Event report: Food and the city

Two thought-provoking presentations about food and cities formed the meat (!) of a Manchester Green Party (1) meeting yesterday evening. The monthly gathering, held at the Friends Meeting House, heard from Liz Postlethwaite about her recent trip to examine urban agriculture in Cuba, and from Chris Walsh of the Kindling Trust.

Ms Postlethwaite had spent several weeks in Cuba last November. Her presentation started by explaining the “Special Period,” the peak oil scenario Cuba faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. This led to an enforced rethink from industrial agriculture (think big tractors sailing through seas of wheat) to much more locally based – and labour-intensive – forms of food growing. Her presentation was peppered with helpful photos, quotes and statistics, including the fact that 70% of the market fresh food in Havana is grown within 10km of the city.

There was time for a question and answer session, and MCFly asked about preparations for climate change. Ms Postlethwaite pointed to decreased rainfall in some of the most fertile areas of Cuba over the last few years, and ongoing research into grain alternatives and the re-introduction of traditional tubers.

Chris Walsh of the Kindling Trust spoke about “Sustainable Food in Manchester”. After laying out some depressing statistics about Mancunians’ carbon/environmental footprints, he laid out Kindling’s positions on thorny issues such as whether local is “best” compared to “organic.”. His position is “If it’s not organic, it’s not local” – meaning that “local food” that relied on inputs of fertilizer from, say, North Africa, was not truly local.

He laid out five guidelines for making food more climate friendly:
* reduced waste
* less meat, dairy and fish (something even Nick Stern has echoed)
*organic and low carbon agriculture
*avoiding air freighted food
*more local, seasonal production

He also talked about Feeding Manchester and Manchester Veg People (see here for MCFly co-editor Arwa Aburawa’s Guardian story) and its Land Army (a topic to which MCFly shall return.)

MCFly was particularly impressed with the very first comment, from a Green Party stalwart – she observed that in her youth she had worked as an agricultural labourer to be able to afford new shoes etc, and it had been back-breaking and monotonous work. Mr Walsh agreed, and said that one of the benefits of the Land Army, besides encouraging local growers to grow more organic food, was to give them a chance to do something else with their time than weed…

As MCFly left (2) a very interesting discussion was taking place about the success of Oldham Council in the Food for Life stakes, compared to Manchester City Council’s slightly less impressive position. (Another story for us to follow up. Where are the caffeine patches again?)

As with the “No Impact Man” film showing, it is clear that – despite the media regarding climate as a dead story – there are many people in Manchester who desperately want to know more about what is going on, and how they can be involved in a growing movement to make the city greener and fairer. Manchester Climate Monthly will do what (little) it can, but it is surely up to the relevant authorities (they know who they are) to start doing what they are (un)elected to do – leading, co-ordinating, regulating and the like.

Marc Hudson

Join the MCMonthly book reading group! First meeting Mon 6th Feb, 7pm, Waterhouse. Book: George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Come to our Green Valentine’s Day event: “Carbon dating” 8pm till late, Sandbar, Grosvenor St.

(1) Disclaimer: The editors of MCFly are not now, and have never been, members of the … Green Party of Manchester/England and Wales/United Kingdom/Third Rock from the Sun. If other* political parties run events around environmental problems and solutions, then we’d almost certainly attend and report. (*offer excludes the BNP – they may not take kindly to Arwa’s whole Muslim thing, and neither of us take particularly kindly to racists.)

(2) My plan was to cycle to the gym and read four important publications on the stepper (the Financial Times, Viz, the Manchester Evening Newsance and Private Eye). I got caught with a flat, well how about that…

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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