Urban food policy – a new iPES-Food report

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 7.28.01 PMThe International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food) yesterday released a superb report What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen: Insights from Five Case Studies. You can access the reports here.

The five cities are Belo Horizonte, (Brazil) Nairobi (Kenya), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), The Golden Horseshoe (Toronto and neighbouring districts) and Detroit (U.S.A). Each city had its own recipe of successful initiatives to transform the food system. This diagram is from Belo Horizonte’s “Municipal Secretariat for Food and Nutritional Security” (SMASAN) summarises their main strategies.

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Enablers

The report gleaned “enablers” of effective food system action from the 5 cities (pages 74 – 75).

1: Background and base-line research has been carried out to inform the policy.

2: Impacts are monitored and new data are collected throughout implementation.

3: Policy is continually or regularly reviewed and renewed.

4: The necessary policy powers and responsibilities exist at the local city government level.

5: Policy at the national level is supportive.

6: The ‘institutional home’ of the policy lends it strategic importance and/or provides channels of influence.

7: A governance body has been established to oversee the policy, that promotes accountability and efficiency.

8: Multiple city govern- ment departments are engaged with and committed to the policy.

9: Policy is developed through participatory process, involving both communities and city government (regardless of top-down or bottom-up origins) and actors across the food system.

10: Conflicts and ideological differences between actors are acknowledged and managed.

11: Part-funding is provi- ded by city government.

12: Overall funds obtained are su cient for implementation.

13: There are no restrictive conditions attached to funding.

14: High-level political commitment from city government is secured and leveraged.

15: Political commitment transcends electoral cycles.

I am grateful that we have international organisations like this to research food systems initiatives across the planet and shine the light on successful models of change.

 

 

Food Folly

Food was in the news last week highlighting a woeful lack of vision and leadership. If the consequences weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. They represent a failure of the industrial food system and of the health and political orthodoxy.

1. More sugar?

SOSThe Ministry of Primary Industries wrote to the sports drink manufacturer SOS Hydration warning that “a food sold as an electrolyte drink base must contain no less than 50g/L (grams/litre) and no more than 100g/L of various sugars”. That’s a minimum of 10 teaspoons of sugar! SOS Hydration only contains 10 g/L exposing them to a $100,000 fine.

The SOS director Tom Mayo claims MPI’s food code is based on discredited science. You can read and hear more about this at Radio NZ. The SOS website also explain the science behind their products.

2. Junk food advertising

When it comes to advertising, the deck is stacked. On the one hand, you have the smartest marking minds crafting messages for greatest impact. On the other hand, you have children, docile from perhaps hours of viewing and impressionable. A recipe for manipulation. And what are they being sold? Junk food. Recent research published in the Public Health Nutrition Journal analysed over 10,000 advertisements on 3 channels in New Zealand. About 1800 were about food. More than 1200 contained products that, according to the World Health Organisation, should not be marketed to children. Nearly 90 percent were shown at peak viewing times for children.

The lead researcher, Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, calculated 2 million impacts per hour between six and seven p.m., based on the number of ads and the number of children watching. The new advertising code will probably have no impact on these figures. Read and hear more about this at Radio NZ

This video features U.S. advertisements but they products and ads. are similar here. So are the catatonic stares.

3. Dementia on the rise

At the other end of life, dementia is on the rise. Over 60,000 people suffer from dementia in New Zealand and this is expected to triple in the next 30 years (Radio NZ).

The WHO is about to a draft Global Action Plan for combating dementia. Here is the draft. There are seven actions. To the cynical eye, they look more like a plan to increase health and research budgets than to make a significant difference.

For example, there was no mention of nutrition in the document, only 2 references to food – and that was about the daily sustenance rather than any thing about therapeutic values and no mention of inflammation.

Somehow, the food policy miss isn’t working. The regulators are going after the wrong people.

The Northland Food Policy Network is underway!

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These are the people that gathered at Northland Inc’s Orchard on Saturday 27 May for the inaugural meeting of the Northland Food Policy Network. Saba Issa skilfully facilitated the meeting first leading us through an exploration of why we were there. Five main motives emerged:

  • Supporting community based food systems projects, facilitated at the local level.
  • Supporting local growers and farmers ensuring the succession and growth of food production here.
  • Educating and communicating around food awareness.
  • Helping to create policy that supports sustainable food systems and fighting policy that doesn’t, from International down to whanau level.
  • Building a local network that exemplifies collaborative leadership, great engagement, communication and networking, and unity of purpose.

Policy action

We identified three policy areas to focus on, each led by sub-groups.

One group will seek questions from the network to pose to all general election candidates and disseminate the results to help voters identify the candidates who support sustainable food systems.

Sugar is the focus of a second group, who will work with health agencies and other Northland institutions to reduce the availability of sugar.

The third group will focus on supporting food producers with their first priority dealing with the advent of food safety plans to ensure that they don’t place too much burden on smaller producers.

He Kai Ora Tonu

He Kai Ora Tonu is the Māori name for the network given by Dr Benjamin Pittman. A rough translation is, vital, living, growing, healthy food in perpetuity. Ora means at once living, life, health with an inference of sustainability.

The meeting was characterised by a strong sense of shared purpose and the optimism for positive change.

Aotearoa Food Policy Network

This week the Aotearoa Food Policy Network was born!

While we have been working on plans for a food policy council in Northland, there has been activity happening around the country. People and Groups in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, the Bay of Plenty and Auckland have, or are forming groups focussing on food policy.

The Northland Food Policy Network has its inaugural meeting at The Orchard, 85 Cameron Street, Whangarei.

The national network will initially work together through a Loomio site. It is in the very early stages of development, so nothing is finalised yet, including the name. Collectively, we will have more impact to support advocacy to influence changes to food policy and accelerate the shift to sustainable food systems.

Food evolution and health in Aotearoa, part three: Consumerism

The first post in this series explored colonisation, and the second explored industrialisation as formative forces in our food system. This post explores the impact of consumerism.

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Consumerism

This video traces the origins of consumerism to the 18th century. It coincides with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. It poses an interesting question: could we design a society where consumerism and high-mindedness are not polar opposites – might we have wealth and virtue, rather than the stark choice of consumerism or poverty?

Consumerism was supercharged after World War Two. Industrial capacity mushroomed to equip the war effort and all of that enterprise had to find new markets. Marketers aligned production systems with a rethinking of societal design, to optimise market opportunities. The industrial machine was at full steam and needed willing customers. Victor Lebow articulated a new creed of consumerism.

“Our enormously productive economy … demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” (Victor Lebow, in the Journal of Retailing, 1955)

The marketers had new tools to shape the developing consumerist culture. Television offered unprecedented access for marketers into family homes.

“And television achieves three results to an extent no other advertising medium has ever approached. First, it creates a captive audience. Second, it submits that audience to the most intensive indoctrination. Third, it operates on the entire family. “(Victor Lebow, in the Journal of Retailing, 1955)

Another foundation of the consumerist culture were the concepts of planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence as explained in this video (starting at 12 minutes 40 seconds).

Perhaps the purest expression of perceived obsolescence (so far) is the smart phone, with new models offing possibly a marginally larger screen or a flasher camera, generating shopping frenzy. What’s next?

Consumerism and food

At the heart of many of the problems we identify with food is its change of status from something for nourishment to a marketable commodity. The need for industrial food manufacturers to enable food to last on long journeys to market and in warehouses and on shop shelves has necessitated processing. Sugar and salt preserve. Pasteurisation slows down decomposition and dehydration and chemical additives extend shelf life.

Unlike industrialisation and colonisation consumerism appears to march on virtually uncontested. Victor Lebow and his like have shaped our behaviour more profoundly than he ever could have imagined.

 

Conference videos are out!

Thanks to Channel North for doing a great job of covering our conference. Thanks also to Northland Inc for supporting production of these videos. This short video provides an overview of the conference.

We are in the process of uploading videos and you can access them from our conference pages.

Here is the first of our two keynote speakers, Anne Palmer of the Center for a Livable Future  at Johns Hopkins University.

What is policy and how do we change it?

How change happens duncan greenOn the cusp of establishing a Northland Food Policy Council (or whatever we might call it) I have stumbled across a book that has thrown a lot of light on the policy universe. In How Change Happens, Duncan Green shares his knowledge as a long-time advocate for change. The book is available for sale, but is also free on Duncan’s website. The complexity of the policy environment is perhaps best expressed in the author’s quote of former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

“In establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are the hardest”.

This poses a compelling challenge for New Zealanders. Our nation is less than two centuries old. But hopefully we aren’t in for another three centuries of hard work. After all, we have the legacy of tikanga, British law and a broader and deeper legacy pieced together over humanity’s long social evolution.

Two pathways – global and local

Two trends encourage. The first is the growing body of international policy ranging from law to aspirational statements. Two highly relevant to sustainable food systems are the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Economic Ethic. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems are also shaping policy discourse at the global level. This trend seeks to distill universal values and principles to guide our peaceful and prosperous development.  For example, the Global Economic Ethic  advocates of the “principle of humanity” as the ethical yardstick for all economic action based on sustainability, respect, fair cooperation and the Golden Rule. These are underpinned by basic values for doing business globally:

  • non-violence and respect for life
  • justice and solidarity
  • honesty and tolerance
  • mutual respect and partnership.

The other emerging trend is toward greater local autonomy and self-determination. While hegemonic forces herd us like sheep towards a bland global consumerist culture, there is an encouraging shift in the opposite direction towards localism. Ideally, the most basic social unit, the family, will have autonomy to act within the broad parameters of evolving global policy.

global and localIn the context of food, ideally families will have choice to eat food that nourishes without their perception being clouded by commercial considerations – especially the rapacious food and medical corporations that privilege profit over health and well-being.

Valuing pluralism

According to Google, pluralism is “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” In New Zealand, almost two centuries on from the birth of our nation we are struggling to come to terms with pluralism. Nineteenth century assumptions of European superiority created homogenising conceptions of right and wrong. Some are still clinging to a Eurocentric view of the world. From this perspective the only valid law comes from Western sources and the maxim “one law for all” dominates.

Before Europeans arrived here, Māori society functioned on its own indigenous policy framework – tikanga. The Māori Dictionary’s definition of tikanga embraces a range of synonyms for policy and related social regulation:

“The correct procedure, custom, habit, lore, method, manner, rule, way, code, meaning, plan, practice, convention, protocol – the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.”

Tikanga is itself pluralistic as it varies from place to place, and the authorities are the people of any particular location. Many Pākehā have struggled to accomodate tikanga in an unwavering belief in “one law for all” (as long as they get to determine who makes those laws). An example is the justice system. Although Māori constitute 15% of the population, they account for 51% of the male prison population. But attempts to develop the mare-based justice system are stymied by the “one law for all” mantra. Duncan Green observes that “customary (indigenous) law is often about making peace and reconciliation, rather than establishing guilt and redress” (page 104). Customary law can also be brutal. Duncan green advises us to both avoid a “west-is-best bias and a naive romanticism about the woking of customary systems” (page 106).

However, we can achieve a greater synergy between these two traditions in ways that best serve local communities. Can you see a future where this is the case? Do you pass F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

There are signs of hope as co-governance agreements between Māori authorities and the crown become more common. The recent determination of the Whanganui River as a legal “person” is an encouraging sign. Is this any stranger than a corporation being a legal person (as they have been for the last 150 years)?

The interaction of the various actors involved in developing food policy in new Zealand will be greatly enhanced by Māori input. Ever since the accelerated alienation of their land in the mid 1800s, Māori have engaged in the struggle for justice, working through the courts and government. Their longer-term view of investment, focus on kaitiakitanga and commitment to retaining the land make them a powerful constituent of the food movement.

This is an attempt to explore some elements of policy. More will follow.