Last year I twice (virtually) encountered Carolyn Steel, a visionary thinker who envisions us solving many of our (self-created) problems with food.
The first time I came across her was actually many years ago, when I read her book ‘Hungry City’, a fascinating exploration of how food shaped and continues to shape our cities.
The next time I came across her was much later, at a time when it was hard to find anything to feel hopeful about faced with three big crises (coronavirus, climate, and Brexit). She presented an episode of the BBC R4 food programme which looked at her proposal for Sitopia. Sitopia is a word she coined herself: it’s a play on the word Utopia – sitos is the Greek work for food; she proposes a country where food is at the heart of all policy making. It’s also the name of the book she recently published.
Not long afterwards she gave a keynote presentation at a conference on food and cities which I had a small part in helping with when Bath City Farm was also asked to give a presentation. I wasn’t able to take part at the time, but was delighted to be sent a link to watch online at a later date.
There’s a rather horrible political saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’. However, of necessity we are now faced with three awful crises: the pandemic, the climate crisis, and now in the UK Brexit. We can sink or we can swim. My preference of course is to swim. We have to somehow seize the moment to create change for the better out of the crises. We have to start now.
Some of our local food producers responded magnificently to the coronacrisis by building almost from scratch a new and much shorter food chain. I’m thinking in particular of the cheesemaker where I buy my milk. When unexpectedly and suddenly they lost their usual market (when wholesalers supplying restaurants and caterers ceased to buy from them), they managed to build their small following of local people buying from them and also develop sales online. As a result they’ve been able to continue to make their excellent cheese from the organic milk from their farm, and they have expanded their farm cafe and shop. I think the cafe expansion was planned long before covid, but in the meantime they have had to rapidly rethink and change things as regulations have changed. There’s a lesson in there for all of us – it’s no good just mourning that things aren’t the same. Of course there’s a time and need for that, but in order to survive we have to reassess and change and adapt. Agility is no longer just the latest management buzz-word. It is essential.
And if you want to indulge in some seriously good cheese, I can strongly recommend Bath Soft Cheese. I have no connection with them, I just like their cheese and their milk, and their farm. And I admire how they’ve adapted and adjusted to change.
Do listen to the programme if you feel in need of a dose of optimism. I asked for and received the book for Christmas, and I’ve just started reading it.