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A Magazine for Sheffield

Provenance: If We Are What We Eat, Then What on Earth Are We?

There are few facts in the world that are entirely indisputable. Even the weather is subject to political manipulation these days, if you believe the hype. So let’s start simply - the sky is blue, the grass is green, beef comes from cows and fish fingers come from pigs. Oh no, fallen at the fourth hurdle. Let it be known that fish fingers do actually come from fish. It’s just a quarter of British primary school pupils have been allowed to conclude the contrary. Easy mistake to make. We are facing an attitude-to-food crisis. Popular culture encourages every hipster and his dog to become a foodie. TV personalities send out sugar-coated instructions to their fans about how to ‘gourmet up’ their otherwise bland, suburban lifestyles, while town dwellers are given the opportunity to save the world on a monthly basis by indulging at their local farmers’ market. The fact that homemade, wholesome food has become fashionable is not a problem. In fact, the trend itself is really quite lovely. Sure enough, there are a few folk who are keen to cook primarily so that they can ‘tweet what they eat’, revealing their fondness of food porn (yum) to their internet friends. But the problem is that, despite our best intentions, the vast majority of us have no idea what we are eating. We are spending our time putting filters on photos of cupcakes and homemade gingerbread houses when we have no idea where the ingredients came from. 2013 included some of the most controversial culinary moments in recent history, or at least since that mum from Rotherham defied Jamie Oliver by passing burgers through the school rails to her kids in 2005. Last January, it became public knowledge that many products being sold in the UK as beef actually included varying quantities of horsemeat, in some cases up to 100%. The shocking statistics were horrifying to consumers nationwide who found the notion of eating horsemeat a little bit too taboo. As a result of the scandal, sales of frozen burgers in major supermarkets fell dramatically throughout the early months of the year. Obviously, it isn’t that consumers don’t care about what they are eating. It’s just that society doesn’t encourage them to question whether or not the produce they are being sold is legit. Later in 2013, the British Nutrition Foundation conducted research which revealed that 29% of primary school children think that cheese comes from plants, and that one in ten high school pupils think that tomatoes are grown underground. The research indicates that even if we are a nation crazed by baking and bunting, public understanding of food and farming is far from ideal. Consumers living in towns aren’t being encouraged to visit the farms where their groceries are formed, and instead are being fed an overpriced and under-informed slice of the countryside at their nearest farmhouse style deli. In 2012, charity LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) found that three in ten young adults born in the 1990s haven’t visited a farm in over ten years, if ever. Yet 43% of the young adults questioned claimed to have a good understanding of where their food comes from. It could be said that this lack of understanding and appreciation is what enables us to let perfectly good food go to waste in our own homes on a daily basis. It is common knowledge that Britain has a serious problem with wasting food, but little is done to inform the masses about how much hard work and energy is rooted into fresh produce. Luckily for us, there is a whole heap of farming champions out there, willing to help us out of our supermarket induced crisis and show us the truth about food. In Sheffield, Heeley City Farm and Whirlow Hall Farm Trust are organisations desperate to engage people from all communities with farming, food and healthy lifestyle learning. These open farms are ready to provide educational experiences to children and adults alike. They give town folk the chance to bottle feed lambs and cuddle chicks and engage with rural Britain. Over in Manchester, Wythenshawe Community Farm is ready and waiting to give city dwellers the opportunity to volunteer on the farm and gain a true understanding of the industry. Poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry once said, “Eating is an agricultural act”. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line this ideology has been abandoned. Eating has become something we do to survive our high-paced lifestyles and escape our boredom. The fact that the media are bringing the hip factor to cooking is something that should be celebrated, but we should all take a moment in between insta-snapping our tremendous creations to smell the roses and make eating about agriculture once more, before we lose touch altogether. )

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