As part of BSUFN’s series of reading discussion groups we have been talking about human nutrition and plant proteins. Under our special interest group (SIG) theme Food Health and Education, a group of members met to discuss the 1994 paper ‘Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition’ by Young and Pellett (available here).
Our discussion of this topic took us through nutrition, health, food policy and economics, sustainability, and society. Below are some points raised during our disucssion.
- Commonly used terminology to describe protein content in food stuffs is incorrect and misleading. Many foods are describes as having ‘incomplete’ proteins but in fact they have low levels of some amino acids which are increased to good ratio through combining food stuffs.
- Vegetarianism and veganism can still provide more than sufficient dietary nutrition because there are proteins present in pulses, cereals, and vegetables. In a typical Western diet we consume more than enough protein.
- Past medical advice regarding protein intake in children and adults was in places incorrect but still gets taught in medical schools. This has resulted in misleading public health messages being maintained long after health sciences have shown otherwise.
- The food industry has a dominant role in determining food policy and advice.
- Combining different food types, such as legumes and cereals, will provide sufficient amounts of the necessary amino acids. However, these combinations do not need to be consumed during the same meal and eating different types of food stuffs throughout the day is sufficient.
- There is limited sustainability of the meat industry in its current state because of the amount of protein-rich feed required to raise livestock. For example, in much of Latin America, for every kilogram of beef produced cattle are fed ten kilograms of protein-rich feed. This feed is typically soya or similar food stuffs which could be eaten by humans. There are questions over the amount of land required for producing feed for livestock as well as the ethics of giving protein-rich food to cattle when over 800 million people globally go hungry every day.
As part of BSUFN’s series of reading discussion groups we have been talking about sustainable intensification. Under our special interest group (SIG) theme Primary Food Production, a group of members met to discuss the International Institute for Environment and Development‘s (IIED) recent working paper titled Sustainable Intensification Revisited (available here).
Our discussion spanned a wide range for food-production issues which encompassed issues from the whole of the global food system to local and smallholder farming in different contexts. Below are some points arising in our discussion.
- Is ‘sustainable intensification’ a useful term? Should it be abandoned? Should it be redefined? Or is it a question of using the term in relation to increasing production in some areas while considering agriculture within the whole food system and sustainability of more than environmental processes?
- There are various different proponents of sustainable intensification which have different perspectives on why it is necessary and how it can be achieved. There are also groups which provide critiques of the concept and have alternative views of the food system. Terms including ‘food sovereignty’ and ‘local food systems’ were discussed in relation to this.
- Processes which are questioning industrial agriculture in the global north have parallels with food sovereignty movements in the global south. We discussed concepts of local food, slow food, grassroots and cooperative farming and processes for making farming social sustainable through local interactions and networks. Context specific responses rather than scaling-up interventions to a national, regional, or global scale.
- Issues of inequality being a bigger issue to global food security than issues of production and quantity of food. It was suggested that food production shouldn’t be a business to profit from but something which is necessary for survival and access to food should be a human right.
- Changing public attitudes toward local food was likened to changing attitudes about smoking and the massive lobbying from private business that have significant financial incentives in maintaining global, intensive, high-input agriculture.
- Global food systems and large-scale farming can be good in some contexts so advocating a blanket policy of small-scale, local food production isn’t necessarily the best route. Issues regarding carbon emissions, the impact of climate change on production patterns, and the associated impacts of transporting food large distances were discussed. It was mentioned that research has shown that local, native food systems can support biodiversity and improve local human health because the environment is healthier.
- There were a number of points about economics raised during the discussion. The IIED paper frames agriculture as having an economic purpose despite explicitly acknowledging the importance of other areas of sustainability. We questioned whether there is an adequate balance between cheap food so that people can afford it and paying the true cost of production including valuing other environmental resources required (e.g. soil, water, air, biodiversity).
- The general theme of the various points of discussion seemed to be that practitioners, academics, policy-makers, and other associated groups/individuals should view food production as heterogeneous without subscribing one label, concept, or ‘solution’ to any one aspect of the complex and highly diverse food system.
Earlier this week a small group of BSUFN members spent the day getting active at a local community allotment. We visited Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project, a community-based project in Brighton. Moulsecoomb Forest Garden provides anyone in the community opportunities to engage in horticulture, carpentry, woodland management, and cookery. They particularly support environmental education and development of social skills for young people and engaging children in learning about food production and organic gardening.
BSUFN members joined other volunteers and got stuck in with planting, weeding and watering a range of fruit and vegetables being grown at the allotment. There was also an opportunity to get involved with bee keepers as they maintained the bee hives at the site. We also helped to cover a greenhouse which had been donated to the project.
The project is open to volunteers from 10am to 3pm every Tuesday and Friday and in return for their hard work volunteers are rewarded with a delicious meal for lunch, cooked on the open fire at the site.
The activism day came about when several members requested that BSUFN facilitate opportunities to get hands-on with food-related issues in the community surrounding Brighton and Sussex. Following a thoroughly enjoyable day at Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project we hope to arrange more days volunteering there and other similar opportunities in the local community.
BSUFN are grateful to Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project for being so accommodating. It was an educational and inspiring day.