Good food and films in Amsterdam
Next to documentaries and films about food production and preparation, cooking workshops were organized, the restaurant served healthy dishes made with fair products and one could dance until 4 a.m.
While watching the documentaries– on the coffee value chain and poor circumstances for Ethiopian coffee farmers – and Smakelijk eten! (‘Bon appétit!’) – looking at the sources of several products available in Dutch supermarkets – I was encouraged to think about the ways in which we can improve circumstances for those who suffer from the large scale food production systems that feed the majority of Dutch consumers. Where does the responsibility lie for creating a more sustainable and fair way of satisfying our desire for good food? I enjoy cooking and eating, and initially the documentaries left me with a dissatisfied feeling: so I can no longer eat shrimp, because even ‘sustainable’ shrimp farms turn out to be large scale enterprises that destroy local fishing villages? Why are consumers discouraged from buying fair trade products by offering much cheaper ‘unfair’ alternatives? What is the role of governments for regulating these systems; of industries for maintaining a morally dubious business; and of consumers for supporting this suffering by buying certain products?
how much faith can we put in consumers to be the motor of change?
This last question was dealt with in het Grote Vleesdebat (‘The Big Meat Debate’), where representatives of different actors in the meat production system discussed the way towards a more sustainable consumption of meat. Actors in the value chain (from pig and poultry farmer to butcher and retail), the environmental activist, the scientist, the politician and the critical consumer all seemed willing to head towards a society where less, but better quality meat is produced in a more responsible way.
Part of the sector can be transformed to produce ‘vegetarian meat’, and animals should be fed with fodder produced in Europe. Only the farmer was less positive about these changes: in his view, his current farming method, with 24,000 chickens and 400 pigs fed with cheaply imported soya, is the only way he can make a living. This might have brought us back to reality: to what extent is the desire for sustainability really present in Dutch or European society?
75% of the audience was already vegan, vegetarian or at least ‘part-time vegetarian’. Almost all the debaters believed that consumers should play a large role to change meat consumption patterns. However, only 5% of Dutch consumers claim to be concerned about sustainable food production. Price, comfort and health are the main criteria on which consumers base their choice in products. So how much faith can we put in consumers to be the motor of change? But on the other hand, industries and governments do not as yet seem inclined to bring about substantial change. Can those 5% of wealthy western consumers make a real difference?
Perhaps an important part can be played by the activists. Closing the festival, keynote speaker Vandana Shiva, researcher and environmental activist, held an inspiring speech against monocultures and on the need for biodiversity for sustainable food production. Industrial agriculture has caused scarcity in many areas, she argues, by using chemical pesticides and genetically modified crops.
The powerful players are industries and governments, who prohibit seed saving and the use of seeds that do not meet western standards, and subsidize large scale agriculture using GMOs. Industrially grown food, Shiva says, is not food. It is not nutritious, healthy and tasty as food should be. With this, she brings the issue back to us, the visitors of the Food Film Festival, the consumers.
Because even though we are concerned about sustainable food production (and even more so after this weekend), we are also concerned about the pleasure of eating tasty and healthy food. Not only did we come to see films about the destruction of the rainforest for soya production, but we came to sample biological goat cheese at the farmer’s market, to relax watching a movie about wine, or to learn how to make pastries and Arabic food. And even though we may only represent 5% of consumers, events like this contribute to a growing awareness among consumers – which in turn will hopefully affect the choices made by food production companies and government policies.
Vandana Shiva was hopeful about the future, provided that people remain concerned about the source of their food. She calls for a citizen’s response, and believes that pressure from citizens is the first step. We need to “say a clear ‘NO’ ” to the current situation, but also offer and build alternatives. Initiatives – like the festival – will be successful when they “touch people’s hearts”, she says. Take action in a positive way, and “infect everyone around you with the energy and joy” of food activism. Even if it is a small step, perhaps this festival contributed to some consumer awareness – while enjoying some good food.
Visit also: Film Food Festival website.
Text: Laura Eggens