Where is the food system failing us in Cork?

KATE RYAN of Flavour.ie tells us about the recently unveiled Cork Food Map, launched by Cork Food Policy Council, in a bid to understand Cork’s food landscape
Where is the food system failing us in Cork?
Kate Ryan, of Flavour.ie

CORK Food Policy Council, (CFPC), established in 2013, is a multi-agency group influencing local food policy in Cork city and throughout the wider region. It values access to real food for all in a food landscape that is increasingly signposted by lack of accessibility to nutritious food, food poverty and an escalation in obesity and other health issues caused by a maladjusted diet.

CFPC’s core mission is focused on five values connected to delivering better food and health for Cork:

  • Health and well-being for all
  • A thriving local economy
  • Resilient food-friendly communities
  • Lifelong learning and skills
  • Reduced environmental impact.

These values inform advisory and lobbying for policy change to deliver positive outcomes across all values. But good policy relies on good information. Values are aspirational – a goal to work towards, but first it is essential to understand the current state of play.

In January at Cork University Business School, CFPC officially unveiled the Cork Food Map, a project mapping socio-economic factors to the prevalence and type of food availability.

In introducing the Cork Food Map for Cork’s Food Landscape: Interactive Insights, chairperson of CFPC, Janas Harrington, presented the map as the first step in understanding Cork’s food landscape; the first step in defining and delivering a Food Policy specifically tailored to the needs of Cork people.

We are all in the grip of a malnutrition and global climate crisis and together, says Janas, this has created a ‘Global Syndemic’ that is paving the way to food insecurity and food poverty on a global scale.

“We must understand our food environment From Farm to Flush. Food systems are complex, so the first step in understanding our food environment is to be able to describe it,” says Harrington.

Cork Food Map. Credit Cork Food Policy Council / Altitude Analytics
Cork Food Map. Credit Cork Food Policy Council / Altitude Analytics

Cork Food Map is an inventory of food related business in Cork City. The data is combined with other socio-economic data to develop a layered picture of Cork’s food landscape, especially important for understanding the food landscape in relation to vulnerable societal groups, (such as children), and what foods they regularly have access to.

Cork Food Map shows that 1 in 3 Primary Schools in Cork city is withing walking distance of a fast food chain, exposing children to these brands from an early age. That figure rockets to 1 in 2 for secondary schools.

Kaspur Puspurs, a teacher from Douglas Community School working with CFPC, conducted a survey exploring the links between advertising and obesity.

“We know that advertising is part of our environment, that it has an impact on obesity and that the vast majority of foods advertised are unhealthy foods,” Puspurs explained.

Working on the assumption that exposure is linked to consumption, and how this may have a disproportionate affect on vulnerable sectors of society, Puspurs’s work drew on the level and type of food advertising within a set radius around three Cork schools.

His survey concluded that 76% of food advertised within the radius of those schools were for a category of foods known as Ultra Processed Foods, (fast foods, junk/snack/convenience type foods), while only 2% were for minimally processed foods (e.g. milk, fruit). In addition, over 50% of the foods advertised overall were of low nutritional value.

Harrington argues that, with such high levels of exposure, there is a risk of normalising unhealthy food choices and creating food deserts where there is an almost total lack of fresh and/or nutritious foods. All this in a place that calls itself The Food Capital of Ireland, and Ireland itself as The Food Island.

Harrington further goes on to draw on the proven links between areas of deprivation, poor diet, low health and prevalence of convenience stores, something unequivocally borne out by the Cork Food Map data. One inner city North Cork area ranked highly in:

  • Poor levels of self-rated health
  • Higher density of fast food outlets
  • Higher density of convenience stores.

Eoin MacCuirc, working for the Central Statistics Office in Mahon, member of the steering committee for CFPC and volunteer with Cork Simon Community, said current statistics show 1 in 10 people in Ireland are living in poverty.

MacCuirc said, although there is visible and overt poverty in the city, much of this poverty is not seen: the ‘ostensibly’ homed, ‘living’ in hostels, hotels and B&Bs.

Food Poverty is defined by four factors:

  • Availability
  • Affordability
  • Accessibility
  • Awareness

In Ireland, 1 million tonnes of food waste goes to landfill every year. 1 tonne of food waste is equal to 4,000 meals; 1 million tonnes is equivalent to 4 billion meals annually.

Organisations such as Food Hub redirect food surplus destined for landfill to the charitable sector, such as soup kitchens and food banks, but this shouldn’t be normalised either.

Such a surplus of food at a time when as many people globally are underfed as overfed speaks to fundamental flaws in our global food system, and the undeniable fact of climate change means the current status quo of food over-production cannot allow ‘business as usual’ to continue.

As Harrington says, it starts with being able to define what the food landscape is for Cork and how, and where, the food system is failing its people. Only then can effective policies be put in place to create better nourished, healthier and thriving communities across the entire breadth of the food chain.

See www.corkfoodpolicycouncil.com for more information and to access Cork Food Map.

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