For once I have to stray from my usual criticism!
Henry Dimbleby’s Part One of National Food Strategy, commissioned by Michael Gove when in charge of Agriculture, is good and very encouraging – let us hope that this government (which is in large part devoid of original ideas) takes them up!
I think it is worth highlighting that to start with that Dimbleby says:
I would particularly like to thank those civil servants who were seconded to address the urgent food security issues raised by COIVD-19. In lockdown, they worked around the clock to stop people going hungry. The energy with which they returned to this report, just a few weeks before publication, was extraordinary.
Which means that there was indeed Civil Service advice or even direction in the lockdown ‘panic buying’ crisis. That gives me hope that the Civil Service retains some of its old- fashioned skills.
Our administration was therefore still working…then…
I also think that the supermarkets, in particular Tesco, (also now owner of the largest grocery wholesaler, Booker) did a fairly good job in trying to provide for everyone. I hope that they can be relied upon to keep up the good work while the UK is crashing out of the EU. I fear this will be a much greater challenge – principally because it will be a major administrative – aka red tape – challenge, which they will have had fully 45 years of experience of doing nothing about. That is going to be a major obstacle, which will be new to everyone – with, additionally Covid-19 raging as well. On page 7 the report itself recognises this.
The report suggests that the Covid-19 crisis is the biggest stress test since WW2, which is no less than the truth. But while the food distribution system has so far survived, regrettably that is not actually the even bigger stress test of the Brexit.
The fact that, after a wobbly start, there were no serious food shortages is a testament to the flexibility and entrepreneurialism of so many food businesses, and the resilience of the system as a whole.
There have, however, been heavy losses. Workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19.
This acknowledgement suggests what I think I’ve read – which is that food production workers’ deaths have actually overtaken bus drivers’.
At the same time, the virus has shown with terrible clarity the damage being done to our health by the modern food system. Diet-related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of COVID-19. This has given a new urgency to the slow-motion disaster of the British diet. Even before the pandemic, poor diet was responsible for one in seven deaths in the UK (90,000 a year). That is vastly more than the death toll from traffic accidents (1,780 a year) and almost as fatal as smoking (95,000). This is a medical emergency we can no longer afford to ignore.
Quite so – and he continues:
Making sure a generation of our most disadvantaged children do not get left behind. Eating well in childhood is the very foundation stone of equality of opportunity. It is essential for both physical and mental growth. A poorly nourished child will struggle to concentrate at school.5 An obese child is extremely likely to become an obese adult, with the lifetime of health problems that entails. It is a peculiarity of the modern food system that the poorest sectors of society are more likely to suffer from both hunger and obesity. In the post-lockdown recession, many more families will struggle to feed themselves adequately. A Government that is serious about “levelling up” must ensure that all children get the nutrition they need.
We are realising here that by ‘allowing’ – or actually creating, as seems to be the current wish, poor and disadvantaged children we are currently building, in the here and now, quite purposely, a sub-optimal society for the future.
There is no worse welcome to the future than having poorly nourished children.
The future is, unsurprisingly, dissatisfaction, crime and violence.
Well done to the Tories?
All because the Conservative government cannot ‘find money‘ for proper nutrition for everyone.
We have, I fear sub-optimal nutrition for children, because we have sub-optimal education for politicians…