People, Purpose, Pride: Food and Social Cohesion

By Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council

The food and farming sectors do not talk enough about social cohesion, even though the production and consumption of British food provides the glue that binds our communities together.

Coal mining was in the news recently with the Durham Miners’ Gala and as someone who started his working life underground in the Nottinghamshire coalfields, I was struck by what that industry has left behind. There is nothing romantic about coal mining. No-one who has done it would want to go back or see their children go underground. It’s hard, dangerous, and best consigned to history; but to focus only on the job is to miss everything that comes with it.

It’s the people who are the core of this story. You can see the pride that still exists, and it’s a deep pride rooted in having purpose and providing for your family and your community in the most difficult of circumstances. For generations coal mining was the horrible and unavoidable necessity that built communities. The biggest regret is not that deep underground coal mining no longer exists in this country, but that there was nothing provided to replace it as the glue to keep communities together and moving forward. Nostalgia is a weak glue, even with repeated political applications.

Farming can be a hazardous and isolating profession too, yet still with that same deep pride based on providing for family and community. Unlike coal mining we still need food and it is not too late to defend it. Farming and food production communities have the same values as mining communities, the same hopes for the future and desire to see their children prosper. Can we rely on our current political system to support us? No, but neither should we.

We have to take it into our own hands to show people the values of British food. We have an enormous job to do in even ensuring everyone in this country can put food on the table. It can be done, and we can do it if everyone – government, industry, society – is part of a circular social economy that values the people as much as the product.

If we don’t, even with the prospect of a National Food Strategy, we run the risk of focusing on feeding people at the lowest possible cost. We need to ensure that our values match those of society; in quality, standards, affordability and so on.

At a time where society is divided, and is developing an antagonistic and confrontational ethos, we are increasingly inward looking. This is lessening our facility for compromise and with it our capability for kindness. Food should be a bridge between communities; a way to open communication rather than an example of ‘have’ versus ‘have-not’. People are the starting point for a National Food Strategy in which kindness and compassion are integral, and dignity is there for all.

In this way our community can reach out to other communities and instead of talking nostalgia politics of how thing used to be, we can talk of a shared, stronger, forward looking society based on the lives of people whose pride in their purpose should inspire us.

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