A resolution to eat more

At New Year, the sudden shift from one year to the next makes stark the continual process of change in the world around us, the incremental procession of alterations that often go unnoticed.

At New Year, the sudden shift from one year to the next makes stark the continual process of change in the world around us, the incremental procession of alterations that often go unnoticed.

Our weekly and daily routines of shopping and cooking can blind us to dramatic changes in the food system. Where we shop, the food we eat, and the farmed landscape around us often seem inevitable constants rather than part of a dynamic process of growth, decay and evolution.

Supermarkets are now so embedded in our way of life that its surprising to remember just how rapid their rise has been. Britain had no self-service supermarkets at all until 1950, when Tesco's St Albans branch and Sainsbury's Croydon store both adopted the American model.

These 1950s stores would have stocked hundreds of lines; today's provide a choice of thousands. And the food available would have been very different.

Fifty years ago, there was no wrapped, sliced bread as we know it. Most of the bread we eat today is produced by the high-speed Chorleywood process, developed in Hertfordshire in 1961. After 5000 years of bread-making, the need for lengthy proving to allow the dough to rise was eliminated, along with much of the pleasure of eating good bread.

Other changes in the way we eat are more recent: sales of bagged salads, prepared vegetables, ready meals and air-freighted out-of-season fresh produce have all soared in the last decade. Organic and fair trade foods have also enjoyed surging demand.

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In recent years, some of the supermarket chains have started acquiring much smaller convenience stores at an alarming rate. Modern distribution systems now allow them to operate these with comparable efficiencies of scale to the larger stores. Yet, as recently as the 1970s, Tesco sold off over 300 of its smaller, inner-city sites.

Our landscape is changing almost as fast as our towns. The focus on increasing agricultural production after the War encouraged the elimination of hedgerows and mass drainage of marsh and water meadow. Some of these changes are now being reversed.

Patterns of agricultural production shift with variations in demand, changes in competing supplies and the development of new varieties and methods. As little as 20 years ago, orchards of large, aged trees were relatively common. Most have since been grubbed up. Much heath and pasture is now seriously threatened by the decline in grazing.

Our food system, from the land to the plate, will always be in flux. The impending decline in oil production is sure to effect our transport dependent food supply chains in the near future. But, of the many influences directing this change, we mustn't forget the power each of us wields every time we shop for food.

A notable recent shift has been a revival of localised supply in response to growing demand. Farmers' markets have been around for less than 10 years and box schemes only a little longer. Now even some supermarkets are beginning to move towards more local sourcing.

Reducing the distance our food travels can dramatically lessen the negative impacts on the environment and support local economies. Understanding where food comes adds meaning and cultural depth to our meals. Seeing the effect of food production on workers, the land and livestock helps to ensure that all are better treated. Shopping locally keeps alive the independent shops that provide diversity and truly local service.

Traditional New Year resolutions generally advocate restraint - eat less chocolate, drink less, eat fewer fatty foods. This year, I'm resolving to eat more - more locally, more seasonally, more sustainably, more enjoyably.