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The Responsibility to Inspire

When talking about what food we should and shouldn’t eat, it’s all too easy to talk about consumer responsibility; educating them, getting kids to eat more, encouraging adults to cook more.

It was this consumer responsibility that was at the heart of the 5-a-day campaign.  But focussing on the consumer alone isn’t the solution said Amber Wheeler, Peas Please project board member and PhD student at the University of South Wales, when speaking at the Royal Welsh Show on the 25th July.  Amber highlights that fruit and veg consumption has in fact declined during the 5-a-day campaign by 7 % between 2003 and 2015 (Welsh Gov 2016). (See Ambers presentation here)

The Peas Please event, organised by Food Cardiff and held in the show’s Welsh Government Pavilion was attended by retailers, caterers, producers, manufacturers, restauranteurs, civil society and government officials.  Hosted by Andy Richardson, Chair of Food and Drink Wales, the panel members and audience were brought together to discuss what they can do to help increase veg consumption in Wales to improve our health and how we can ensure that Welsh horticulture benefits.

Like most conversations about food, the discussion soon reverted to the consumer.  But what Peas Please focusses on is how this responsibility can be shifted and shared by that diverse group of people in the room.

Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary at the Welsh Assembly kicked off the session by highlighting some of the great things Wales are doing to ensure that shared responsibility.  Just some examples are the fantastic legislation on school food standards, Nutrition Skills for Life and various community food projects.  In recognition of the new Trussel Trust report that came out that very day, the Cabinet Secretary spoke of the Food Poverty Alliance and the fantastic School Holiday Enrichment Programme – ‘Food and Fun’ which will be extended and invested in further next year.  Ms Griffiths also acknowledged the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, including their intention to implement a Welsh Agricultural Policy once we’ve left the EU.

The Cabinet Secretary acknowledged that the momentum to increase vegetable consumption was evident in the room and the tone of the day was definitely that of enthusiasm.  But how do we translate that to action?

One of the points that came from the panel discussion is that consumers should be inspired by veg.  But who is doing the inspiring?  Before the event started, I took a little wander around the Royal Welsh Show and found myself heading towards the horticulture tent. Much to my disappointment, ornamental horticulture took up the large majority of the tent, with the exception of the National Vegetable Society, who had a colourful but modest stand, and some rather impressive competition entries. There was certainly room for more veg inspiration in this disproportionate display of horticulture.  How do we change the culture of horticulture to shift the focus towards veg?

National Vegetable Society Stand, Royal Welsh Show

At the Peas Please event, an audience member, and former market stall holder, explained how he would cut the fruit and veg open and offer potential customers the opportunity to try before they buy. Something you don’t see in the supermarkets today.  This could be a result of rigid retailer systems that don’t allow that type of loss at the start of the shelf life.  But surely promoting a product in this way would encourage consumers to purchase more veg and therefore limit loss at the end of shelf life?

A related issue is that we’re now eating so much unseasonal, well-travelled veg that simply doesn’t taste as good as it could – which hardly encourages inspiration to eat veg. Connecting back to seasonality was a hot topic in the room as was this idea of consumers becoming participants of the food system.  In practice, this would mean connecting the consumer with production and inspiring consumers to make certain choices, rather than stacking the shelves and leaving them to it.  This discussion was definitely in line with the Food Citizens’ Report launched earlier in the month which emphasised that we are not naturally consumers and by changing our mindset we can become more active members of our food system.

Companies promoting veg in their magazines and websites is certainly an easy way to get people excited about veg, which is something we suggest to retailers in our new Retailer Toolkit.  Andy Richardson confessed himself that Food and Drink Wales run promotions on meat and dairy but don’t think to do the same for veg.  Hopefully, we planted a seed for him there!  What was clear from the conversation in the room is that there is a vast array of sectors that can help to inspire consumers to be active participants of the food system.

Find out what your sector can do to help increase veg consumption in our Peas Please commitments framework.