15 May 2017 Morocco to Timbuktu

The BBC has a great programme – Morocco to Timbuktu – presented by Alice Morrison. The first part shows some wonderful markets and it is well worth watching if you have access.  The second part is this Thursday.


25 April 2017: TXT, Engine of Wandering Words – Ana Torfs

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I saw an amazing exhibition of jacquard tapestries by Ana Torfs early last summer at the Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. The exhibition – TXT, Engine of Wandering Words – features six beautiful pieces, each depicting examples of ‘wandering words’: ginger, saffron, sugar, coffee, tobacco and chocolate. As Ana Torfs says, ‘The images conjure up very diverse wor(l)ds and eras’ and offer a striking comment on ‘how trade brings languages together’. The use of ‘Wandering Words’ in the exhibition title demonstrates how words wander across the world’s geographies and spread among numerous languages and cultures. The panel above is on chocolate.

Looking at these 25 images, I am struck today by how a new consultation paper from a group of NGOs (VOICE network) that are part of the Cocoa Barometer Consortium reinforces what we see here. The consultation encourages chocolate makers to set a minimum price for cocoa and to eventually move to a flexible premium system. This could help ensure a living income for smallholder cocoa farmers and their dependents who are barely surviving in a pricing structure ravaged by the many factors affecting world trade.


24 April 2017: the ubiquitous market

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Food markets are everywhere – they are truly ubiquitous. Throughout the world all cities, suburbs, small towns and villages have them. These markets are constantly adapting as we change our shopping habits. Retail malls have provoked varied reactions over time, competing with traditional high streets and often seen as blots on the landscape. However, times are changing and they are losing popularity – in the US, there is even a website charting their decline state by state. Many are finding new uses including those being reinvented as indoor food halls, combining a traditional market with upscale food vendors. But how does this impact on traditional markets that have been here for our neighbourhood communities for centuries, supplying them with healthy and accessible food and providing support for local businesses. As cities change and regeneration moves local people out of the centre what happens to this way of shopping for fresh food?  I have started a new blog, the ubiquitous market to document all that is new, exciting and essential about food markets and the people that create them. the ubiquitous market provides a window into how food markets adapt as we change our shopping habits and aims to chart current trends.


6 April 2017: Now what is happening to the UK dairy industry?

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Issues in our milk and dairy industry have been covered by this blog for some time. I am now dismayed to read an article by Daisy Buchanan who writes about recent growth in nut and plant-based milks amongst young people. These cost five times as much as dairy milk. She notes that ‘46% of 16- to 24-year-olds now believe they are allergic to cow’s milk compared to 8% of people aged over 75.’ But concludes that this ‘milk-free trend isn’t making us healthier or happier.’ (A 200ml glass of milk gives calcium, protein, iodine, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B2 and B12). I also ask what does this do to our struggling dairy industry?


17 March 2017: How to address food insecurity: some of the challenges

A couple of new reports highlight the challenges of addressing food insecurity.

As gentrification accelerates in US cities, Brian Massey points out that attempts to increase food access through initiatives such as urban farms and gardens can actually have the adverse affect of pushing poor and low-income people out of neighbourhoods. Social media hypes up the initiative and, as Josh Singer of the Wangari Gardens project says,  “all of a sudden that garden is just full of people who recently moved to the neighborhood, who are all good people, but who aren’t really food insecure.”

 A new UK Food Research Collaboration report by Martin Caraher and Sinéad Furey also highlights the challenges of food insecurity. The authors say that increasing the distribution of food waste through food banks and the like can actually make food insecurity worse. They point out that although these initiatives feed the food-insecure in the short-term (which is becoming more and more essential), in the long-term, governments are able to ignore the root causes of poverty that lead to food insecurity in the first place and avoid their welfare responsibilities towards their citizens.


14 March 2017: Pesticides, organics and Brexit

A new UN report denounces the ‘myth’ that pesticides are necessary to feed the world. As reported in the Guardian, the report says pesticides have ‘catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning’. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production”, and “using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger”. The report recommends a move towards a global treaty to govern the use of pesticides and a move to sustainable practices including natural methods of suppressing pests and crop rotation, as well as incentivising organically produced food.

Indeed, in the UK sales of pesticide-free produce are actually flourishing. Tesco reports a 15% hike over the past year and the latest UK market figures show that sales for organic produce are at their strongest in a decade. As reported in the Guardian, “In growth terms, organic is now outperforming the non-organic grocery market, contradicting cynics who said that at the first whiff of austerity we would ditch high-minded concerns about animal welfare, pesticides and the planet, and join the cheap food scrum”.

UK shoppers have not had time to really engage with what the potential outcomes of Brexit could be for food and farming. Terry Marsden and Kevin Morgan from Cardiff University call for the UK Government to recognise that we urgently need a national strategy, where the country comes together to develop an innovative, internationalist and integrated-systems- approach to the production and supply of sustainable food and promotion of sustainable diets. They say that failure to do so could expose us to vulnerabilities impacting human health and well-being far more than any other sector currently prioritised in the Brexit negotiation plans. As Victoria Schoen and Tim Lang also argue, we need a clear commitment from HM Government for ‘a post-Brexit agricultural sector to differentiate itself by producing high quality products with higher – not lower – environmental, health and labour standards.


26 October 2016: rising demand for organic foods and the struggles of US Whole Foods

Amidst rising demand for organic food and grocery products (for the UK, see The Organic Report 2016 by the Soil Association), the US supermarket Whole Foods has growing financial trouble. A recent report by Natural News describes how new competitive markets mean that consumers are shopping elsewhere for organic groceries, including in WalMart. In addition, the article reports how Whole Foods has  been caught up in a number of scandals, including price-gouging and cheating customers with false weights and measures which, it suggests, has also added to customer perceptions about how shopping in the store eats up your ‘Whole Paycheck.’

In the UK, although the Soil Association report demonstrates the organic market is up 4.9% on last year,  the most rapid growth has been in the organic health and beauty sector (up by 21.6%) and the catering sector (up by 15.2%).  The report also shows how widening interest in the organic sector has resulted in new opportunities for independent retailers (up by 7.5%) and growth in ‘box schemes’ and online sales (up 9.1%), alongside more modest growth in supermarket sales (up 3.2%).