How did we get into this mess?7 November 2022
The ATNI Socials Blog is a series of personal commentaries to stimulate discussion on how to transform markets so that they provide more nutritious, affordable and sustainable foods. Our hope is to trigger understanding around the causes and the cures for access to nutrition.
Where to start…new to the NGO sector and new to the fight for nutrition…so what’s it all about?
I’m surrounded by those who know, a team of outstanding professionals who have spent years researching and evaluating different elements of the food system to understand why so much of what we eat is so unhealthy. I have attended a wide range of internal and external meetings trying to get a sense of how we got into this mess and, from there, how we might get out of it.
It’s a complex picture. Depending on your politics you’ll see the problem one way or the other. Depending on your socioeconomics you’ll feel the problem oh so differently. Your own personal relationship and experience with food will of course further muddle the picture.
It was them…
The key question that I can’t shake from my head is whose responsibility is it? Government? If consumers are being lured into unhealthy diets by uncompromising food giants whose bottom line is profit, surely government should step in. Are companies, in a free market global economy, really expected to act responsibly? Their sworn allegiance is to shareholders, that is their key responsibility. Can investors change the game? Should sustainable profits count for more than the next quarter? If so, how?
A little from column A, a little from column B, a little from column C, a little from…
As ever, it’s the grey areas that will determine what we eat. Governments will nudge – five a day, less salt and so on. Companies will follow consumer trends for the most part and consumers will continue to see food as not only fuel, but respite, celebration, contentment, chocolates in front of a movie and cake for a kid’s birthday.
There is so much detail, so much nuance, and so many ways of looking at the problems and the solutions. In this kaleidoscope, there will never be full agreement – and so the attention needs to fall on a workable compromise.
Where is the sweet spot?
…If we accept that food is not only for fuel or medicine…
…if we accept that some forms of regulation are acceptable, helpful to industry and needed…
…if we accept that investors need more data to explore and prove returns on investments…
…if we accept that open and transparent cross-sector and cross-border dialogue and agreement is the only way forward…we should be doing it, one mouthful at a time.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I had the privilege of working with the Scottish Government, two tobacco organizations – the TMA and Gallaghers – McMillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK (Scotland). We sat in one room, we shared ideas and eventually wrote a 16 page report which we published in Hollyrood magazine. The biggest challenge was how the brands would be presented and we settled on two logos on a white background and the other two with a smoky background. The next year, 2006, Scotland introduced the first public smoking ban in Europe (second in the world after New Zealand) and this, as we know, played a huge role in changing smoking behavior and so much more.
Why can’t the food and beverage sector do the same – in true partnership with government, NGO and citizen?
The views and opinions expressed by ATNI Socials and other guest bloggers are solely their own current opinions regarding events and are based on their own perspective and opinion. The views and opinions expressed do not reflect the views or opinions of ATNI or the organizations with which any participants/interviewees are, or may be, affiliated.
About the author:
Philip Eisenhart recently joined ATNI to add new dimensions to our communications. Prior to ATNI Philip has spent 25 years working in UK media and politics in London and Edinburgh. He has established and re-invented a number of award-winning political media channels along the way including the New Statesman, politicshome, Holyrood magazine and the House magazine (please note, houses of parliament not interior design).