February 26, 2021

Carolyn Steel: “By buying food we shape the planet”

I have read your book. It’s not just that we are what we eat. It is that what we eat can make us better people, and better citizens.

So is. Eating is sharing, because we share the planet with all the creatures that eat, human and non-human. For me, when you eat, you have to think that everyone needs to eat. In that sense, food can make you a better citizen, yes. We must not forget that food is living creatures that we raise and kill in order to live. So food is life, and if you don’t value food, you don’t value life. In the past, food was so highly valued that there was a ceremony of thanks for having it, and wasting it was considered a sin, and we have forgotten these things.

We don’t have a food culture. Thats the big problem?

Yes. I believe that food culture is the harmonic response to a landscape, because it has to do with the food available. The problem now is that we do not live in our traditional food cultures, those that were tied to the landscape and strived to live in harmony with the place that welcomed them. We have slipped into a food culture that has no time and no place. Everything is available at all hours.

Should a good citizen flee from supermarkets?

I would say the following, and it is that we must be aware that every time we spend our money on food, we are literally shaping the planet. The decisions you make are important, and yes, I think that supermarkets have too much power, and the problem is that they have these supply chains behind in which the producer always loses, places where the products are sold below their price of cost, something completely unsustainable. I suspect a five euro chicken, I would be careful with five pound chickens.

The 10 euros not everyone can pay.

If you believe, like I do, that a good society is one where everyone eats well, it is okay for food to be expensive, and that is where governments come in, because to buy food that costs what it is worth, people have to earn enough to buy that food, which means higher minimum wages, vital minimum income. But on the other hand, if you value food, if you pay the right price for food, that generates good jobs, thousands of good jobs. I mean that food has always been the main source of work in the world. Cheap food creates cheap jobs, and good food creates good jobs.

“We pay a very high cost, an unaffordable cost for what we eat”


What should we eat?

I would always go for the best organic food that your pocket can afford. I, for example, try to pay with my money for the work of small local producers. I am lucky to have a food store in my neighborhood that promotes fair trade, that buys from local producers, and I spend all the money I can there, even though it is much more expensive than in the supermarket. I do it because I care. So, we must not totally flee from supermarkets, but we must buy the best we can, giving importance to where the food comes from.

Do you think the pandemic has changed anything? People are more at home, they cook more …

Absolutely. A survey found that 42% of British people valued food more during confinement, that they cooked more. Many people have rediscovered the pleasure of cooking, and many people have started buying from local producers, I think right now 40% of Brits are buying directly from producers, most for the first time this year. And the reason is that the restaurants closed, and many producers decided to sell directly to citizens. I think it is one of the good things that have come out of confinement.

He once said that “cheap food” is an oxymoron.

Absolutely. We could make a list of the damage we do by consuming a certain food, the damage to ecology, climate change, the mass extinction of species, deforestation, the list is very long. So yes, we pay a very high cost, in fact we pay an unaffordable cost for what we eat, but the problem is that we do not see that problem. You can’t see it in the supermarket.

What is the way?

In the new book I published this year, Sitopia, I argue that we cannot continue to consider food cheap, because if we continue to do so, we are literally going to end the planet. If we give value to food again, everything will change.

It’s basically a matter of individual decisions, right?

Yes, but it is very important to say that we need governments to do things. Individual decisions are not enough. We need political action and international commitment. For many years governments were at the forefront of the challenge of feeding the population, but in the last 50 years they have ignored it and left it in the hands of multinationals. We must call on governments to take responsibility for food.


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