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Off The Shelf #34: pigs, wind and warnings
Stories from the world of sustainable food that have caught my eye this week
TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) version:
There are pig farms in Chinese skyscrapers
Wind farms can provide a source of food as well as power
The 6th IPCC report is out, and food features heavily
Leon’s founder is kicking up a fuss about UK government health policy
There might be hope for hospital food
Another long hiatus from me. Sorry. The last couple of months have been insanely busy, with lots of work travel in the new year, and a scramble over the last few weeks to get everything in order ahead of a long period of leave. And then, the catalyst for that leave: the arrival of our beautiful baby boy. He’s awesome and we’re very lucky to have him.
All of that has meant that I haven’t had the capacity to churn out my usual weekly ramblings on sustainable food. But now, with long stretches spent sitting awake trying to get a baby to sleep, I’ve got some room to write again.
Here are 5 things that have caught my eye this week:
🐖 Chinese pork: not so appetising
This is from a few months back but I find it so shocking that I’m sharing it now in case, like me, you missed it.
Following an African swine fever epidemic, China is building high-rise pig farms to increase its pork production. A company called Hubei Zhongxin Kaiwei Modern Farming – with no prior farming experience – has opened a 26-storey pig factory. Yes, you read that right. There is a skyscraper in China, filled with pigs being farmed for food. This ‘farm’ will slaughter more than a million pigs per year. Supporters claim it’s efficient, bio-secure, and eco-friendly. It might be efficient, and the smaller land footprint (by going vertical) prompts the eco-friendly argument. But what about the land used to grow the food being fed to these pigs? No mention of that. Plus, opponents say facilities like these raise the likelihood of disease outbreaks: this fascinating piece in last week’s Sunday Times about the next big pandemic highlights the disease risk from high-intensity livestock production. But what’s surely most disturbing about this facility is the risk to animal welfare. However ‘humanely’ these animals might be treated, can we just use some plain common sense and say this probably isn’t the nicest environment for a pig?
🌊 Wind and weeds to save the world
Danish academics and companies are collaborating in a new project called Win@Sea, which aims to produce offshore wind power and sustainable food at the same time, while improving marine biodiversity. The project will produce blue mussels, sugar kelp, sea lettuce, and dulse on lines at an offshore wind farm and conduct various research and monitoring activities.
⚠️ The final warning?
The sixth and final (for now) report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) came out this week. It highlights the role of food systems in greenhouse gas emissions and the need for transformative changes. The need to reduce food waste, which I covered a few months back, gets a special mention, and the report stresses the need to use land more effectively. It also highlights a need to include more plants and fewer animal products in our collective diet. Easier said than done.
✍️ Quitting in protest
Henry Dimbleby, who founded the UK restaurant chain Leon, has resigned as the government's food advisor, citing "insane" inaction to tackle obesity. He criticised ministers' obsession with an "ultra-free-market ideology" and blamed this for the fact that two-thirds of adults in England were overweight or obese. Obesity costs the UK National Health Service £6 billion a year and this is set to rise to almost £10 billion by 2050. Dimbleby’s resignation coincided with the publication this week of his book, Ravenous, which talks about our addiction to ultra-processed, fatty sugary foods. Publicity stunt? Maybe. I’ve fallen for it and am reading it now.
🏥 First class care, third class fare
Podcast recommendation. Our recent experience with the NHS at Hillingdon hospital was genuinely fantastic. Every aspect of the care given, and the quality of the staff, was first-class. But I did notice a couple of things about the food which I thought could be improved. I’m not the only one to have been less-than-impressed with hospital food over the years, and this timely podcast does a great job of covering some of the issues and highlighting some of the good work being done to improve things.
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