Food for thought


By Feline Charpentier, Teacher of Outdoor Work

On Monday evening, we were very lucky to have Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, visit Bedales to give a fascinating talk. Patrick spoke of his life as a dairy farmer in West Wales and his early work with the Soil Association, before talking about the aim of the Sustainable Food Trust, the patron of which is the Prince of Wales.

The Sustainable Food Trust works to “accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems that nourish the health of both people and planet”. They work with government organisations and individuals to audit and fight for more sustainable food and farming systems. Their latest project is a collaboration with Richard Dunne called The Harmony Project, which seeks to apply the principles of nature and interconnectedness with education.

Patrick wanted to highlight the complicated nature of every choice we make – the hidden cost of food. He spoke of the benefits of grass-fed beef and lamb, both for our health and for our environment. He also spoke of sheep farmers in Wales who are now building huge chicken sheds where there would have once been grassland, as consumers mistakenly believe buying chicken is better for the environment than lamb. Those chickens are fed a concentration of soya and grain shipped in from all around the world and live short, miserable lives in giant sheds. We as consumers are completely unaware of the implications of our food choices – the ‘plant based’ food trend as pernicious as the one consumers think they need to avoid, with large multinational companies making huge sums of money from our desire to eat more sustainably.

He argues that we would be making the most sustainable choices by eating what the immediate environment around us is best at growing. In the UK, that means pasture based ruminants, capturing carbon and turning grass into food. This led to lots of debates for students, who clearly all care about what they eat and how to make the most sustainable choices.

This talk was perfectly timed, as it highlighted many of the areas the new Outdoor Work Sixth Form course, Living with the Land, aims to address and discuss. We face the greatest existential threat to our planet in the next 10 to 20 years, and our individual food choices and the farming industry as a whole have much to do to address those threats. If we are to meet these challenges, the fundamental way that we learn and think needs a major overhaul. Working with nature, rather than against it. Having these debates and making difficult decisions is a vital part of that transition.