It is very easy for any of us to get stuck in our own little area of interest – no matter how important a one it may be. I am glad to say that I am regularly dragged out of mine by my good friend Geoff Tansey who, as long as I have known him, has worked in the much wider world of global food – who produces it, who controls it, who should control it and how the world wide food market could be made fairer and more equitable.
Geoff has always been interested in policies and systems. Back in the 1970s he helped found and then edited the journal Food Policy before going on to work with development projects in Turkey, Albania, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. When I first knew him in the 1990s he spent much of his time bopping to and from Geneva working on TRIPS, the agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights as they involved food, attempting to protect the rights of third world developing countries from the predations of multi-national agribusinesses.
Meanwhile he was writing for anything from The Guardian to Pig International, broadcasting for the World Service and and Radio 4 and editing/contributing to series of books on the food system and food security (defined by the World Food Summit in 1996 as when ‘all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’).
But Geoff’s true gift is as a joiner-together of like minds. His contacts book includes everyone from erudite professors in Iceland to organic subsistence farmers in Guangxi – and he uses it to its full. His gift is to enthuse whoever he is speaking to – and then to know someone, somewhere with whom that person could work to create another project, a dialogue with a government, a funder who might help get a scheme off the ground or just another like mind with whom to talk, mull, discuss – and who knows what may come out of such discussions.
Many of the people that he connects have interesting, even transformative things to say, but all too often they only get to say them to small groups of people – which is where the Food Systems Academy comes in. Effectively, the academy is a serious of TED talks and articles on food systems, some created especially for the site, some videos, some podcasts – but all focusing on food systems.
They include ‘why gender discrimination on rural farms matters’, ‘ensuring the potential of modern biotechnology is used for peaceful purposes and does not become a new weapon of war’, ‘the changing global rules on biodiversity, plant genetic resources and intellectual property and their impact on the future control of food’, ‘why food security is not the best way of thinking about the challenges of feeding everyone well’ with many more to come.
The talks can be used for educational purposes, for campaigning, or just for browsing if you have an interest. But, as the site grows, it will be a massively useful resource for anyone with an interest in food in the wider context than just the ‘freefrom’ phenomenon!
As Geoff says:
Food systems around the world have been radically transformed in the past 200 years. Yet over 800 million people go hungry and 1.4bn are overweight. Food systems will be further transformed this century in the face of globalisation, climate change and a world population of 9-10 billion. The key questions are how, in whose interests and to what ends?
This site aims to help you increase your understanding of our food systems – where they came from, how they change, what the challenges are and how to meet them.
Go take a look – on a dank winter afternoon such as today, you could learn a lot which might definitely inform your next trip to the fresh fruit and veg aisles of your local Sainsbury…