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Wooden box full of colourful vegetables like peppers, runner beans and beetroot Wooden box full of colourful vegetables like peppers, runner beans and beetroot

Asking for change-local food and you.

By Sara Venn

Here our regional facilitator from the north east, Joe Dunne, looks at how to make a change in your local food story.

It is safe to assume that we all would like a food system that has sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management in order to enhance environmental, economic, and social health. However, when you look at the whole picture, huge multinational corporations with all the power dictate what we eat and the challenge is somewhat daunting. Even when you bring it much smaller and look at it within a relatively small area (such as a system that supplies a small town in England) and you’re trying to get it still seems almost impossible to achieve.  

But don’t despair – small changes can have a big difference. By spending a few pounds a week on local food, it really adds up. For example, if the population of Middlesbrough spent just £3 a week a year on local food and drink, that would equate to £21m in the local food economy. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what that would means to small independent businesses 

But what if you are not sure where to buy local food? Just ask. Ask the places where you eat or smaller/ independent shops where they get their food from. Ask them for food that is grown or reared locally. The more people like you that do this, the greater the chance the cafe/ restaurant/ shop owners that buy the food will want to get local food. And if they are asking their suppliers for more local food, then there is a very good chance the suppliers will start to stock more local food. You see how it works? So this simple activity (demand for local food) has an impact on the supply. And if there is sufficient demand and supply, the other elements of the food system will usually sort themselves out. 

But local food is too expensive, right? Well it is, isn’t it? Well, not really. On the whole, the cost of local food and drink is the true cost of food. It is paying people a more reasonable wage, not exploiting people. On the whole it is building in the environmental impact of the food production into the cost, rather than the large food producers that exploit the land/ wildlife etc and then walk away without any remedial work taking place. Plus with small independent food producers, they are everything in one; delivery, finance, promotion, production, development etc. So the more time they are out delivering or doing one of the other elements, they are not producing or growing. 

But buying local food is the right way to go. The more money that is circulated in our local food system, the greater its value. The New Economics Foundation did a study and found out that money is worth 400% more if spent locally, which sounds pretty good to me. 

But what about all the local food grown on a small scale by local people – is there a place for some of that in the catering system? Yes, is the simple answer. The complications from the catering side of things are (to name a few) regular supply of quantity and quality. But this can be overcome by finding a chef/ owner who is passionate about local food, where the story of its provenance is important, and working with them. Talk to them prior to the growing season so you can plan what you put in the ground, rather than asking them to take stuff they don’t want. The easiest place for restaurants to put seasonal produce is on their specials menu, as that changes more than the main menu. If you know of a number of people that grow, what about forming a small Food Coop, so collectively you are stronger and have a more regular supply of certain quantities? And if the whole finance/ invoicing thing is a bit scary and you’re not registered as a business/ CIC/ whatever with bank account, why not come to an agreement with the restaurant for them to make a pre-agreed donation to the community allotment/ IE group etc?

As the consumer we have the ultimate choice and the opportunity to use our voices. Statistics show it only takes 7 requests for buyers to start listening to a requested change, so why not make one of those requests yours?