Food, glorious food!

Let them go on eating cake

The government’s long-awaited Food Strategy document for England received a lukewarm reception from, among others, their own advisor on food. Restaurateur Henry Dimbleby said that around half of what he’d recommended had been implemented, but that it “hasn’t been done with one vision across the whole system.” He added that the policy document was not detailed enough to be called a “strategy”. One of the most glaring omissions was Dimbleby’s proposal to introduce a tax on salt and sugar used in processed foods in a bid to improve the nation’s health. Despite 64% of UK adults and 40% of children being overweight, the recommendation was ignored for the time being, as was a further proposal to expand free school meals to all children living in households receiving universal credit.

An estimated 1.1 million children could have benefited, but the government says both options will be kept under review. Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, and Action on Salt, said the government was “in the pocket of the food industry” and had “no desire to bite the hand that feeds it.” Suggestions to eat less meat were also excluded from the document, although an earlier, leaked, version advised people to eat wild venison as a low-carbon alternative to beef, as well as grow their own cucumbers to help save the planet. This prompted author Joanne Harris to tweet: “Does the government think that the working class are all hiding out in Sherwood Forest?” Both suggestions were removed from the final document.

No plans to tackle soaring food prices feature in the White Paper document, which states that its high cost “isn’t the business of Government food strategy.” Sue Davies, of consumer group Which?, said the strategy lacked ambition and that many of the recommendations had been “watered down, ignored or put off for further consultation. Despite these reactions, the government remains confident in the new strategy, committing £270m across farming innovation funding programmes until 2029, to help drive sustainable farming techniques.

And Boris Johnson’s prime ministerial pledge to “back farmers” has been welcomed by the National Farmers’ Union and the Soil Association. He said: “Our Food Strategy sets out a blueprint for how we will back farmers, boost British industry and help protect people against the impacts of future economic shocks by safeguarding our food security. Harnessing new technologies and innovation, we will grow and eat more of our own food – unlocking jobs across the country and growing the economy, which in turn will ultimately help to reduce pressure on prices.” Others are not so convinced. Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said that with prices soaring in the shops, at the pump and on energy bills, the Tories are “showing once again that they don’t have a vision and they don’t have a plan for Britain.” She continued: “After slashing universal credit, ministers are now faffing about while children go hungry. Our children deserve better.”

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