Geoff Tansey was chosen as one of the six ‘Visionaries for a just and peaceful world’ by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to mark their centenary. He has 30 years’ experience of working on the world’s dysfunctional food system, with its twin problems of hunger and obesity. An award-winning writer and consultant on food systems, his books include ‘The Food System’ and ‘The future control of food’. He is also a Trustee of the Food Ethics Council.
Here is a brief summary of his talk
“It’s good to know we’re still tough up north,” said Geoff Tansey, greeting the large audience which braved ice and snow on Saturday to hear him discuss “Food, peace and human thriving in a changing world”.
With escalating food prices and revelations about “beef” burgers containing horsemeat in the news, this first talk in the sixth series of Hexham Debates could not have been more topical, but the speaker’s expertise came from 30 years of researching, writing and campaigning about what he describes as the world’s dysfunctional food system. Something of that dysfunction can be seen in the twin problems of hunger and obesity, and in the fact that a nation as wealthy as the United States has over 46 million people dependent on food stamps.
Historically, different empires have always tried to restructure food systems to suit themselves, said Mr Tansey, and although two thirds of the world’s food supply is still grown by small farmers, the power and influence over what is produced and how it is allocated is now concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
In the modern era the tendency is to employ technological and scientific ingenuity to manipulate agriculture. Three vast global corporations have bought up countless smaller seed companies and a fundamental biological process is increasingly subject to legal and financial interference. A particular concern voiced by Mr Tansey is the role of the World Trade Organisation, which he described as a club enforcing rules about patents which have been developed by global corporations to protect their own interests. Doubts about genetic modification of foods often focus on health, but for Mr Tansey it is the “control” aspect that is the more worrying.
Against a background of climate destabilisation, increasing inequality, and competition and conflict over resources, it would be all too easy to surrender to a sense of helplessness, but Geoff Tansey believes that individual communities can shape their own future — how we choose to act now regarding food sustainability is a matter of critical importance. He thinks that it is possible, not to say essential, for people to take the initiative at a community level, by teaching cookery, supporting local farmers and producers, and challenging what he describes as the lunatic consumption patterns of the western world.
By chance this Debate coincided with an appeal from Transition Tynedale for people to contribute ideas for the Hexham Town Plan – a vision of the most desirable way for the town to evolve over the next decade. Geoff Tansey suggested that this process might include a study of any health problems peculiar to the immediate area. Better understanding of nutritional wellbeing and of the links between nutrition, health and farming could lead to better general health, and a more sustainable local food network in future.
Given the fact that food banks are seen as a necessity in more and more towns, and that there is about to be a meeting to discuss the need for one in Hexham, the importance of Geoff Tansey’s contribution to the Hexham Debates cannot be ignored.
More information is available from www.foodethicscouncil.org, of which Geoff Tansey is a Trustee.
The next debate is also of interest to TT’ers so pop into your schedule NOW!!
Saturday 9 February 2013 11.00 am
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Northumbria University
Sustainable and socially just economies.
A major source of injustice is the global money system, in which nations with dominant currencies can exploit weaker countries. This talk will look at ways in which the economic interaction between countries can be put on a more equal and less conflictual basis, avoiding the threat of ‘currency wars’.
Prof Mary Mellor focuses her current research on the financial crisis, money systems and financial exclusion. Her interests include the social economy and alternative economics; co-operatives and other alternative economic structures; ecofeminist political economy, ecological political economy and feminist economics; ecologically sustainable and socially just ‘sufficiency’ economics.