In his latest monthly column, FEASTED‘s Cris Cohen gets to grips with the food system, unravels its complexities and examines the huge appetite for food studies.
Good morning good people…
It may be on a morning like today that as you peer into your garden the haze of autumn is taking hold. Very much like the food system we can struggle to see things clearly.
Although through the haze can come a feeling of hope…
What I hope to do today is begin to lift the mist on the food system, so grab yourself a coffee and an oatcake (I will come back to oats at the end of this piece) and let’s delve into what is one of the most complex and nuanced systems on the planet.
I am going to start with an event at Keele that happened early in October with Henry Dimbleby.
Henry Dimbleby if you are not aware was tasked with compiling ‘The National Food Strategy’. A document that skates from one context to another with ease yet makes the jumps that would make the most experienced skater wince with anguish. Henry was also the founder of Leon and ‘The Chefs in Schools’ programme.
This document is a line in the sand moment. Or maybe frost would be a more seasonal reference. It reflects on how we got here, evaluates where we are at and outlines the actions we need to take.
If you’re engaged in the world of food I would highly recommend reading or ‘audiobook’ Ravenous. This is the more digestible version of the document that is so incredibly insightful.
On meeting Henry I congratulated him on his work. I believe he has achieved the ne-impossible. The food system is so complex that when his accompanying slides demonstrated this it resembled a very busy bowl of spaghetti.
Let’s begin the recipe of the food system
- Human need
- Human desire
- Natural resources
- Available land
- Meat protein
- Non meat protein
- Politics (across many departments)
- Food education
- Supply chains (supermarket supremacy)
- Public health
You get the picture… or at least the complexity.
The point is, the National Food Strategy compiles the multiple contexts of the food system and reflects on global, national and local perspectives.
So why does a chef in North Staffordshire care… Well… I spoke in last month’s column on chefs understanding far more that being able to create deliciousness.
Chefs… I said CHEFS… You didn’t hear me, I SAID C H E F S… you have the ability to do so much more.
But I need to make you aware of an underlying context here and one that is almost unknown.
I need to open the book on education…
I have been lucky enough to have been involved in the formulation of two qualifications. Firstly the introduction of the New Food GCSE which was launched in 2015. And most recently I spent a great deal of time working within steering groups for the new hospitality T level.
Currently the new hospitality T Level has been shelved.
This was because it proved too difficult for many invested parties to agree on what the ambition of the programme should look like.
I would like you to be aware that this is a time because of the conversation around food system change or at least, development, ambition was and is, without question fundamental to any food related training or learning.
The reason that agreement could not be reached was because of the power of some of the organisations involved. Giants such as McDonald’s, KFC, Greene King and Whitbread.
For me this is a sad reflection on the education of food related learning at college and without doubt, in school.
There is huge appetite for increase in food studies at all key stages within schools. From politicians to parents, people want the nation to be able to cook.
But with the T level qualification currently on hold, ambition for our young people within our schools and colleges is being undermined and completely undervalued, at a time when food related learning (I mean that in a broad sense) is more pertinent and vital than probably 10,000 years ago (I’ll come back to this shortly).
Because, there are challenges in the food system and where there are challenges there lie great opportunities.
Some of these are micro and some of these things are much much greater.
With over 8 billion people on the planet there is a need to consider how we are going to feed everyone and do this sustainably. We actually produce too much food to feed every human on the planet. It’s just there is too much food waste throughout the chain.
Most things we read on food or the impact on food are warped. Typically so to force a certain perspective or opinion for us to digest. This is not helpful. If causes confusion, resentment and fear… The reason why Henry’s work is so successful is that it considers the nuance and presents it with integrity and intent.
For me the Hospitality T Level should exist. And run alongside existing programmes of study at post 16 level. The new T level should be a rich programme built to support the need for entrepreneurship, innovation and to create a platform where chefs cook with intent and integrity. As I said in last month’s column, chefs have the ability to not only serve paying customers but also support communities.
I’m going to finish with our intent locally…
We have been working with Thistley Hough Academy in Stoke on Trent.
Our partnership is around working with students to help them realise the opportunities in food and raise their ambitions. Thistley also have an incredible allotment that we use produce from in the Feasted kitchen. This produce is grown by students and overseen by the wonderful Julia Mottershed.
We need to have meaningful partnerships like this one with Thistley to begin to create a recipe for a local system with local needs at its core.
Our partnership extends to helping students through mentorship to engage in learning. We believe in an exclusive yet inclusive model. Highly ambitious yet accessible to those who need it the most.
Cooking is an incredible activity that allows people to engage in skill development while exploring their personal development.
Earlier in this piece I mentioned oats…
Oats and barley are so integral to our local gastronomy. Almost the very seeds of our foods identity.
In the F E A S T E D kitchen we are always using these ingredients to explore these unwritten narratives. From oatcake ice cream to barley Koji ‘Stoke on Trent’ tastes incredible when you infuse local stories. Something that has had our guests in tears at Chefs Table.
Understanding this is integral to feeding our city, socially and gastronomically.
This is parallel to the work of Henry Dimbleby and the national food strategy.
We hope to bring Henry’s Chefs in Schools programme to the cities schools and hope Thistley will be the first.
I truly believe that growing a food system in a city where we have huge social and food deprivation is a reason why it can work. I believe that we can create a blueprint in the city for deliciousness socially and gastronomically.
I have said many times ‘We can have gastronomy in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, it’s just that here in our city it means something different. Something unique. Just like our 6 towns, there is no place like us.
A place of industry and industrious creativity. A city of kindness and the maker of the very foundations of hospitality…
Maybe there is a great future in us forging a city food system created with its people in mind and feeding the bellies of visitors from around the globe. History and hospitality, a very warming thought.
Gastronomy does belong here we just have to believe it is possible.