Across all of the contradictory actions taken and advice given by the UK government in response to COVID-19, there is one recurring theme: emptiness. From clapping for a financially dire NHS, to confusing slogans, the government is keen to portray the national response to this crisis as a unified effort with the consensus of the public, healthcare staff and politicians. It seems a sense of morale is being treated as the antidote, rather than investing in real measures to protect the public from ill health. These meaningless gestures in place of action are costing lives, particularly of the working classes.
The Covid-19 crisis has rusted the already weak links holding the UK’s food supply chain together. From just-in-time logistic strategies to a desperate reliance on imported goods and labour, supermarkets have struggled to keep up with panic buying, farmers have feared that their vegetables will rot in fields, and farm to table supply chains have been hugely disrupted.
It is exposing our food system’s incapacity to respond to emergencies in the short-term, whilst also beckoning reform in terms of its sustainability in the longer-term.
by Lotty Clare
We are all actors in a global hegemonic food and agricultural system that is increasingly undemocratic, unjust, and dominated by corporate interest in the hands of a rich minority. Part 1 explored how this has happened and the impacts of power concentration and intensification of agriculture globally. Much of the food we buy from supermarkets is packaged in plastic, , and has thousands air-miles attached to it as it has often been shipped across the world before reaching our trollies. The public has lost a connection to the land and lacks any kind of relationship to where its food comes from, and how it is grown, and indeed there is a great deal of ignorance around food production, nutrition, storage and even cooking. Sadly, it is ultimately the poorest and more marginalised people in society who are impacted the most by food poverty, having to buy and consume cheap food with poor nutritional value. Amidst rising levels of food poverty in the UK, we also have vast amounts of food waste on a household and commercial level, as about ⅓ of food is wasted.
by Lotty Clare
Land is a topic that is not at the centre of political news or conversations in the UK, yet land and how we value it is central to environmental, social and economic sustainability worldwide. Land is central to food security, culture, conflict and peace, and society as a whole. Food is a human right, and yet it is a commodity privy to the powers of the market, and not guaranteed for many people. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few mega corporations who monopolise global agriculture and food systems.
Since the Norwich poetry scene largely consists of current or former students and local writers, a chef originating from Cairo doesn’t seem to fit the mould. But Salah El Nagar has achieved local fame, both for his widely translated Arabic poems, and for his cooking. By day, he runs Ramses Egyptian Food, usually located in the market in the heart of Norwich city centre (he also runs pop-up stalls at venues around the city). By evening, you can find him at the Birdcage, promoting acceptance, diversity, and gender equality through his poignant and witty poems.
CW: mentions of torture, violence, assault
For a few years now so-called leftists have been acting as cheerleaders for Syria’s President Assad. The apparent logic seems to go something like this: “American imperialism is abhorrent, so naturally we will embrace America’s enemy – Russia – and by extension, Assad as our friends.” Let me be clear: in this case, the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. It is perfectly feasible to recognise that Russia is an imperialist power and serial abuser of human rights without legitimizing America’s terrible track record of imperialism, occupation and human rights abuses.
It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green have brought together perspectives from across the sector to explore the possibilities of post-fees HE. In the final instalment, the series editors summarise the visions for the next chapter of UK HE that the series has laid out.
There is more energy, debate and innovation on the left now than there has been for decades. Capitalism’s multiple crises, and the inability of its defenders to respond to them, are beginning to translate into tangible political opportunity. This series sought to capture the essence of some of this historical moment and direct it towards thinking about what we want our university campuses to look like, beyond the staple progressive policy of scrapping tuition fees. A project in unashamedly utopian thinking, it recognised the very real possibility that free tuition might be a reality in the near future, and sought to explore how this requires the left to think practically about what comes after and where our energy should be focused next.
By Lewis Martin
It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.
Up and down the UK, from Edinburgh to Brighton, students are building alternatives to existing, exploitative housing and food practices. How? By creating co-operatives! These alternative ways of organising are expanding and flourishing at a rate never seen before, as students look to take their lives into their own hands, in defiance of the rising cost of living and exploitative landlords and businesses. The founding of Student Co-operative Homes, a launch pad organisation for potential student housing co-ops across the UK founded by the grassroots network Students for Co-operation and supported by national co-op federation Co-Ops UK, demonstrates the growing support for these independent, democratic projects.
By Nicholl Hardwick, for The Grow Organisation
In contemporary Britain, our lives are pervaded with unique health and economic pressures. Capitalism, globalisation, Brexit and the internet have all contributed to a new era of loneliness, community isolation and disconnectedness. We may go days at a time without speaking or having sentimental engagement with another person. In particular, elderly members of the community frequently fall to the wayside as our distancing society ceases to encourage them to function as active participants.
The city centre smells of McDonald’s
and SPF stands for exactly what you think
by Stu Lucy
As I mill around town needlessly purchasing disposable junk to wrap in trees so I may conform to the widespread Western orgy of consumption that is Christmas (sorry), I can’t help but notice that they’re everywhere. Costa, Nero, Starbucks, Coffee #1, it seems you can’t walk more than 100 metres before passing one of the acceptable narcotic dispensaries so many of us rely on to get through the day. It’s time to close this short series of food, and now drink, related pieces with a quick overview of coffee and its long and eventful relationship with Africa.
by Stu Lucy
In the first article concerning the less palatable aspects of food within a global context, the paradox of abundance and dearth in both Ghana and the West were contextualised within an apparent food dystopia. On that journey, a foodstuff was briefly mentioned that has become almost omnipresent in weird people’s lives, and will be the focus of the next in this series of pieces illuminating the realities and practices relating to food and the international community. So without further ado, let us delve straight into the sickly-sweet world of sugar.
By Stu Lucy
Food. We all need it and each every one of us has a unique and complex relationship with it. From production to acquisition to preparation and finally consumption, the constituent parts of this process vary widely across the planet. The unfortunate reality for most of the global community, however, is that this personal and multifaceted relationship is fraught with difficulty and dilemma. In fact, as we further examine the inner mechanisms and processes of the human-food relationship, we can find ourselves exposed to a somewhat dystopian state of affairs.
by Joe Burns
Over the last three decades, the number of people that control the businesses that shape our lives has decreased dramatically. Distant stakeholders and unrelated shareholders seem to have a say in local housing projects, food supply, transport maintenance and many other necessary community projects. Big brands are becoming more successful at dictating markets and reaping the rewards.
In the recent past, Tesco executives were revealed to have been paid up to 900 times more than the average Tesco worker. Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco, was paid £4,600,000 in 2016. When explaining the reason why he received almost five million pounds in one year, Deanna Oppenheimer – who is the leader of Tesco’s remuneration committee – said he had achieved increased volumes, reduced costs, increased cash flow, and completed significant disposals and business restructuring to strengthen the balance sheet. For some, more money is what makes good business.
By Laura Potts
Maintenance grants are a thing of the past and student accommodation costs are rising by the year. Is it any wonder that 80% of students worry about having enough money to get by? As a student myself I am surrounded by people whose rent is higher than their student loan, leading them to make sacrifices on important aspects of their lives, such as their diet. In many cases, students must choose to let their own health suffer as a result of lack of funds.
Rowena Knight has been making waves both in terms of poetry on the page (including Magma, Cadaverine and The Rialto) and on the stage, being a regular at poetry nights across London, as well as a team member of She Grrrowls. Self-identifying ‘Feminist Killjoy’, the collection deals with becoming a woman and growing up as an immigrant from New Zealand as a teenager.
A decade and a half into the 21st century, many believe that the metamorphosis of student into consumer is complete. The student activist and the radical student movement are consigned to history. Despite the hiccup of the anti-fees protests in 2010, the modern student is more concerned with getting their money’s worth in education than they are about changing the world.
So some would have you think. Over the two years since the first run of this series, the student movement has grown further in depth, diversity and scope. This new set of articles seeks to explore the student campaigns that are redefining our time: what they have achieved, what they mean for the student movement, and their impact on the Higher Education sector as a whole.
By Maria Cooper
I went to university in St Andrews, Scotland. Well, in a sense I went to two – the old conventional institution you’ve heard of, and the far more inspiring Transition University of St Andrews. Transition started out for me as something I just did to survive – it was cheaper to grow food than buy it, cheaper to swap clothes and books than buy them, and being outside planting trees or mending bikes was a life-giving contrast to the stuffy library and theoretical learning that otherwise filled my days. Besides, many of my friends and I often felt that sort of depression so prevalent among students. What difference am I making in the world? Who cares about yet another essay, being read by one tutor and then put on the pile of student pride or shame never to be looked at again?
“But if you’re gonna dine with them cannibals, sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten….”
GMO agriculture regularly grab the headlines, whether it’s talk of ‘frankenfoods’ or the ability to generate larger crop yields. This has taken the focus away from an issue that is becoming increasingly detrimental to global health: the entry of industrial waste into the food cycle and human consumption.
GMOs, while unpopular, have been genetically altered so as to maximise the success rate of production of crops. This will save lives, enabling crops to grow in conditions that would normally tend to push harvests towards failure. The changing of weather patterns have created new wet and dry points, affecting crop cycles and affecting the amount of food available for communities already living close to the edge. But water is becoming an issue. Only about 3% of the world’s water is freshwater and with companies like Nestle being allowed to extract vast quantities from aquifiers for minimal cost, alternatives are being sought be provide enough water for crop irrigation.
by Teiowí:sonte Thomas Deer
Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory
When I was in Grade 2, I recall my teacher telling us a legend in class that I would hear many times later in my life. It was about this boy who lived long ago in a Kanien’kehá:ka village. While exploring around the river’s edge, he noticed two shiny things in the water. When he picked them up he discovered they were serpents – one gold and one silver. The serpents were barely alive and the boy returned home with them and nursed them back to health.
In time these serpents became healthy again and began to grow larger and larger. And as they grew, so did their appetites. The boy could no longer feed them enough so they began to consume the village’s food. The people of the village attempted to cast out the beasts, but by this point they had become too large to control and the serpents began to attack and consume the people of the village. Soon, the two serpents began to attack and plunder other villages. The people fled and made their way to the mountains. Pursuing the people, the two serpents smashed into mountains, poisoned the rivers, and ravished the earth.
Isaiah 11:2 New International Version (NIV)
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
Tristan does so without the fear of God, like a pinprick—
a spitting image of all those heretics and unknown curses—
no doubt, in this bog of a living room, where moments
of explosions become dictators, pushing him headfirst
by Olivia Hanks
Our grandparents might have been rather nonplussed to hear growing your own food described as a radical act, but in a society that views people chiefly as consumers, any step towards self-sufficiency is pretty subversive.
In France, where citizens generally attach more importance to food and its origins than in the UK, the last few years have seen an explosion in the number of small-scale organic food producers: in 2015, an average of 200 new organic farms sprang up every month.
by Kelvin Smith
I was born shortly after the end of the Second World War in a nursing home that overlooked the Mersey, open to the world, “on the stream of trade” as my school song had it.
At primary school we drew Spitfires and Hurricanes in aerial dogfights with Junkers and Messerschmitts. There were bomb-sites in the towns and cities and there were Emergency Water Storage Tanks (marked EWS) everywhere. My first non-English words were Hände hoch and Achtung, closely followed by Frère Jacques. My parents had few foreign friends, although a Dutchman, a fellow chemist, had stayed with them in the early 1940s and he returned home with a broad Lancashire accent. “Reet bloody champion”, he would say.
by Alex Valente
Italy. Land of saints, poets, and sailors, but also of pizza, mafia, and mandolins. Italy. One of the most beautifully perceived countries in the world, but also one of the most corrupt, even according to its own population. Italy. The country that somehow voted for Silvio Berlusconi more than once since 1992. The country that for some reason hosts the Vatican since 1929. My country of birth, and the country I have moved back to after eight years in the UK.
Italy still confuses the *insert passionate hand gesture here* out of me.
Weighing in at an estimated 15m tonnes per annum, the UK’s food waste mountain is an issue that is finally been given the kind of attention it warrants, thanks to the persistence of campaigning groups like Feedback and The Real Junk Food Project, who both featured on Channel Four’s series Hugh’s War on Waste – the latest in a long line of environmental food campaigns lead by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Launched in conjunction with the series, a petition by This Is Rubbish has gained nearly a quarter of a million signatures. In an open letter to the CEO’s of the ‘Big 4’ supermarkets, it calls on retailers to collaborate with each other, as well as WRAP (Waste Resources Action Programme), to measure on-farm food waste so that it can be benchmarked by 2018 and ambitious targets can be set to reduce it by 2025.
Those of you who know me, have read my articles or listened to me speak, will know that I am passionate about environmental sustainability within the food supply chain. I have highlighted issues of soil degradation associated with inorganic farming, as well as the vast resource usage and carbon emissions related to meat and dairy consumption, but there is one environmental issue that I have campaigned on more than any other, and that is food waste.
Dear Tim Baker,
My name is Rowan Van Tromp, I am 22 years old and have spent the past academic year working as a teaching assistant at a secondary school in Norwich, following graduation from the University of East Anglia in June 2014.
After seeing Charlton Manor Primary School on the Channel 4 programme Jamie’s Sugar Rush, I was so inspired by the work you are doing, I have decided to write you a letter to share my own experiences with you and my strong advocacy of the model you are working to.
In 2013 the UN Commission on Trade and Development released a report titled “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate”. It recommended a rapid and significant shift away from “conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production” of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser, agro chemicals, and concentrate feed. Instead, it says that the goal should be “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development”.
The past few weeks have seen waves of literature surrounding the issue of food waste by supermarkets, following the French parliament’s decision to pass legislation compelling retailers with 4,305 square feet of store space to donate any unsold, but still edible, food, to charity or for use as animal feed or farming compost. All stores which fall under this criterion are obliged to sign agreements with charities to facilitate the redistribution of such food by 2016, or could face penalties of up to €75,000.
Calls have since been made for the UK to follow suit, and no wonder given that the UK far and away wastes the most food out of any European country — amounting to 15bn tonnes a year according to the government backed organisation WRAP, although just over 1% of this comes from stores.
by Matilda Carter.
Unemployment in this country, as well as in most of the Western world, is the buzzword on people’s lips. Our generation is constantly demonised as lazy, feckless and unable to face the harsh realities of adult life. We lack the work ethic of those before us, or so people say, and our entire country is doomed to economic failure because of it. Many of us choose to live off of minimum wage jobs and pursue other interests; there are even some people, though few in number, who choose to live off of welfare. Why? Well the right wing press would tell you it’s because our parents did a bad job of raising us. I would argue that it’s because we’re undergoing a fundamental shift in our way of life, and we’re still wedded to old, outdated ideas.