"Opening up about politics is not always the easiest thing to do and we hope that everyone went away feeling more knowledgeable about some of the political issues surrounding food."
A few days after the General Election, Women In the Food Industry held an event at City Hall on the politics of food. A diverse panel of women covered a big range of topics including food poverty, slave-free food, food waste, gender politics in professional kitchens, Brexit, sustainability and more.
Clara Widdison - Kitchen Social Programme Manager at Mayor's Fund for London who is based at City Hall opened the evening, explaining the work of the programme. It gives children and young people a safe place to go during the school holidays where they can socialise, make new friends and get a healthy free meal.
Women in the Food Industry co-founder Mex Ibrahim, chaired the rest of the evening and asked the panel why they felt people in general were becoming more interested about where their food came from. The influence of social media was cited, as the panel noted that food brands were now becoming much more accountable & visible as to where their food was sourced. Nicola Matthews UK & Ireland Marketing Manager from Tony's Chocolonely explained how Tony's was set up initially by a group of journalists to hold the chocolate industry to account and show that slave-free chocolate is a viable option.
Food poverty and food insecurity in the UK was covered next and Ann Storr– Food Waste Fighter said she had resorted to "stone soup" - making something out of almost nothing - in the past and that experience led to her starting Storr Cupboard to share tips on food waste. She also discussed her work with the Alexandra Rose Charity (helping to give fresh food to families in need) and Small Change Big Difference who are working with London Boroughs to educate everyone on small steps we can take to effect the environment by changing how we eat and dispose of food.
Laura Winningham– CEO of City Harvest London, London’s first large scale, food redistribution effort to connect surplus food with those facing hunger, surprised many of us with the simple statistics around the distribution of food in the UK. The panel were discussing food banks and the recent Channel 4 Dispatches episode highlighting the plight of many young families in the UK who regularly face hunger. Each month in London, 9.2 million meals are missed by people due to food poverty and yet 13.3 million meals are wasted by businesses.
Victoria Stewart freelance journalist, founder of Hospitality Speaks & Insights Manager at Belazu spoke about inequality within professional kitchens. Hospitality Speaks, the initiative she recently founded is highlighting stories of people who are being unfairly treated in kitchens, but also highlights good practice and restaurants and kitchens management and leadership practices which show the industry is changing.
Dr Anna Sulan Masing writer, academic & trends forecaster, and co-founder of AMP gave a very insightful summary of how the hierarchy of kitchen "brigade" system came about, and the importance of making sure this still relates to how people work and expect to be treated in the 21st century.
Angela Malik – advisor and board member on the influential Mayor of London’s Food Board gave her views on the whether and how the government have a role in what we eat. With rises in childhood obesity and people from BAME communities have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes at a young age the panel were asked whether sugar taxes or taxing unhealthy food were a good thing. Angela spoke passionately about education having the biggest influence in what we eat.
The debate also turned to the effects of Brexit on each of the panellists areas of food and it was interesting to hear both the positive and negative outcomes the panellists shared. Staffing, the cost & distribution of fresh food and fair trade were all seen as challenges, but on a positive note, the panel acknowledged that there were now opportunities for us to focus on food produced in the UK and for the country (or at least those who could afford it) to eat with the seasons and get more creative with seeking out products such as truffles and lentils which can be grown in the UK.
The discussion continued after the debate and the panel and audience stayed to enjoy wine nibbles, networking and also took home goodie bags with samples kindly donated by Tony’s Chocolonely & Belazu.
Visit Women in the Food Industry for the full recap of The Politics of Food Debate