must take the conscious decision to spend their disposable money to support people who are producing sustainable food. The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit especially demonstrates this importance of not acting in silos and of marrying the demand and supply side.
But what about those who struggle to afford to eat well, i.e. those not able to buy sustainable produce at a a higher price? Professor Hawkes stressed that sustainable businesses have a variety of options to provide affordable food to the masses who struggle to afford to eat well. It is a challenge, no doubt. However, there are amazing opportunities for new sustainable businesses to ask: 'How can we function as a business but also support low income communities? Are there ways to make our supply chains more efficient? Are there government programmes such as voucher schemes that could stimulate that match?'
Professor Hawkes stressed that in all cases we must better understand complexities around what is influencing what people are eating. Emotional and psychological factors play just as an important role as money and time. Community gardens are a good example - where people have ownership and invest their time, including to build and maintain social connection. If we understood such factors better and fed them into people's ideas about themselves, and then made note of that in policy, then we might start to drive change.
Incentivising better ag practices but supporting trade: The discussion ended on a global note, discussing how can we incentivise better agricultural practices and improve diets, while still supporting global trade. Globally, the answer to this has to be supporting small-scale farmers to enable them to produce good food. Smallholder farmers produce about 30% of the world's food, but provide about 80% of micronutrients globally. This proves that smallholders already produce nutritious, healthy food, yet face a lot of barriers in accessing markets. Global markets tend to prioritise farmers who already have assets and resources, therefore leaving others behind. A second crucial element is the empowerment of women, who play essential roles across food systems. Only by truly elevating women and giving them equal decision-making power and access, can we achieve progress.
Chef Conor spacey assesses each ingredient in his kitchen in Ireland, and how it affects people and planet. Avocados are packed with vitamins and nutrition, and their consumption has skyrocketed in recent years. They have become a super-food included as part of veganism and vegetarianism growing popularity in the Western world. However on his menus, Conor has never used them, because he hasn't been able to find a sustainably produced avocado in Ireland. Conor stressed that chefs have a responsibility to make sure their menus are sustainable, and to consider everything. They play a crucial role in understanding and sharing information around food, food production and consumption. And chefs have contributed to the challenges with the avocados: by spotlighting them on menus and in dishes, they have contributed to it becoming such a super-food trend.
In the ensuing conversation, Chef Conor and Jonny Jacobs from Longevity Development discussed some of the particular challenges we face with the avocado. Jonny stressed that the problem isn't the fruit, but the price we attribute to it or are happy to pay for it. He gave the example of the banana trade – one of the ugliest and most violent trades in the world – however, if managed properly on the ground, can work. The question is how can we affect pricing and consumer decisions? Avocados, Jonny highlighted, don't have to be grown on a commercial farm. You can grow avocados anywhere that has the right amount of rainfall and ripe soil. Then, you need to support rural food systems in dealing with the demand and set up a good supply chain and relationship between the rural and commercial operator. For avocados, it is the post-harvest stage, i.e. how you manage the fruit after you pull it off the tree, which matters most and poses the most challenges. Because once the ripening process has started, you cannot stop it, which then may influence you to put an avocado on a plane rather than a ship. But there are solutions such as ripening chambers or a bag-ripening system. Finally, the destinations of avocados also have to be decisively clearer on what standards they expect and require.
So is there a solution to the sustainability of avocado consumption? Vidal Cobos and Aleksandra Rutyna joined us from Crowd Farming, introducing their initiative of connecting growers directly to consumers, and, in the unique microclimate of Spain, producing tropical fruit considerably lowering the travel footprint of the produce. Consumers don't actually buy a box of fruit from Crowd Farming; but rather adopt a tree or peace of garden and then, when the harvest comes around, receive the fruit of their tree or land. There is no storage or warehouse involved, and the produce travels directly from the farm to the consumer. Watch the full course below: