Have we lost the connection between food producers and consumers?
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2016
In the week of Open Farm Sunday, Norfolk farmer KIT PAPWORTH asks whether food producers have lost the battle to explain provenance, and the good work that farmers do, to the modern consumer.
Last week I rang a call centre. To confirm my security details, the young man checked my address, mother’s maiden name and finally, occupation.
“WOW man. Really? That’s AMAZING. What do you guys do out there?” I felt like I was living on a different planet.
“Do you like do plants and animals and stuff?” I explained that we did both. “That’s SO cool. I could never do that. I just eat it.”
I’m sure his call centre performance statistics have now deteriorated as we then began a conversation about provenance, labelling and packaging.
He bought his breakfast at a coffee shop on the way to work and bought food on the way home or ate out most nights. He rented a house with three others and couldn’t be sure when anyone had last cooked a meal from the ingredients.
The evidence of one call centre worker doesn’t make a statistic, but the rapid rise in food delivery services and the casual dining sector (and the subsequent pressures on it) would certainly show that he is far from alone.
Indeed, both sectors have shown double-digit percentage growth in recent years. Although discretionary spend – spending on things that we want to buy as opposed to need to – is now beginning to decline, the trend towards eating pre-packaged food is here to stay.
While we love to watch others prepare food on the television, few of us actually do so. On a recent visit to London, the shift to eating out of the home and “grazing” during the day felt very real. I now believe that we have totally and irretrievably lost the connection between food production and the consumer.
Despite our best efforts as an industry and as individuals with school visits, Open Farm Sunday, and countless talks and farm tours, the people we have been speaking to have been mostly rural dwelling and receptive to what we have been telling them.
The people that we needed to speak to simply can’t hear us. As a business we will carry on doing our bit to communicate this message, but I am now convinced that what we are producing is a commodity. A high welfare, good quality and as sustainable a commodity as I can manage, but a commodity that most of the eventual consumers don’t give a moment’s thought to where it comes from.
They make their purchasing decisions based on location and price and expect the retailer to have made their ethical and sustainability checks for them.
• Kit Papworth is a director of north Norfolk farming contractors LF Papworth Ltd.