Birmingham: Food futures for us — and for everyone else

Radical changes in our diet could be a major part of us meeting the huge global food security challenges we’re facing.

Yet what the heck is any one of us meant to do? Wring our hands, feel guilty? We argue here that collectively Birmingham’s population of 1.1M people can make a real difference.

Changing diets, changing landscapes

sandwichAt a city level, individual actions add up to make a bigger picture. More than a million times bigger in the case of Birmingham.

For example if the population of 1.1M people here in Birmingham ate slightly less, say, bread  . . .  that would have an impact on cereal growing, on bakery plants, on food distribution systems, on supermarket shelves, and on the profitability of some companies. (And that is what exactly has happened nationally; see this Daily Mirror article Is this the end of the British butty?)

What we eat uses up land, water and energy
So what’s the nature of a radical change at the demand end of the food network?

How might we trigger change at a population level? That’s exactly what we’d like to find out, using Birmingham-as-a-laboratory — both to change agricultural landscapes for the better and as an exemplar for other cities.

So that’s what we’re thinking about for Birmingham. Indeed, we’ve got as far as an outline plan, working with partners Rothamsted Research, the National Farmers Union, the Warwick Crop Centre and — mostly importantly, organisations in the city at Castle Vale and Impact Hub Birmingham.

What can a city do?
We’ve already had a few ideas.

vending-machine_qehbOne, surprisingly, is about how point of sale VAT info might be a trigger for changes in buying behaviour. Another to have big organisations, like the City Council and our hospitals, refuse some suppliers access on their premises, such as this vending machine (right) in QEHB’s Cardiology Department, of all places.

Another is to work out ways to exploit new understanding of how important diet of our first 1000 days from conception. And that would lead us to think about how pregnant women as well as infants can be supported . . . with all the knock-on effects on educational attainment, job prospects and our city economy. (Yes, these factors can be costed into socio-political decision-making.)

What can you do?
Help generate ideas, that’s what!

Do sign in to participate in an interactive discussion: Food futures for us — and everyone else at Impact Hub Birmingham Open Night on Monday 28th November.

We promise lively conversation — and live music. Plus Mark Rogers, Birmingham’s Chief Exec and four specialist informants:

  • John Crawford of Rothamsted Research
  • Anju Dhir, an Environmental Health Officer, also Regional Co-ordinator of the WM CIEH
  • Andrea Graham, the National Farmers’ Union Head of Policy
  • Jon Miller, a partner at insurance broker JLT Speciality who heads their UK Agri-Food Practice.

note: The live music = numbers from the hugely successful The Hand That Feeds: A musical about food crime, performed in front of thousands in the Bullring last May.

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