VON at Youth 4 Food Festival

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FOOD JUSTICE FOR ALL! HOW OUR YOUTH ARE PIONEERING A BETTER FED WORLD

The children are our future, so the song goes, but what kind of future? Pandemic and climate crisis would suggest a dystopian nightmare! So when Viva! was invited to meet the inspirational young people fighting for food system change this summer we were delighted to be given a sense of hope instead.

In the summer of 2021 Dan and Robert from VON accompanied a group of young people from Manchester to represent VON at the Youth for Food Festival and joined other inspirational people fighting for food system change.

The Youth4 Food Festival took place at ValleyFest in Bristol this August to bring together around 100 young food advocates for a weekend of growth, learning and creativity. Led by The Food Foundation, the young delegates discussed issues of food poverty, nutrition and sustainability with their peers and business leaders, campaigners, politicians and policy makers. It gave them a chance to connect with projects fighting for food justice. The jam-packed schedule also gave young people a platform to express their hopes, dreams, desires and artistic talents.

We went along to discover what a sustainable food system looks like and the role veganism has to play in it. First up, we listened to young activists, like Dev Sharma, discuss what it means to be a campaigner. Dev has been a Young Food Ambassador for the Children’s Right2Food Campaign for three years where he visited Downing Street to meet party leaders and cabinet ministers. As a Member of Youth Parliament for Leicestershire and a Diana Award winner, he has been a passionate advocate against food poverty and the recent school meals scandal… and all this at the tender age of sixteen!

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Dev Sharma  

 “More kids are going into long-term poverty and experiencing hunger and food insecurity, and that was especially clear when the schools were off during the pandemic”, said Dev’s colleague and fellow Youth Member of Parliament for Scotland, Ryan McShane. “I am incredibly angry with the system and I want to know how reform and policy is being scrutinised and enacted on the ground”.

Government policy was indeed the focus of our next discussion where a panel of politicians and experts answered questions about the National Food Strategy. The strategy is based on feedback from a national consultation – including the views of over 426 young people – to produce a series of recommendations to the government. One of which was a possible meat tax and a 30% reduction in meat consumption.

Grain farmer, scientist and cook Abi Aspen Glencross agrees that this vital if we want to produce good, healthy food, “I was cycling through East Anglia from one farm after another and all I saw was feed wheat. That is all going to feed animals but just think how many people could grow veg there? What makes me sick is that these animals are not meant to eat grain. How are we using that much land area to feed animals a diet to produce food that is making us ill?”

Now that we have a food strategy, the question is will the government act on it?

“I’m disappointed there isn’t a much stronger statement on meat and animal-sourced foods as it is abundantly clear we are totally addicted to these foods in the UK and that is having a devastating effect on the planet and our health”, explained Professor Alan Dangour who is the Director of the Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Despite this, Professor Dangour was very positive about a shift to a plant-based food system, “The meat and dairy industries are under an enormous amount of pressure and I can see come pretty major structural changes happening, especially with the incredibly exciting alternative protein sources that have the potential to transform what we eat”.

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So what will we eat in the future? We met young entrepreneurs, farmers and engineers attempting to answer that very question. These pioneers are putting new technology and innovative thinking to work for the health of our bodies and the planet.

Sinead Fenton – Aweside Farms Stockfree Organic (Veganic) Farmer spoke at the event. Sinead & Adam, grow edible flowers, vegetables and herbs on 4.5 acre smallholding in Arlington, East Sussex.

For us, growing is all about celebrating the amazing diversity of our natural and living world. Growing has taught us not only about the amazing world of plants, but sparked a love for wildlife and the need to regenerate our landscapes to create thriving and nurturing environments for all living beings.

And that’s what Aweside Farm is all about for us, putting wildlife and people first, and growing beautiful organic produce that nurtures us and celebrates our incredible and vibrant living world. It’s a celebration of life!

Many of the young people at the festival had experienced food insecurity themselves and understand  the inequalities that exist in our global food system, especially how our consumption impacts on the Global South. That’s why the festival included live video links from young food activists from across the globe. Many of them are ambassadors for ‘Act4Food Act4Change’, a list of systems demands for world leaders and decision-makers.

We’ll leave the last word to one of the very impressive young members of the Vegan Organic Network, Izaak Graham. “Young people today understand the global causality of buying meat and dairy. It has a big environmental impact and sets off a chain of degradation.”

The next generation gives us hope that a just and sustainable food system good for people, planet and animals is no pipedream.

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Vegan Organic Network: Danny Jones, Burton, Izaak Chung-Grahan, Luke Swann, Robert Ngawoofa, James and Dan Graham