Engineering choice

Tim Young - 10 February 2011

Last night’s final plenary session ‘what’s stopping progress’ was a great discussion between Tim Lang of City University, author Joanna Blythman, Riverford’s Guy Watson, and Colin Cox who works on Manchester food enterprises. A lot of the most interesting discussion was around the idea possible ‘nudges’ to individuals behaviour, and the scale of the nudges that might be needed.

The consensus of opinion seemed to be that, rather than a nudge on the demand side, to radically affect our food systems we need an almighty shove on the supply side – Colin Cox expressed it best for me when he described the need to reengineer the choices that people face so that doing the ‘right’ thing actually becomes the easiest thing to do. A suggestion he made was for a ‘fat tax’ on unhealthy food, that might tilt shopper’s choices towards more sustainable diets. Whether that would work is a moot point, but for me it’s clear that as a movement we need to be more creative about providing viable approaches that allow shoppers to do the ‘right’ thing more often. The ‘let them eat shin’ approach of lecturing people that they should feel grateful about having the chance to support a sustainable agriculture system and never mind any cost to them is clearly not a winning argument.

It was a great discussion, so following on this morning it was great to attend a workshop on the ‘marketplace of tomorrow’, and to hear presentations from Unicorn  in Manchester, Suma in Leeds, Stroudco in Stroud and the True Food Co-op in Reading. Examples like this of local food movements supplying viable alternatives on a local level are so inspiring, and it’s vital that as a movement we can help facilitate and replicate these creative alternatives and make it easier for more people to make better choices more often when they shop.

Tim is editor of the Soil Association's Living Earth magazine, and has written on food, health and consumer issues for the last ten years. When not at work Tim is normally being run ragged by his two young sons. In 2009 Tim started trying to grow vegetables, and last year he took on an allotment. Two years later he is still trying to grow vegetables, and is very hopeful that one day soon he will have some success.

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