This public webinar hosted by the University of Cambridge on Wednesday 20th October was organised in collaboration with Cambridge Sustainable Food, as part of the Cambridge Zero Climate Change Festival. Over 100 attendees at this information-packed hour asked our expert panel more than 70 questions, some received in advance and others live during the event itself.
A wide variety of topics were addressed, including the virtues of being vegetarian; how we, as consumers, can influence big corporations and government policy; how to educate children about the climate impact of food; which fish are sustainable; palm oil; soy; traffic-light labelling to indicate carbon footprints; plant versus dairy milks; food poverty and the importance of eating locally-grown food.
The panel summed up by answering a question from Georgia Nixon, ‘What are the big global hurdles for transitioning to lower carbon diet?’
Jason O’Rourke’s answer was children’s lack of knowledge about cooking and diet. He believes it’s essential the next generation know the environmental impact of their food, and enjoy cooking and eating.
For Ann Mitchell the biggest hurdle is the control of our food system by a small number of big companies. She told us that the way to get over this is to celebrate local producers and ensure that local produce is available to all.
Sarah Bridle agreed; advocating that we should use our influence as consumers. She said, ‘When we make choices about what to eat, we influence the food system. Our food choices drive decisions made by food producers, supermarkets, and governments – just look what is happening with the reduction in plastic packaging.’ She believes that by demanding change and refusing to buy unsustainable produce, the public can drive change.
Giles Yeo pointed out the universal availability of cheap, ultra-processed food as a global problem, he called for change to ensure the cheaper item is always be the healthier item.
Emma Garnett identified corporate influence in policy making, from those wishing to maintain the status quo, as a key global factor slowing transition to lower carbon diets. Adding that, ‘We need to compel politicians to act because inaction is not an option.’
Please find the panel’s written answers to some of our audience’s questions here.
Please find the event recording here.
Dr Sarah Bridle is Professor of Food, Climate and Society, University of York. She is a transdisciplinary researcher driven by the need to tackle climate change. Her book, Food and Climate Change – Without the Hot Air was published in 2020 by UIT Cambridge and is available to download for free. For other free resources please go to her website http://sarahbridle.net.
Dr Emma Garnett is Prince of Wales Junior Research Fellow in Sustainable Consumption at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, which is part of the University of Cambridge. She is interested in understanding how to equitably overcome economic, political and social barriers to conserving biodiversity and reaching absolute zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Ann Mitchell is a director of Cambridge Sustainable Food, having been involved since its creation seven years ago. A retired primary school teacher, she hopes to help shape a fairer, more sustainable and less wasteful food system.
Dr Jason O’Rourke is the Headteacher of Washingborough Academy, co-founder of TastEd sensory food education. He is a member of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food and the British Nutritional Foundation’s Education Working Group and is currently working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
With thanks to Lucía Arce Cubas for providing technical support for this event.