Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Ration yourself

“The best way you can help is by rationing yourselves”

In the UK, rationing began in earnest in 1940. It relied on Britons handing over a limited number of coupons from a ration book to regulate a dwindling wartime food supply. Occasionally, nostalgia for this time surfaces due to the perceived health benefits and notion of mucking in it encapsulates. This time isn’t as far away as it appears.

I think what’s fascinating about this video is that it contains two major thrusts of current food policy discourse. I’m not saying we’re being asked to use ration coupons, but that an emphasis on consumers and waste are fundamental to what people tell us about food.

Despite a vastly different context, our approach to food security hasn’t changed that much. Faced with potential food shortages due to rising oil prices, biodiversity loss and climate change, eating better is the dish of the day. Buying healthier and more ethical food is the rationing of today. The belief that ethical consumers can change food systems to be more sustainable is prevalent in government policy documents and in supermarket rhetoric.

Reducing waste is another responsibility shoppers are charged with. The phrase from this video “find a box and put them in, it’ll only take a min”, wouldn’t be out of place in the recycling campaigns of today. The love food, hate waste campaign is an example of how we need to not only buy better but waste less.

Strategies such as these are useful. They help people feel part of the solution and will have some impact. However, focusing heavily on consumers and waste misses crucial factors. Being able to act ‘ethically’ relies on having money and time. The decisions that food retailers and caterers make are often behind the scene and out of our control.Consumer power is qualified.

Although many other options must be taken, this video still has a message for us today. Taking “no more than our fair share” is crucial for all in the food chain. Whether that means me buying less or supermarkets engaging in better supply chain management, we do need to ration ourselves. This rationing must be approached with care, focusing on those that can afford to ration themselves.

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