March 2020 - Look forward to a future of Real Food

Published in Charlbury Chronicle March 2020

We are all realising now that agriculture has a big impact on Climate Change. You might have heard George Monbiot’s opinion that we should abandon farming and welcome laboratory grown meat, but I’d like to reassure you that there is another way.

Yes, conventional modern farming since the 1950s has had a direct and catastrophic effect on the biodiversity of our countryside and climate change. The agrochemical, and machinery industries hand-in-hand with food processors and supermarkets set farming off in a direction fuelled by fossil fuels that destroyed the hedgerows, wildflower hay meadows, devastated insect and bird life and impoverished the soil. Together they have driven us to a culture of eating ready-made processed cheap convenience “food” where we have lost the skill of cooking ourselves. As well as affecting the stability of life on earth this fast and easy type of food is also making us ill and we are facing both obesity and diabetes crises. Even as we know this, the influence of the fast food industry spreads around the world displacing healthy diets, so on a global scale no wonder there is a valid cry to say no to intensive meat and dairy production methods like you see in the USA. But, as I said, there is another way . . .

I am always inspired by attending the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) in early January and am always impressed by the knowledge, research and sustainable, regenerative farming practices that are out there; but ordinary members of the public don’t really get to hear about this good stuff. I wrote last March in the Chronicle about the new research published by the Oxford Martin School that it’s an increase in methane that should be used in the climate models rather than the amount of methane produced. I have been disappointed in the past year that this still hasn’t yet become mainstream knowledge (though it is beginning to have some influence) and every carbon footprint calculator still attributes an exaggerated impact from ruminants. Unfortunately short-lived methane dominates the media and distracts from the real problem of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels that have the serious long-term warming effect. If you want to understand this subject better, I recommend you listen to Episode 1 of the Farm Gate podcasts

The message I want to share with you from this year’s conference is the phrase “It’s not the Cow, it’s the How”. Low input regenerative farming methods including grazing livestock can beneficially sequester carbon deep into the soil, increase the biodiversity of our countryside, and provide healthy nutritious food for us to eat. This isn’t much good though if we continue to eat depleted food products based on less favourable practices often from abroad. Every time we buy food we can make the choice about what sort of farming system we support. For example, when paying more for organic food, it’s not just about the food itself, it is about the health and welfare of our countryside and our planet. Eating well-sourced meat 2-3 times a week ties in with the IPCC advice for us to eat less but better meat. Also Colin Tudge, the co-founder of the ORFC, recommends “plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety” for a global diet that will easily feed 9 billion in 2050.

Supermarket foods inevitably have lengthy supply chains with farmers getting a very small part of what you pay. Buying straight from the producer gives them a much fairer income, and that’s why Farmers’ Markets and farm gate sales are so important to support. Every time we buy something, whether it’s holidays, gadgets, clothes, furniture, or food, we make choices. In a carefree world, decisions might be taken on a whim, but in today’s world we need a more mindful understanding of what our choices mean. Everything we buy has implications for climate change and we now know that our decisions have a much wider effect. When we spend money we need to invest in who and what we want to encourage, in this way are purchases are very powerful. See for local food suppliers.

Charlbury Green Hub