St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Food: 600,000+ choices that make a difference every day

Adrian introducing the idea of a Sustainable Food Strategy for York
Adrian introducing the idea of a Sustainable Food Strategy for York

A report on 8th March 2017 One Planet York Mingle, by Ivana Jakubkova (St Nicks Events Officer who co-organised the event.)

Food is something that we all need and it has big impacts far beyond our plates. With around 200,000 residents in York, we are talking at least 600,000+ food choices every day. These choices may not seem significant on their own but I’m sure you can do the maths for a whole year’s worth or even a decade.

Once we finished our delicious pies served by the Winning Post, Adrian, from St Nicks and Schumacher North, started off the evening’s discussion with these numbers and summarised just some of the ways in which food links to all areas of human life and certainly the majority, if not all, of the One Planet Living principles. When seriously talking about food, it’s not just about the ingredients of our everyday meals and how tasty, healthy or expensive (or not) they are. We also have the issues of waste, transport, affordability and access, animal welfare, carbon footprint (which leads to climate change) and a myriad of others, notwithstanding food security.

food emissions breakdown - from is very tempting to champion local food as the way forward to address a lot of those but, as you can see from the graph or “The Tricky Truth about Food Miles“, most of the carbon footprint of food comes from the way it’s produced and not its transportation. Organically grown and fairly traded food from abroad can be better than a locally, intensively produced plate full of pesticide or fertiliser residues. So how do we ensure that locally grown food is good for us as well as for the wildlife we need to pollinate our crops? This gives us a lot of “food for thought!”

Eatwell Guide illustration, from recent Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen report, produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), places Food amongst four key areas (next to transport, buildings and energy) which need tackling in order for the UK to successfully minimise and adapt to climate change. As it happens, the Eatwell Guide promoted by the NHS and other government agencies correlates rather well with CAT’s findings that eating no more than recommended amounts, eating less meat and dairy while increasing intake of fruit and veg is not only more healthy for us, but also better for the environment – both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land use. Put simply, we can make a difference one meal at a time.

Summary of "A Good Food Plan for Bristol", borrowed from

Summary of “A Good Food Plan for Bristol”, borrowed from

Back to York though; just like it is sensible to plan our meals to some degree in order to have a healthy and ethical diet, the roomful of the Mingle attendees at the Winning Post agreed that it would make sense to have a plan or strategy for York to ensure that both present and future generations have a reliable food supply that is good for the city and the planet. We rather liked the sound of joining the Sustainable Food Cities network and following the example of Bristol and other cities in setting out a sustainable food strategy. While this would be a written document listing our aims, a lot of us expressed a strong support for a short, live document backed up by lots of action.

There is plenty happening already and we had a go round the different groups represented on the night as well as individuals’ actions on food.

To name a few:

  • Edible York – a charity supporting the people of York to become closer to the food they eat through a variety of projects including public veg beds, York Orchard, Edible Schools and more
  • Abundance – an urban harvesting project which redistributes surplus fruit to charities or community groups
  • York Food not Bombs – a local branch of a worldwide movement recovering food that would have been discarded and sharing it as a way of protesting war and poverty. The York group mostly serves food to homeless people but anyone is welcome to tuck in.
  • Food Assembly – online farmers’ market enabling consumers to meet local food producers, starting up in York soon (St Nicks is pleased to work with York Food Assembly and Bike Belles on a “Local Food – Past & Present” cycle ride & BBQ – come along!)
  • Apples for Eggs – seasonal events in locations across the UK where people get together and exchange their produce
  • yourcafe – collects would-be-waste food from top retailers, transforms it into delicious meals and serves it in a friendly, inclusive and welcoming atmosphere at Tang Hall Community Centre. yourcafe is also very good at forging links with other groups such as York Racial Equality Network or St Nicks by donating food and running joint events.
  • WWOOF – a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange. There are hosts in or around York, including Knapton Lane Nursery represented at the Mingle.
yourcafe team at St Nicks Open Day on 30th January 2016 (by Lewis Outing)

yourcafe team at St Nicks Open Day on 30th January 2016 (by Lewis Outing)

Besides introductions to these food initiatives we also covered a variety of other related topics – from food waste, composting and freeganism to cultural differences in approaching food, having the Big Lunch on buses (proposed by York Bus Forum), and helping people gain confidence or choose the right gear for transporting food by bicycle (York Bike Belles).

We could and occasionally should also talk about food in terms of its impacts on and functions in the economy, society and environment. However, that implies that somehow these are separate from each other rather than interdependent. For me at least, the beauty and strength of the One Planet Living framework lies in forgetting about this artificial division of our world and lives. The ten principles of One Planet Living support, interweave with and affect one another. After all, we wouldn’t have an economy without people or without the environment, and vice versa(*).
A sustainable local food economy sounds great to me and lots of other people but will not mean much to those who can’t afford to buy any food, let alone good healthy food produced within a certain number of miles from York. Rather than talking about those abstract terms of ‘economy’ or ‘environment’, which sound like they are someone else’s problem, I suggest that we talk about:
  • creating jobs paying a living wage for growing and cooking food for York residents
  • York Urban Buzz site at the MilleniumBridge

    St Nicks has been working with York Urban Buzz at the MilleniumBridge and other sites to increase wildflower diversity in order to support pollinating insects and engage local communities in saving them

    dedicating public land to growing food and/or pollinating insect havens

  • cookery and grow your own classes or skills exchange groups to ensure that everyone in York has access to good healthy food regardless of their income
  • how we can have more than one yourcafe in town and eventually eliminate food waste altogether
  • bike trailer loan schemes to help transport food without adding to the local problems of air pollution

These are the sort of topics that relate to people’s lives and get me excited about the prospect of sitting down to help write York’s Sustainable Food Strategy. I suspect that you can think of plenty more – would you like to join in? Get in touch.

The next monthly One Planet York Mingle will revolve around the Zero Waste principle – whether or not you’re a keen wastebuster, join us on Wednesday 12th April at the Winning Post (having one of their delicious pies is optional).

(*) Some, including me, would argue that the environment (or nature as a whole) would be fine without either people or economy, and had been for billions of years. I recommend watching Julia Roberts as ‘Mother Nature’ in the series of Nature is Speaking videos as a powerful reminder of that. You might also enjoy another related morsel of food for thought – ‘Making Nature: How we see animals’ exhibition at the Welcome Trust in London (open until 21st May).


21 March 2017 | Categories: Inspiration, Opinion Piece | Tags: apples for eggs, big lunch, edible york, food, food assembly, food miles, food not bombs, one planet living, sustainable food city, wwoof, york bike belles, yourcafe, Zero Carbon Britain