Birmingham as a ‘laboratory’: Changing diets, changing landscapes

How are we going to feed the world’s growing population?

This is a really hard problem, taxing the brains of leading scientists as well as governments and the likes of the United Nations.Worrying though it all is at a global level, it’s difficult to see how the city of Birmingham can make a difference. Sure, thee and me can do what we as individuals think is best, but that often seems trivial and irrelevant.

But what if the whole population decided to change its diet? That would change a landscape.

And what if we here in Birmingham came up with ways of enabling communities to choose a more globally sustainable and healthy diet? Could this city be an exemplar for other cities to change their diets?

After all, some 50% of the world’s population now live in cities. The figure is well over 80% here in western Europe. So changing the diets of city dweller will make a huge difference.

That is exactly what we’re talking to Rothamsted Research about. They’re keen to work with us, using ‘Birmingham as a laboratory’.

The challenges they have are two-fold. First, how to develop sustainable intensification of agricultural production in order to provide all the world’s citizens with nutritious food? Secondly, how to change the global diet so that there is more efficient use of agricultural land, soils, water and energy.

These global issues are entwined with the rising and potentially crippling costs of obesity and its associated morbidities. A core concern of the Birmingham Food Council is therefore about public health.

We know that 30% of the UK’s household budget spend is on confectionary, beverages (soft drinks and alcohol), ice-cream, biscuits and savoury snacks such as crisps, and the question is how can we reduce consumption of these high-calorie products with zero or low nutritional value? (See our earlier blogpost on the matter.)

And what impact would a reduction in consumption of these products have on the use of agricultural land, soils, water and energy? (See this blogpost, Spud or crisp: Which is better for you, and for global food security?)

All this links, too, to our Mapping Project mentioned in an earlier blogpost, and which we’re developing further with the NFU, the Warwick Crop Centre and Rothamsted.

If Birmingham is a laboratory, what we’re planning with Rothamsted is an ‘experiment’  — of which more in later blogposts.

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