x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Trendspotter: Local food for local people

The last meal you ate: where did it come from? Some people want to simplify the answer to that question. David Mattin explains why.

Something as seemingly simple as an apple can have big political and economic ramifications. Sarah Dea / The National
Something as seemingly simple as an apple can have big political and economic ramifications. Sarah Dea / The National

If I were to ask you where the last item of food that you ate came from, the answer you give would most likely be the name of a business. A megalithic corporate superstore, for example - Waitrose, Walmart or Tesco - or a restaurant or corner shop.

Consider that for a moment. Is there any greater testament to the way capitalism has woven its way through our lives than this? Because, of course, no food really comes from any corporation. Food comes from places on the Earth, with names that can be found on maps. But today, even when we're eating an item of food with only one geographical origin - which is rare enough - we still rarely trouble ourselves to find out where that item of food is from. Where did the last apple you ate grow?

But now, that picture is changing. Among busy urbanites in a diverse range of cities around the world, a desire is forming for a new kind of relationship with the food we eat; one that grounds our consumption of food in a sense of place, and a connection to our local surroundings.

In the UK, Waitrose has launched the first supermarket to be stocked entirely by a single, nearby farm. The 4,000-acre Leckford Estate farm in Hampshire, in the south-east of England, will supply the Waitrose Farm Store with more than 1,000 homegrown products including meats, cheeses, bread, and fruit and vegetables.

Meanwhile, in the US, services such as North Carolina's The Produce Box, which delivers local fruit and vegetables to the door of its subscribers (think Netflix, but for local fruit and veg) are proving increasingly popular. And in Singapore, there's the new Sky Greens vertical farm: the world's first commercial vertical farm, where organic fruit and veg are grown in huge towers. The farm currently supplies Singaporeans with half a tonne of organic vegetables a day.

So what's driving the emergence of a new localism when it comes to food? Well, there's rising awareness about the often insane - and ecologically disastrous - journeys that processed foods can take around the globe before they reach our plate. Tied to that are issues of food safety: the UK was recently rocked by a scandal in which horse meat was found in the ready meals sold by a number of leading supermarkets.

But, at its heart, the local food movement is about more than safety and sustainability (hefty issues though they are). It's about our connection to the places we live in and the food we eat. Urban living in the 21st century has brought us quality of life gains beyond the imagining of our grandparents but it has also alienated us from the fundamental, natural processes that sustain our lives. Now, many of us are keen to claw back some of the distance between us and those processes. We're seeking a new kind of urban life, one that combines the benefit we take for granted with grounding in an authentic connection to our landscape. And that can start - why not? - with eating a locally grown apple.

David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com

For more trends go to www.thenational.ae/trends


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