Harmony in Food and Farming
One of the great things about being part of the QMU MSc Gastronomy programme is having the excuse to invite the great and the good of the food world to come and speak with our students. We've been very lucky to have some really innovative, insightful, and even controversial folk, come and share their stories with us. Patrick Holden is certainly one of the more important names we've had this year.
Patrick is a dairy farmer from Wales, and when he's not milking cows at 4.30am or making cheese, he is being chief-exec for the Sustainable Food Trust - a communications body that advocates for sustainable food and farming practices (make their site a go-to if you're interested in knowing more about important food issues). Having also been the head of the Soil Association, he has a wealth of knowledge & experience when it comes to sustainable food systems issues, and quite rightly has the ear of important people such as Prince Charles and Michael Gove MP.
In his suit and white shirt, Patrick could come across as just another businessman or dry politico, but there's something in his rhetoric that makes him very different.
Back in January while I was at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, I attended a group discussion on Harmony in Food and Farming, chaired by Patrick. In the midst of these 2 frenzied days where the nitty-gritty of Brexit, worrying food issues and environmental policy were being debated between the ORFC and the (more conventional and long established, though currently smaller) Oxford Farming Conference, there was one word I never expected to hear from a respected member of the food and sustainability world.
Patrick talked about love.
He discussed love and spirituality with the same seriousness that he talked about food and farming, and emphasised the critical need for us to strive towards harmony in our food system. The notion of 'harmony' comes from Prince Charles' book of the same name, which outlines the understanding that all life is interconnected and how this must inform more of our actions across all areas of life.
None of this is particularly bizarre or difficult to comprehend, especially for anyone who studies soil or ecosystems, or food culture. But it shocked me, because so often these very human things are not publicly spoken of, but are marginalised and dismissed in the face of 'more serious' political and economic issues such as increasing food poverty and food related illnesses, social injustice in the food system and environmentally damaging industrial agricultural practices.
But as Patrick says, if we’re going to achieve real sustainability in our food systems and culture, we cannot ignore or become detached from what nourishes us and our interconnection with nature and one another. That must be our starting point, not an after thought. No problems can be solved without this initial truth being acknowledged.
It is brave and vital to openly recognise and include in political discussion, our spiritual, emotional and human connection with food. I take my hat off to a public figure like Patrick for doing so. Even he acknowledges it is hard to do and has taken him years to enact. But hopefully more and more people will take inspiration and courage from him to do so. I certainly will.