Glasgow City Council is currently running a consultation on their proposed Glasgow City Food Plan, which you can read in full (50+ pages) or you can check out the summary.
We think there are lots of positives to take from this, the first significant move towards developing a city-wide approach to reforming and rebuilding a food system to work for all of us – but we don’t think it goes far enough, in ambition or scope.
We’d like to encourage everyone who wishes to see a more sustainable food system built in Glasgow to look at the proposed plan and put in a submission to the consultation with your own thoughts. We’ve spent time on this ourselves and have put together our own ideas below. You can endorse our response by filling out the form below which will be submitted directly to the council. The consultation closes on December 31st. Here is our response.
At Locavore we have spent the last nine years thinking about how we build a sustainable food system for Glasgow which is better for the environment, our communities and the local economy.
We’ve put into place projects and enterprises that help bring us closer but have always known we can’t achieve this change ourselves. We need strong intervention from the public sector and long for a strong Council stance and progressive policy to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system for our city.
We are absolutely delighted that Glasgow City Council and partners have developed a Glasgow City Food plan which is currently in consultation. We generally agree with the long term ambitions but we don’t think the proposed actions will get us there.
We want a policy which is comprehensive, ambitious, and that truly meets the values the Council has signed up to in the 2020 Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration. We have a few key beliefs that we think need to be included in any plan for a sustainable food system:
- We need a plan with ambitious, immediate actions, not more mapping;
- Organic isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity;
- The current food system perpetuates poverty;
- Public spending can be a significant tool for change;
- More should be done to acknowledge the impact of social enterprises;
- Better provision for markets will support better food businesses;
- Other cities and countries are already doing this – we need to work with them;
- The plan is an opportunity to set standards for the future.
1. A plan that meets the vision
The Glasgow Food Plan has a simple and straightforward enough vision which outlines the aspiration to create a resilient and sustainable food system which is good for people and planet. However, overall the actions just do not match up to this and won’t deliver what is required to make the vision a reality.
There is a tendency in the plan to propose short term actions which are unambitious and really should not take two years to achieve, such as getting the Food For Life Bronze Medal (go for gold!). Engagement with stakeholders is often only planned in the medium or long term, and delivery of the vision is implied rather than actually scheduled for sometime in the next five years.
We are in a climate emergency, in the middle of a pandemic creating economic hardship and headed towards a no deal Brexit which will make importing food more difficult and expensive. We need decisive action now.
2. Organic isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity
Currently the main focus of the Environment section of the plan is reducing Food Waste – we think this should be reframed – environmental concerns are central to every aspect of a sustainable food system. The sidelining of these concerns is best illustrated by the treatment of organics.
The plan as it stands is dismissive of organic agriculture, giving it just a few mentions – two saying it’s expensive and one saying it might have environmental benefits, when in fact bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations recognise that organic agriculture, or organic principles, are what will drive a truly sustainable food system, and we believe the Food Policy must reflect this if it is going to support the development of a sustainable food system for Glasgow.
If all farmland in Europe followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50% by 2050 while feeding the population a healthy, balanced diet. This is because organic farming can mitigate climate change and organic farms tend to have lower emissions. Organic farmers don’t use artificial synthetic fertilisers which come from fossil fuels and on average use less energy. Organic farmland stores more carbon in the soil and on average organic land stores 3.5 tonnes of carbon more than non organic land for every hectare; this is the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving your car around the world one and a half times.
At the launch of the Glasgow Declaration a delegate from Copenhagen commented that “I am constantly asked, how did we make organic food cheaper. We did not! We pay the price for organic, because we need fair prices for farming. But we made the conversion within the same budget, by reducing food waste, and eating more veggies and less meat”.
3. Food poverty – see the bigger picture!
The plan has a bias towards Community Food Initiatives, an important area of work but not one which reaches a broad section of society in Glasgow or feeds a significant proportion of the population. Food poverty is an important issue and a barrier to accessing good food, but the real issue here is the economic system creating a situation in which people cannot afford something they should be able to – it’s a system failure.
We don’t dismiss central heating because not everyone can afford it, we question why they can’t afford it. Dismissing good food on the basis of affordability is wrongheaded – by further embedding the assumption that concerns about a fair and sustainable food system should only be for those with economic privilege, and helping big businesses to carry on hiding the costs of cheap food, both environmental and social. Rather than dismissing organic food as expensive or elitist, the Glasgow Food Plan provides an opportunity to show the hidden costs of cheap food, and to demonstrate the economic benefit of supporting businesses which treat people and the environment properly.
We believe dignified approaches to tackling food poverty should move beyond the distribution of food surplus from supermarkets and vouchers for discount shops. Propping up supermarkets by allowing them to redistribute their surplus under the guise of food aid is insulting to people living in food poverty and perpetuates an imbalanced system. The right to food as described by former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter covers everyone – it’s about access to the right type of food, for everyone.
Rather than focussing on food interventions to support people in poverty, we should see food as a route out of poverty. We need actions which support the growth and development of social enterprise models like Locavore’s shops and vegbox scheme, solutions which already deliver the vision of the food plan to those who are able to choose to shop with us.
4. Progressive Procurement
The spending choices of public bodies don’t just have an immediate economic impact, they have an important symbolic impact as well, shaping the decisions other sectors and individuals will make, and there are many examples around Europe of the effect a shift in procurement policy can have on the organic sector.
This 2020 European Commission briefing looking at the impact of public procurement policy in Sweden underlines that organic production is fundamental to meeting targets for sustainable production, and found that shifting public procurement to organic producers led to a significant increase in the amount of farmland used for organic production.
Studies of procurement policies in Berlin and Finland show the benefits of using public spending in this way, by creating a demand and supporting producers in making the shift to organic, helping an overall shift in the local and regional economy as discussed in this ECR briefing from 2018.
In the same way that multinational supermarkets draw resources out of local economies, so do multinational outsourcing specialists in catering provision – we believe public money should go to businesses which are rooted in local communities.
It’s currently very difficult for small producers to supply public bodies such as the council with food. The contracts up for tender tend to require specialist machinery (for example for cleaning and grading vegetables) and very large. This is holding back local food with a barrier for entry that only allows national scale wholesalers, not producers, to participate.
We would like to see more work done on this, for example a person or team employed to help connect small producers with contracts, working with public bodies to learn how to work with more seasonal and variable food and helping guide contracts that work for local producers. Likewise, it is currently logistically difficult to buy local produce for cafes and shops. A one stop shop where producers can sell to and wholesale customers can buy from would make providing local produce in Glasgow a lot more practical and attainable.
5. Support The Right Type of Business
The vast majority of food eaten in Glasgow is bought from supermarkets, whose primary aim is not to enable the creation of a sustainable, resilient food system. They exist to draw money out of communities, and rely on state intervention through the welfare and taxation system to address many of the problems they create. To rebalance this we need action and policy which develops a thriving, sustainable food retail sector.
The plan references an LM3 exercise conducted by Nourish looking at the impact of supermarkets on local economies, and we would highlight our own recent LM3 exercise which showed that spending with local food businesses, particularly those which share a similar value base, increases the economic impact of spending to the extent that a pound spent with Locavore is worth £1.92 to the Glasgow economy, or £2.36 to the Scottish economy, compared to the £1.24 value of a mainstream supermarket. It feels like there is an acknowledgement of this within the plan but there is no step up to the plate to look at how we can build and support alternative food networks.
Alongside the planned mapping exercises to track food-relief, we believe there would be benefits to building a better understanding of the progressive food economy – Glasgow has a large and growing number of food focussed social enterprises which are growing, roasting, and baking a way to a different food system, providing training, skills, and real wages to people along the way.
6. Grow Markets, Grow Businesses
Locavore is beyond the scale of attending farmers markets but at a number of different times did the maths and it always looked unlikely that it would be profitable by the time a stall was paid for and staff time accounted for. This explains in part why farmers markets are dominated by high end value traders and not a particularly good place to do your weekly shop.
The Council has an opportunity to provide communities with easier access to good food, in a COVID safe environment, whilst enlarging access to markets and supporting new business, by providing more public markets, with cheaper stall hire at farmers markets with more markets and better clarity of the source of the food being sold on them.
This support for food focussed enterprises should extend into other areas of council activities:
- Buy from local businesses, prioritising those able to demonstrate real social and environmental benefit.
- Make land, assets and markets available for socially responsible businesses and social enterprises.
- Planning – overprovision of supermarkets, supermarket tax, subsidise sustainable food through rate relief.
7. Learn from others
Our fear is that the Food Plan is introspective, and doesn’t look at what’s going on in the rest of the world for inspiration or to benchmark our own ambitions. A quick look over the North Sea to Copenhagen shows us where we should be setting the bar:
- 87% of food in city meals was certified organic in 2019, and they aim to increase this further over time in order to ensure that ‘All meals must be sustainable & Climate Responsible”. The no tip-toeing around it here – organic is key to their plan. See Copenhagen’s Food Plan.
- They have a guide to the organic restaurants of Copenhagen, it’s worth noting there are currently none in Glasgow.
8. Set Proper Standards
The role of this policy should be to establish the standard that we expect within our society, to set high expectations for everyone, and to question the structures that create and embed the barriers.
We believe there would be real benefit in adopting a Glasgow Good Food Standard, a benchmark scheme covering social and environmental criteria, which can help guide purchasing decisions and give businesses a structure to work towards.
One of these criteria should be a requirement for suppliers over an agreed size to be Real Living Wage employers – public money should be used to pay a proper wage.
Respond to the consultation
You can either fill out the form provided by the council or use the form below. We have provided some starting points below that you either build on or delete and write something new. All responses will be emailed to Locavore and the council.