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Food: Good, Bad or Ugly?

6 June 2013

Food and the Future

Food was on the table for discussion at the recent joint seminar of MeSC (Medicine, Society and Culture) and CIP (Culture, Imagination and Practice).

In the current climate of food poverty and horse meat scandals, what we eat is a controversial topic. This roundtable session, discussing the ‘good, bad and ugly’ of food became an engaging space in which contributors from different areas shared their perspectives.

First, Ian Purcell talked about the reasons why he set up Cardiff Foodbank three years ago which is now one of 345 food banks across the UK. The bank is playing an increasingly important role in alleviating food poverty in Cardiff. 24 per cent of children in the UK live in poverty and it is predicted that the situation will get worse with increasing food bills and benefit cuts. Local agencies give out vouchers that can be redeemed at the foodbank warehouse for a food parcel that lasts between 3-5 days.

Then Lara Bell spoke about the ‘London Food Project’, an interesting and self-funded venture which aims to bring people together through food. Lara set up the project to address the isolation that some people, particular those from different nationalities, can feel in a large metropolitan city - over 300 languages are spoken in London. Lara and the project photographer Martha, are invited into people’s homes to share food and discuss customs and culture. Their aim is to explore the positive aspects of migration and globalisation, and promote understanding and tolerance through food.

Finally, Dr Martin O’Neill spoke about the research he conducted in the Welsh valleys. He used interviews and focus groups to explore the barriers to healthy eating in an economically poor community, describing north Merthyr Tydfil as one of the poorest areas of UK with rising levels of obesity. Where the life expectancy for men in these communities is 57, unhealthy eating presents a big burden on social care. Yet changing the culture around food can be difficult, the close link between food and identity means that questioning someone’s diet can be experienced as a personal attack. Martin said that parents were often concerned about their family’s food habits but felt powerless to make changes. Echoing the concern about benefit reform, Martin strongly expressed that taking money out of a disadvantaged community will only lead to more problems.

All three talks were united by the underlying theme that food is political. Food can be both a problem and a solution. The lively discussion that followed included questions about social responsibility, stigma surrounding food donations, ‘chip butties’ and freeganism (taking food from supermarket bins). Plenty of food for thought....

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