The Key Ideas

#94 Explore a 'direct debit' scheme for food purchasing to sustain better quality food production and healthier eating

One thing we will always have to consume is food. But whether this kind of consumption is life-enhancing or life-harming is up to us. In chapter eight the positive economic impact of a more localised food system was explored and chapter nine looked at how food 'sovereignty' could be achieved. But the same system can improve the way we eat and the quality of the food we eat. If we are providing more food through local production and distribution, then we are reducing the share of the market taken up by the harmful, low-quality, and highly processed foods which are heavily marketed to usthe promotion and sale of which should be restricted in all public facilities and especially schools.

A way to encourage a shift from bad food to good food is to help people resist the constant marketing of food based on instant gratification. The marketing of food is particularly reliant on impulse purchasing with big displays of beautifully photographed, tempting products explicitly designed to try and get us to buy not only more than we intended to buy, but specifically to buy high-fat and high-sugar products we had no intention of buying before we reached the supermarket. Other marketing techniques such as bulk deals and selective product discounting are designed to give us the impression that we're achieving value for money. But we're notbecause one third of the food we buy is wasted precisely because of impulse purchasing of food we don't need. Supermarkets want us to be capricious shoppers, because capricious shoppers waste a lot of money.

 

We can encourage different approaches. We don't buy electricity as we go along; we commit to ensuring stability of supply and spread payments evenly. We could do something similar for food. Shoppers could be given the option of a 'good food card' which would be supported by lots of local producers and suppliers. Direct debits would load these cards up with money each month and then they could be used to buy food from 'hub' shops and local suppliers. Ensuring this consistency of market would enable local producers and suppliers to plan ahead and establish stable, reliable businesses (capricious shopping is great for processed foods laden with preservatives, not for sustaining virtuous local food markets). The result would be a greatly increased availability of good quality foodsmall craft bakers at the end of your street would be possible again. Such a move could transform our relationship to food, improving not only the economy and our health but the quality of our lives too.

 

But good food is not just about how much sugar or fat is in it, but also to do with how it was produced (animal welfare, labour conditions, climate change impact, soil and water stewardship, biodiversityin a word agroecological) and how it is traded (fair margins, transparency etc.). Short food chains are a key part of that. We need to keep coming back to the truth that feeding everyone well in Scotland is easy given how much food we produce, and we could produce the same amount more sustainably. The key is rethinking the food system as a public concern like education, housing, and healthnot simply a market to be regulated in the lightest possible way.