On 16th October, World Food Day, 2012 the Forest of Dean Food Sovereignty co-op was founded with the intention of promoting the principles of food sovereignty in the Forest of Dean. The locally produced vegetables on display far out numbered the people attending the meeting but that is by no means necessarily a bad thing. It is even perhaps a tradition we can continue as our co-operative grows.
After a brief introduction about the development of the food sovereignty movement the discussion quickly moved on to considered the challenges of sourcing food that would be in accordance with the principles defined in the food sovereignty framework. Suma was mentioned as a reliable wholesale retailer. Most of those present had at one time or another used Suma and understood that it was by no means perfect. The products are not always organic and are often transported globally.
Products such as chickpeas and pumpkin seeds are often popular choice in a vegetarian diet, but what are the effects of their production and distribution on our natural resources. Is meat a better alternative? Produced locally and organically then perhaps. So what obstacles do we face in creating these alternatives? The issues of access to land and division of labour are often mentioned. These are some of the questions that have to be considered if we are to truly engage with the framework of food sovereignty.
Challenging the supermarket system dominance is of course the most difficult task. We asked ourselves why there seemed to be such support for a new supermarket in Cinderford? Many of us were alarmed at the recent rally in the town in favour of an Asda. We understand all too well that in these difficult economic times people want to be able to save money on their food bill but the addition of a cheap supermarket is by no means the answer. Asda are owned by the large multi-national company Walmart. This means that all the profit they would make at the expense of the people of the Forest of Dean would be transferred to the internationally unaccountable coffers of this American company. We have to ask ourselves why these so called “value” products are cheaper? It could very well be related to Walmart’s very poor track record with regard to workers rights and questionable nutritional value of these cut price products.
However there is another reason for the call for another supermarket; a desire to see greater competition to the Co-operative’s dominance over the local market. Although of course we are in favour of Co-operative organisations the supermarket enterprise of the Co-operative group deserves criticism. As a co-operative they can be held accountable by members and communities that they serve certainly more so than Tesco for instance. They do hold regular public meetings but what checks are there that they are in anyway bound to respond to the objections raised at these meetings? As we understand they have made no attempt to address the question of food miles a question that had been raised by the transition movement and they were one of the retailers that were using milk as a price leader and forcing diary farmers to sell their milk at less than the cost of production.
The task is daunting and requires a great shift in perception of our responsibility. This is certainly a central discussion that needs to be had but, as we all agreed, fighting the supermarket will get us nowhere. And may even be construed as an attack on those who depend on the supermarkets to make ends meet. Rather we should concentrate on creative real needs orientated local solutions.
We decided to focus on what practical tentative steps we could take locally to encourage such a change. These are:
- Facilitating greater links with food growers in the area and promoting local markets such as the country markets in Newnam, Newant and Coleford
- promoting greater communication between local producers.
- connecting consumers with local producers
- creating a leaflet comparing prices of supermarket products to potential saving of co-operative buying power and locally produced production
- facilitate a buyers groups for wholesale food from Suma.Subsequent meetings will focus in turn one of the 7 principles the next meeting will be held on 20th November, 7pm, Bailey Inn, Yorkley where we will be following up on the agreed actions and asking the question is food a basic human right?
If you are interested in joining the co-operative contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to come along to the next meeting.