“But I don’t like vegetables” says little Jonny. Sound familiar? I would be surprised if anyone reading this hadn’t heard a child say this. And our Veg Facts briefing published this week (check them out at the end of this blog) shows it is true. A staggering 1 in 10 primary school children and 1 in 4 secondary school children eat less than one portion of vegetables a day. And much of the veg they do eat is highly processed – 17% of it comes from pizza toppings and baked beans!
The latest government guidance – the Eatwell Guide, which has passed largely unnoticed – indicates we should be eating seven portions of fruit and veg a day to ensure we get enough fibre. We should get more of our calories from healthy foods and less from the energy dense high fat sugar and salt foods which now dominate our diets.
Everyone knows veg is good for you and virtually no-one eats 3.5 portions of veg a day (half of the seven a day), probably me included. That’s why the Food Foundation, WWF-UK and Nourish Scotland have launched the Peas Please project. This is not about more advice to consumers. It’s about making it easier to eat veg, and using our food system to do it.
There are lots of good reasons to do this. First, just last week the latest annual National Child Measurement Programme data were published. Obesity among our 11-year olds saw the biggest year on year rise since the measurement programme began. Our children’s diets are terrible and they’re getting worse. Now it will be compounded by food price rises which are likely to be highest for foods which are imported (42% of the veg we eat are imported). And added to this, are the huge uncertainties over migrant labour, on which our horticulture sector heavily depends threatening the very survival of some our producers.
On the other hand, if we can turn this problem around, we could save 20,000 people from dying prematurely each year, we could reduce the carbon footprints of our diets and we could stimulate the economy. Indeed, our analysis shows that if we ate 3.5 portions of veg a day, import same ratio and cut waste by half, this would still provide an opportunity for British producers to grow an additional 1.5million MT of veg, generating jobs and value for the economy.
Our biggest challenges
But currently our food system is so skewed away from eating veg, this requires nothing short of a veg revolution. And we’re hoping to initiate one! The biggest challenges as I see them are:
1) How do we re-set the balance on food advertising? Currently a tiny 1.2% of our food advertising goes on veg. We need more ’Baby Carrots: Eat Em Like Junk Food’ campaigns!
2) How do we teach our youngest citizens to love their veg? The ‘Taste, feel and be brave’ project in Finland teaches children to enjoy with all their senses. Could we? Connecting children to where their food comes from plays an important part – we celebrate the seasonal arrival of the creme egg on our shelves but no longer know when the courgette season starts.
3) How can we transform our fast food, food-on-the-go and snacks so veg are the coolest and tastiest things to eat (while still being affordable)?
4) How can we ensure that public health is one of the factors driving decisions on allocation of resources for agriculture once we leave the European Union, and Common Agriculture Policy (CAP)? Currently our horticulture farmers benefit least from CAP. How can we change this?
Peas Please will bring people working in different parts of the supply chain together to delve into these challenges and agree what should be done about them, in the run up to a major vegetable summit on June 7 2017.
If you have any brilliant ideas which we must consider for this project or you want to get involved, please let us know.