Comment: Make a resolution you can stick to

Gareth Barlow wants people to ask more questions about their food.
Gareth Barlow wants people to ask more questions about their food.
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Song lyrics provide a fantastic catalogue of common feelings and public opinion. Dash through the decades and you’ll discover song-smiths have created a timeline representing modern history and popular culture.

Christmas is unique, it attracts more musical attention than any other time of year, so I decided to trawl through the words of John Lennon, Wham, Slade and more to discover the sentiments within the soundtrack of Christmas. Santa, Rudolf, snow, trees feature time and again but I struggled to find mentions of the centrepiece of Christmas Day.

Time the roast to perfection and it’s the icing on the cake (not literally), get the timing wrong and burn the potatoes, “Christmas is ruined”. But looking through Christmas’ most famous song lyrics and it seems roast dinner fails to get a mention.

Cliff Richard references mistletoe and wine, apparently we all want figgy pudding, and Dean Martin’s got some corn for popping. Obscure references abound yet no turkey.

It seems the attention of song writers isn’t focussed on Christmas lunch, strange considering how food is one of the few common factors linking mankind. If songs do reflect common feelings, does this mean the general population isn’t bothered about food either?

I think the answer is both yes and no. The squeeze on consumer spending since the credit crunch and issues like the horsemeat scandal have piqued interest as to what’s placed in the shopping basket.

However, I’d equally argue that ‘field to fork’ is a description of the process and not a reflection of understanding. I’m not blaming consumers for not always connecting with food, it’s a huge topic and we can’t expect shoppers to be experts.

The food production industry and consumers do need to communicate more. Both sides of the relationship have their desires, issues, successes and stories. Appreciation of the situation will increase appreciation of the relationship.

Times are changing. It’s estimated by 2050 nine billion people will walk the planet and around 80 per cent will live in urban areas. The pressures on land are going to increase and change – farmers will have less space and need to produce more.

It seems prudent therefore, to strengthen the relationships throughout the food supply chain, from field to fork, whilst we still have some luxury of time. It would be dangerous and irresponsible to approach the future with the same footing we’re on now.

So if you’re still searching for an obtainable New Year’s resolution here’s one. Every time you interact with food, ask a question. Enquire - whether you’re a farmer, forager or fisherman, consumer, retailer or chef. Enquire about what you should be eating, what consumers are looking for, why a product is or isn’t available, about the issues affecting each other.

Asking questions forces us to find the answers. It promotes collective intelligence and understanding. It strengthens the interactions throughout the food production industry. Makes those involved feel more appreciated. We can either look to the future with fear and apprehension or we can look to the future and see boundless opportunities. I hope you’ll join me and opt for the latter.

Gareth is a former farmer and butcher, and a freelance TV and radio presenter. He is on Twitter at @GarethBarlow