Organic food advocates gathered at the Soil Association conference in London last week with a programme that extended well beyond organics in an effort to “start where people are” on their journey toward healthier eating, according to chief executive Helen Browning.
The organisation has recently been granted £3.6m from the Big Lottery Fund to extend its Food for Life programme beyond its current focus on schools, to care homes, hospitals and workplaces.
The first day of the conference had a strong focus on food policy, including ways to deal with food poverty issues in the UK and around the world – including the Food for Life Partnership programme – as well as ways to create more sustainable food environments within urban areas.
However, organic food was mentioned very little.
“Some people will be asking why organic isn’t writ larger within Food for Life,” said Browning. “But I say that organic principles are present throughout everything we have talked about today.”
Browning stressed that good food was also about how it is produced, but said that the Soil Association had sometimes become too associated with campaigns against genetic modification or pesticides.
“Unless we deliver positive real world solutions, policies that are genuinely likely to stand up, we will have failed,” she said. “I want us much more to be known for what we are for, rather than what we are against.”
She added that discussing how to encourage healthy eating and develop people’s cooking skills were crucial first steps toward greater uptake of organic food in the future.
“We as an organisation have to start where people are,” she said. “…Eventually, organic will come naturally to many of those people.”
The organic sector has fared worse in the UK than in the rest of Europe during recession, but has started to show signs of recovery. Sales edged up 0.6% over the past year, according to Soil Association figures, after dropping 1.5% in 2012 and 3.7% the year before that.
“People do seem to be turning back to organic food now after several years of decline, but the retail market won’t be enough to transform our food system,” Browning said. “Health is a complex and interconnected web that contains the social environment…alongside the need for a healthy, whole food based diet.”