The People’s Food Plan
A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday, 15th September, 2012
I’ve mentioned a number of times previously that the Federal Government is currently working on Australia’s first-ever National Food Plan. The green paper is out for consultation until 30 September, and the white paper is expected to be released in the first few months of 2013.
I’ve also mentioned that the Government’s agenda on food and agriculture, as revealed in the green paper and elsewhere, has provoked a lot of disquiet amongst members of what we might term ‘the fair food movement’ in Australia. This would include non-corporate family farmers, small-to-medium sized food processors and manufacturers, independent and local food retailers and grocers, farmers’ markets, community gardeners and other local food groups, and the many millions of Australians who grow or raise some of their own food.
Yes, there are millions of Australians who grow or raise some of their own food. And it’s a growing trend – pun intended. A national survey carried out for the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) – of which I am the national coordinator – by the Australia Institute in July this year, found that more than half (53 %) of the adult population was growing or rearing some of their own food. Two-thirds of those had started doing so in the last five years, and a fifth in the last 12 months.
This trend towards some measure of food self-provisioning cuts across age and gender barriers, as well as the rural-urban and party political divides. It’s truly a national phenomenon. There are any number of reasons to explain why it’s occurring – from a concern about taste, quality and health, to the sheer joys and many benefits of gardening – but we’d also have to include a rising awareness that all is not well with the globalised food system, which the government so heavily promotes.
But domestic food growing – and the fair food movement more generally – gets absolutely no recognition whatsoever in the green paper for a National Food Plan.
That’s why the AFSA has decided that there is a need, and an opportunity, for a more inclusive, and broad-ranging, conversation about our national food system. In launching this week our process for a People’s Food Plan, we’ve been inspired by the dedicated work of hundreds of Canadians who, for more than two years, held 350 kitchen table talks around that country, to produce a People’s Food Policy for Canada. Released during the Canadian federal election of 2011, this document had a major impact, being endorsed by the two principal opposition parties.
The first of around three dozen public meetings around the country scheduled to be held during September and October was held earlier this week in Bondi. Thirty people spent two hours discussing their concerns about the food system in Australia, and put forward their ideas and proposals for priority policy action. These included ‘education and policy to promote local food’, ‘restrictions on harmful foods like soft drinks’, ‘prevent contamination of farmland by GMOs’, ‘prioritise food production over coal-seam gas’, ‘challenge the power of companies like Monsanto’, and ‘no sponsorship of schools and sporting programs by Coles and Woolworths’.
The AFSA has produced a draft discussion paper for a ‘values, principles and best practice’ document, which will be available online next week. All the ideas we are hearing will feed into a revised document, which we aim to launch before the end of the year.
In his foreword to our discussion paper, SBS garden guru Costa Giorgiadis writes:
“Now is the time to repurpose and refocus as a community. Now is the time to build an economy where growth is valued in annual soil depth and fertility that in turn promotes a health industry, not based on sickness but on living food. Let’s cover the fences and boundaries of a divided world with edible vines and plants that produce new visions and innovations worthy of the potential we have around us. Creativity to drive a world fuelled on regenerative and renewable sources requires new industries, new thinking and less baggage from a world paradigm whose time is passed.
Change requires courage and strength. Changes requires fuel, and food is the fuel of our future. The People’s Food Plan is the fuel of the future. Food Freedom begins in the soil that feeds seed freedom.
Now is the time to plant and nuture the seeds of change. I am excited.”
Public forums and / or kitchen table talks are planned for the Coffs Harbour region. If you are interested in participating, please email firstname.lastname@example.org