Heartbroken, as elements of our flawed food system devastated

Originally published 3rd May 2020

Milk is literally being poured down the drain. Farmed fish up and down the country are at risk of being culled in the tens of thousands. Farmers are facing devastation to their businesses. They fear that the very supermarkets that have driven their businesses to scale up in size and intensity will now drop their contracts at the slightest hint supply is drying up: no loyalty, no care, no compassion. The ruthless profit-driven nature of this system is gobsmacking.

Why did we let everything grow so large that we lost all sense of what actually goes on? It is easy to have no care, no loyalty or compassion when you are disconnected from the harm that is being done. Has society really lost its fundamental values? Or can we liken our crowded city lives to those of a tank of farmed trout, held in confinement, ignorant of the wider world? In the city, no matter how knowledgeable you are about food issues, even the most competent and ethical shoppers still struggle to know where their food comes from.


The answer to my question about values is: no, most of us really do care about our food but are completely let down by government’s lack of regulation of the system. The disconnect between food producer and ‘consumer’ (a pernicious, mind-set-shaping term which we must reject in favour of ‘responsible citizen’) needs to close.

Smaller businesses that provide locally are often safer (in many ways) than the immense agro-industrial businesses that produce to scale to satisfy ‘the market’ (i.e. the pathological financial system’s addiction to growth, the demands of a few immensely wealthy people not shy to wield their wealth to influence policy, and the counterproductive ‘fiduciary duty’ of pension funds to maximise profits, which is often used as an excuse to exclude consideration of society- and biosphere-wrecking ‘externalities’).

Food aid abhorrent

Lockdown has quickly forced us into a food-aid society. Meanwhile the food-waste crisis is beginning to unfold, mostly driven by the shutdown of the hospitality sector. We, very reluctantly, are one of many organisations that are providing food aid to our community. I say ‘reluctantly’, but perhaps I mean regrettably, because, whilst on the one hand we are congratulated for our heroic efforts (and all the team and volunteers are heroic in their efforts, so please don’t misunderstand me), on the other, the fact that food aid is needed is abhorrent. It is scandalous, and is certainly not the long-term solution.

I cringe sometimes at the loss of people’s dignity, loss of autonomy and privacy as names are added to an ever-increasing database of need. This is not OK! This is a bust.

This is what a broken food system looks like, and we simply have not done enough to address it. A universal citizen’s income would go a long way to resolving much of the need that has come from job losses. However, smaller, more localised, supply chains are also essential, and go hand-in-glove with producing more of our own food, and reducing the food waste we are seeing as a result of lockdown. We are leaving our society vulnerable by continuing to neglect food security (food resilience), and resolving this with a more localised – and, yes, more labour-intensive food sector – will provide the jobs of the future. These are the ‘just transition’ jobs we so desperately need. A localised food system can be more responsive to community needs.

Neglected pavilion

Organisations like ours have been attempting to bring about radical change in the food system for many years. Locally, and I mean micro-locally, we have often been viewed as an unimportant side issue, at least by some.

Perhaps this explains why we still sit with a rotten damp pavilion on the Links, despite demonstrating repeatedly our cast-iron case for its refurbishment? Our vision for Leith Community Croft – which includes it being a model for others to emulate – is potentially a major part of a solution to a really difficult problem. It is the antidote to many challenges we face. We are only just on the cusp of realising its full potential.

I often wonder what kind of people would want to work in an organisation like ours, with our unattractive diabolical pavilion on the Croft at the heart of our activities?

Hope, against a background of indifference

So let’s examin