Joy Carey explains Bristol’s progressive food culture

April 11, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Sustainable food system planning consultant and author of ‘Who Feeds Bristol? Towards a resilient food plan’, Joy Carey gives us some background on Bristol’s progressive food culture and the Bristol Good Food Plan. Did you know that Bristol is the first UK city to have its own Food Policy Council? Read more about it here.

Please introduce yourself
My name is Joy Carey. I’ve lived in Bristol since 1996. I work as an independent consultant Image Removedin sustainable food system planning. That’s about finding practical solutions to making food – that is good for people, places and the planet – available to all of us. It’s also about working out who should do what and how.

Can you give us a bit of background around the Who Feeds Bristol Report and the consequent establishing of Bristol’s Food Policy Council?
The full title of the report is ‘Who Feeds Bristol? Towards a resilient food plan’. In 2009 I submitted a proposal to the Green Capital partnership for the research and in 2010 NHS Bristol commissioned me to do the work. It took 11 months to complete and over 200 people contributed information. It looked at how 1.5 million meals arrive on our Bristol plates each day.

The aim was to understand how the food system operates and how different elements are interconnected. We need to understand how to build on existing strengths and reduce vulnerabilities in order to build a food culture for the city that has the health of people and planet at its heart and is as resilient as possible to any future shocks and challenges.

The report identified eight different areas of work that Bristol needs to address and recommended a ‘food system planning process’. That means it’s not just a matter of writing a report and job done. The research was only the first step. We needed to bring a group of people together, with representatives from the different parts of the food system, to put food on Bristol’s governance agenda, and to help lead an ongoing process of involving Bristol’s citizens in each of those eight areas of work. This is the Bristol Food Policy Council. No single organisation can reshape the food system. It involves all of us, each contributing where we can.

What do you think makes Bristol special when it comes to its food culture and community?
Bristol has a rich culture of ‘Do It Yourself’ and is full of inspiring people who are just getting on with their good food ideas and making them happen. I think what’s special is the diversity of activity and the number of young adults who are getting involved, including a new but emerging interest in commercial urban agriculture enterprises.

In addition to the ‘very happening’ allotment scene there are over 40 community gardens and orchards. Many of these organise public events. In the last few years I’ve seen increasing numbers of invitations to community apple wassails in winter and apple days in the autumn. There are lots of opportunities to get involved as volunteers, learn new food-growing skills and meet new people. We have an excellent choice of cafes and restaurants serving affordable meals cooked from scratch using fresh seasonal local or regional ingredients. Bristol has four active city farms that are open to the public. There are a growing number of community organised food co-ops and buying groups. We have over 40 independent butchers around the city, a good number of which buy meat from farmers in the local region. In the past few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in small-scale bakeries selling us a much wider choice of delicious freshly baked breads.

We have a number of different public food events in the city – food festivals and markets as well as other public events where food sellers are involved. If you want to buy an organic veg box, there are several options, or you can become a member of a community-supported farm. I could go on…. And of course there’s room for so much more. We could do a lot more to learn about our city’s different food cultures, recipes and culinary heritage from other parts of the world.

What key elements of Bristol’s food system still need to change?
The Who Feeds Bristol report identified eight areas for action. These are the framework for our Bristol Good Food Plan. The food plan is a mechanism for helping us to align and pool our collective efforts towards these clear eight goals so as to make some big and noticeable changes that should be visible in the next few years.

The short answer to this question is that we need to:

  • Maximise and make more visible Bristol’s supply of staple foods (meat, dairy, fruit & veg, cereals) produced in the surrounding region
  • Ensure that everyone has access to affordable fresh, seasonal, ‘cook from scratch’ ingredients with which to prepare a healthy meal
  • Safeguard the diversity of food markets and food retail outlets
  • Ensure ‘closed loop’ systems – that means to redistribute food that is fit to eat, but otherwise would go to landfill, and to recycle nutrient and energy resources by composting food waste
  • Increase the opportunities for all of us to get involved in food activities, – like food growing, or reducing our food waste, or learning to cook, or even setting up a food business – in a fun engaging way

How do you think Bristol Food Connections will contribute to this change?
Bristol Food Connections is a fantastic opportunity for all of us to learn about and get involved in food activities in a fun and uplifting way. It will help us find out about what’s already going on by showcasing lots of the city’s inspiring food activities. It will help us connect up better – so many people are doing so many amazing things but we don’t all know about each other. One of Bristol’s challenges is to find a way to work together on the eight areas set out in the Bristol Good Food Plan. I think the festival will be fun and inspiring and I hope it will encourage more people to get involved in food-related activities that they enjoy and care about.

What small change can people at home make that would make a big difference?
We need to think about what we are eating and look beyond cheapness or convenience. ‘As well as being tasty, healthy and affordable, the food we eat should be good for nature, good for workers, good for local businesses and good for animal welfare.’ (Bristol Good Food Charter)

Just a ten percent shift to buying regional, seasonal, fairly traded food is enough to make a massive difference. Here are some things that each of us could do:

  • Watch the Bristol Good Food animation here for inspiration!
  • Buy more of your food from local independent food enterprises and retailers
  • Open a Bristol Pound account and use the text to pay option on your mobile phone
  • Grow some of your own food at home or get an allotment
  • Volunteer at community garden, farm or orchard
  • Cook great meals from scratch using fresh, seasonal, local and organic produce
  • Order an organic vegetable box from a local supplier
  • Waste as little food as possible and compost or recycle any that you can’t use
  • Ask your school or workplace to only serve Good Food. You could ask if they have considered applying for the Food for Life catering mark award.
  • Ask your favourite eating out place about where they buy their ingredients

Joy Carey

Joy Carey is the coordinator of Bristol Going for Gold and a Consultant in Sustainable Food Systems Planning.

Tags: building resilient food systems, food policy councils