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  • Writer's pictureAltered State


My Hen and Chicken strizzi pizza, wolfed down before sticking up posters for our June talk with Pussy Riot, was delicious: parma ham, rocket, parmesan and basil oil chased with a 0% beer that actually tasted of something. It was so good that I had to remind myself to eat slowly and despite our subject matter that evening I didn’t once stop to think about its miasma of ultra-processed food ingredients. Despite that night’s talk subject matter, it was an irony-free meal as I caught up with an old friend who’d lived on North St in the 1990s and was open-mouthed at the changed nature of the neighbourhood.

The talk immediately set the parameters. In 1945 the world’s population was 2 billion, today it’s nearly 8 billion and we consume twice as many calories per head produced off of slightly less agricultural land. Whilst not everyone’s guzzling lobster thermidor it is a miracle and an incredible achievement to have avoided the mass starvation allied to population growth predicted through the second half of the last century. But to supply this miracle has come at a significant cost to us, the livestock and the environment. Cynicism is rife in the community about the role of big food and the supermarkets and diabetes linked to obesity threatens to overwhelm a struggling NHS in a decade. At this point, my pizza started to repeat.

Our panel comprised Catherine Withers, who owns the last farm in the Bristol city limits, producing seasonal produce sustainably, Johnathan Napier, a food and nutrition scientist at Rothamsted Research and affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University and author Joy Carey of the Bristol Food Network, whose aim is to make the city’s food supply sustainable. Joy’s book Who Feeds Bristol was commissioned by the City Council and the NHS. Our host was Louise Leigh.

The politics of food manifests in different ways, with food poverty abundant in 2024 and eating well seemingly a privilege driven by price and class. On the continent fragrant cheese and meats are normal, here they’re elitist. 17,500 people use Bristol’s food banks annually and in themselves they’re not a solution but a sticking plaster, albeit a welcome one to their visitors. We heard about the ultra-commercial mindset of the supermarkets and also their national agenda. If we want to challenge that mindset, then cities like Bristol must team up with other cities to force change. There were passionate calls for localism and to support independent retailers and the COOP. Not everyone’s going to get fed if all farmers produce in the ethical manner of Catherine, so we need to shape the supermarkets’ model.

Those who fancy a bit of salmon every now and then have been complaining about the declining taste and Johnathan told us why: fish-farmed salmon are not getting the fish oils they need because it’s cheaper to give them vegetable oil. Even Captain Nemo’s jaw would drop at this. That a delicacy has got to this point spoke volumes about greed, commerce and consumer impotence. The fish hate it too, they want their diet.

As well as eating less meat and more fish, a theme familiar to other Altered State talks emerged:  we were urged to get involved and force change. Look for our PODCAST and TOOLBOX, which respectively give highlights of the talk and the panel’s pithiest piece of advice.

Our themed playlist that we spun on the night:

Gary Clail - Beef

The Clash - Lost in the Supermarket

The Archies - Sugar, Sugar

Tyler, the Creator - Burger

Bob Marley and The Wailers - Them Belly Full

UB40 - Food for Thought

Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band - Ice Cream For Crow

The J.B.’s - Pass The Peas

The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever

The Beach Boys - Vegetables

Booker T and the M.G.’s - Green Onions

Dead Kennedys - Soup Is Good Food

Tangerine Dream - Love On A Real Train

Kelis - Milkshake

Eat - Shame


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