POLITICS AND food go together like bread and butter. Study any conflict from the past millennium and you’ll find food at its heart: rising food prices were the chief catalyst for the French and Russian revolutions; canning was invented during the Napoleonic wars to feed travelling armies, while scurvy killed more British sailors during the 18th century than enemy action.
Mercifully, in the developed world at least, modern food policy is no longer viewed primarily through the lens of physical conflict, but it remains a politically important and divisive subject.
The war currently being waged is between two conflicting ideologies, free-market economics and state intervention – and the former is winning hands down. Western governments, including the UK, have by and large been content to treat food like any other consumer good and kept their hands off the till, assuming that the allocative efficiency of the free market is the best way to ensure that mouths get fed. The upshot is that we have a food system that spawns multibillion-pound enterprises and gives consumers a greater choice of what to eat or drink than ever before at a price (relatively) cheaper than at any time in history.
But the foundations of this neoliberal approach to food are shaky. It has created a food system that is dependent on scarce resources such as oil and water, is the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally and has failed to prevent a billion people from going to bed hungry every night while a similar number wake up every morning clinically overweight.
A consensus is emerging in political circles that we cannot go on the way we are. In this regular column we’ll discuss what change is needed, or possible, and how political decisions in Westminster, Brussels and beyond shape the foodservice landscape and affect the day-to-day realities of running your business.