Food consumption: impact on the environment

By Jason Pennells |

As part of the June 2014 ART weekend on the theme What is the impact of how we consume food in Scotland?, we reflected on different aspects or dimensions of that impact and how we individually considered these dimensions interacted with one another and were of relative importance. Four major aspects were suggested for us to consider: culture, environment, health and production systems.

Near the close of the weekend, some thoughts were rapidly noted down on flipchart sheets for each of the four aspects, as points which had arisen during the discussions of the weekend, and comments were added by others to those notes.

On the aspect of the environment, points (and comments, in brackets) noted on the flipchart were the following:
•The environment is foundation and source of all: despoil / consume it: one way ticket (we have the models to support this)
•Supply chains (global) ... allotments (local levels)
•Farming methods: compaction of soil, herbicides, resistance, loss of diversity, loss of hedgerows/cover; erosion (dust-bowl), drainage of wetlands; antibiotics - doom!
•Decline in birds - canary in a coalmine - and butterflies
•The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) leads to reduced ‘mosaickiness’ of landscape (but no CAP leads to [destructive] New Zealand situation!)
•Peruvian 365 days asparagus to Scotland: economic/trade + / environmental –
•‘Rewilding’? – No gain without losses
•Sheep / grazing? Open habitat - other habitat - scrub, etc
•Bees … pollination
•Potatoes use lots of pesticides
•Medicinal value of wild plants - including ‘weeds’

These noted points don’t represent a summation of all the relevant matters raised at the weekend in terms of the environment – the range and depth of presentations and discussions were much richer than this snapshot suggests. Further, behind the points and perspectives participants voiced, there was a wealth of background experience, knowledge and understanding. Also, there was evident a strong sense of commitment and values in the contributions of each person.

The weekend raised issues, engaged us in them and their multiple spin-offs, and introduced many of us to one another and our different worlds. It was, as with previous ART annual weekends, an enriching and enlivening experience, with a variety of activities, mixing different perspectives, a combination of prepared inputs and the unknown responses and links these would generate, personal interactions and the stimulus, space and openness of the location.

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