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Fixing the UK food supply

As Everybody Eats continues with Robin Hood-style actions in multiple UK cities, group Vegans Support the Farmers are promoting a just transition for producers.

On April 27 the food poverty campaign group Everybody Eats took food without paying from major supermarkets in Hastings and delivered it to a food bank that is facing closure due to having no food left, which would leave 1,000 people struggling even more. The group is continuing its actions in Leeds, Manchester and other cities. The food poverty campaign group is demanding that the government “does the bare minimum” and ensures citizens can afford to eat.

Dave, 39, who runs the independent food bank with no government help said: “You’ve got people being arrested for stealing because we haven’t got food to give them. I can’t thank you enough, you’ve helped save lives. I can sleep this weekend because I can now give out food parcels to these people who have nothing, and I mean nothing. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you guys, you’re angels, all of you”.

The group’s first action which took place in early April when supporters dressed as Robin Hood went to a Marks & Spencer in South Manchester and walked out with food they hadn’t paid for to distribute to local people and food banks. The group said this ‘freeing of food’ will continue until the government makes meaningful steps to ensure everybody in the UK can afford necessities.

An Everybody Eats spokesperson said, “The politicians and corporations are so concerned with making more money that they are willing to starve us to hoard whatever riches they can extract from us. So we are taking action to pressure them… It’s a very basic point that we should be able to feed and house ourselves but that isn’t the case in 2024 Britain”.

But even before food gets to the supermarkets it has already been affected by an unfair production system. Vegans Support the Farmers is a group that’s been around longer than Everybody Eats. It calls for a fully plant-based food system with a just and sustainable transition for farmers.

Kerri Waters, co-founder, said: “The Animal Rising project are working towards a plant based food system by taking nonviolent direct action and running grassroots campaigns, such as Plant-Based universities and councils.

“This is necessary as an urgent response to the climate and nature emergencies, and to achieve animal freedom.”

She explains how they are taking a “mature and serious approach” towards transforming our food system, and that that means “we feel a responsibility to support farmer issues too”.

She added, “Standing up to an unfair system is the right thing to do, no matter who is being treated unfairly…The state of the food system affects everyone. Farmers’ issues are our issues and we need a strong farming sector to build on.

“We launched Vegans Support the Farmers to help address these key issues as part of our work for a safe, just and kind food system. In this campaign we will set aside any differences and work on the many farming issues we align on.”

Activists attending this year’s Oxford Farming Conference and reading the report said that the time for action is now: Up to 40% of a vegetable crop being spurned by supermarkets due to aesthetics. Meanwhile critics are crying out for the label ‘wonky’ fruit and veg to be ditched, and the ever narrower supermarket specifications to be jettisoned.  ‘Outsized’ produce is just the free bonus for corporate bosses at the expense of farmers.

The group has as one of its aims helping farmers with their fight for fairer treatment against this cabal of rich, profiteering, supermarkets.

Sarah Foy, co-founder, 23, said, “We hope that our actions wake people up to the realities faced by the farming sector, that our food system desperately needs fixing, and that we have to work together to do so. We need to be kind to one another and offer support in times of need.”

Currently the suicide rate for farmers is three times the national average and Vegans Support the Farmers are raising £100,000 to help support the farming community. The latest data available shows that 133 UK farm sector workers that took their own lives in 2019-20.

“Someone taking their own life doesn’t just impact that one person, it has a long lasting knock-on effect in their family, friendship group, and community,” Foy added.

And the downsides conspire against a workforce which is increasingly desperate, facing fucked-up weather patterns of wet and wild winters/springs and  extreme summer temperatures followed by droughts as well as labour shortages due to Brexit, and rising costs of fertiliser plus lower subsidies.

The big picture is bleak when it comes to the food and water system as a whole. Supermarket profit margins have driven farming to the wall as well as more poor people drifting to food banks in their thousands each week. Precarious trade agreements and reliance on imports means that only 60% of general foods are produced at home and shockingly just 23% of fruit and veg.

Does that make the blindest bit of difference when the five leading global tech companies, Alphabet Meta Apple Amazon Microsoft are locking us into an AI-generated social existence where human capability is matched and surpassed by computers finding patterns way beyond our ability?

The activists at Vegans Support the Farmers say yes. And it’s because, of course, globalism  is ineffective, just as days of unadulterated meat-eating are numbered. Industrial capitalism cannot survive on a planet where food cannot be produced consistently to scale due to heat. We’ve seen Spain in drought this year already and Dubai having an unprecedented year’s rainfall in one day. Food supplies from countries that can no longer supply us mean we have to supply ourselves with locally grown produce, including perennial food crops. 

Otherwise how long before ration books make a come-back as we witness the empty shelves we experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead of a resilient farming sector what governments have presided over is a race to the bottom through the cheapest of imports from put-upon countries and a sod the UK farmers attitude into the bargain.

The idea of deepening the dialogue with the farming community developed during 2022 when the campaign group embarked on a Farmer Dialogue Tour to visit farming communities and communicate why they campaigned and took direct action.

And to come…a summer of actions including touring vegan markets and events up and down the country to raise funds and work to change the way vegans view farmers. Talks at Vegfest and the Vegan and Animal Rights Conference in Manchester have, according to Kerri Waters, been  overwhelmingly supportive, stating that this is a sorely-needed element to the vegan cause.

~ Jan Goody

photo: Twitter

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