Food of course presents us with a tangle of problems, that come down to the challenge of getting people sufficiently fed on a finite planet. Re-scaling food systems so production, manufacturing and consumption happens through more local relations is sure to be a field for useful change. But it’s a complex field, as demonstrated at the Localising Food Systems conference at Oxford University today, organised by the Local Nexus Network.
Matt Watson was there to deliver a plenary talk from the Reshaping the Domestic Nexus project, and representing the Nexus Network. The home is decidedly local, to be sure; but the connection really was through recognising that practices around food at home will be at stake in processes of rescaling systems of food provisioning. Relocalisation of different sorts will have consequences for household routines and the reshaping of social expectations and norms, from reducing choice and having variability in supply as a result of localising food growing through to householders printing their own food with 3D printers.
This was part of a decidedly diverse conference, that diversity reflecting something of the complexity of the food system. Some bleak statistics, inevitably. Harris Makatsoris quotes projections that reckon the world population will demand more calories in the next 50 years than in all of human history to this point. Doubtless there are innumerable uncertainties and contestable assumptions behind this, as there always are in any future scenarios. But allowing for all that, its still pretty bleak.
More locally, Hannah Fenton from Good Food Oxford, told us that most of Oxfordshire’s agricultural land grows wheat that is exported for animal feed.
But perhaps most upsetting was news from Valentina Stojceska that the energy costs of the Chocolate Storage System in biscuit manufacturing means that chocolate coating makes your biscuit substantially more climate damaging (so far as manufacturing goes – the burden of transporting them will surely help even things up).
Across presentations, various routes for specific means for making things a bit better on some fronts were clearly shown, from open innovation models for multinational food businesses to community food sheds to life cycle assessment of tomato paste production. It did not all make for any clear idea either of clear paths for major changes of the scale needed; or a clear picture of how to think about the very different means for, and costs and benefits of, the diverse means of ‘re-localising’ that could be pursued. Even with a narrow focus on measurable environmental consequences of different ways of providing foods, the complexities are intense, even before extending to consideration of the implications for policy, governance, community, health and wellbeing. Great to know a network of researchers like those behind this project are part of the push to understand what is at stake.