While farming might seem distant, even irrelevant, to some urban dwellers, we all eat food. What we eat, how we eat it and where it comes from generates heated debate, particularly in relation to the nation’s health and wellbeing. The food we eat is linked with shortening life expectancy and increased morbidity — heart disease, diabetes, and obesity related illnesses. Moreover, the science about what comprises a healthy and sustainable diet is evolving, challenging some of the prevailing wisdom about efficient and sustainable food production, not to mention socially responsible retailing. The impacts of these changes are unequally distributed through society. While diet-related diseases are driven by over-consuming unhealthy calories, the rise in the UK of food banks, food poverty and hunger in the last five years should also be a cause for concern. Couple this with the emerging research on the effects of micro-nutrients on the micro-biome, and micropollutants in the environment, the far-reaching and fast changing impacts of our food system become apparent.
- Who is responsible — indeed capable — of addressing these challenges? Should governments consider more assertive policy in seeking to shape diets towards better health outcomes? And what role can other food system actors play?
- Why has better public procurement – one of the clearest ways government can lead change – proved so elusive?
- Which policy levers affecting farming and trade have the biggest effects on what we eat? Do citizens have a right to healthy food?
- How can we maximise the public health and wellbeing benefits that come from closer contact with countryside and green space?