Charleston Festival 2024 – Food Wisdom from Bee Wilson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Leyla Kazim

To help us better navigate today’s oftentimes disorienting food landscape, Bee Wilson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall shared their Food Wisdom in a packed-out tent at the Charleston Festival last month. With Leyla Kazim as chair, the result was a generous and empathetic conversation about the daily dilemmas we face around food. By unpacking the anxieties of our modern food system, they were able to share practical tips and insights to cultivate more nourishing relationships to food.


LDFP coordinator Nancy was lucky enough to attend. Read on to find out her key take-homes.


1.      Most of the choices about the food you buy have already been made before you get to the shelves – so give yourself a break

Based on the array of brands and products on the shelves of our supermarkets, you might think we’re spoilt for choice – and with great choice comes great responsibility, right? But Bee Wilson reminds us that most of the choices about our food – from the origin of the raw materials to the wages of the workers that pick them to even the product’s final resting place at eye-level on the supermarket shelf – have already been made.

If we’re trying to make choices based on ethical, environmental or other criteria, our food environment stacked against us, and there’s nothing like a portion of guilt to kill the appetite. Bee’s advice is to take choice out of the equation when things get overwhelming, by building up a handful of dishes using easily accessible and affordable ingredients that align with your values and most importantly align with what you want to cook and eat.


2.      Change comes as citizens not consumers

Accepting the limits of individual choices in reforming the food system means concentrating on the industrial and political forces shaping the food system. Why is it that fresh fruit and veg are so much more expensive than ultra-processed, high-fat high-sugar products? And why are these products so aggressively marketed to us?

Rather than beating ourselves up about our own choices with respect to food, we would do better to interrogate the choices being made at a political level, that load the dice in favour of big corporations and to the detriment of small-scale producers and suppliers of food. And with the general election coming up, we at LDFP will be working to ensure that access to good food is pushed up the political agenda – get in touch at for more info.

This being said there are choices worth making, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall rightly said. If it is accessible and affordable to buy local – through, for example, the brilliant Lewes Friday market and Saturday farmers market – you can support vital actors for tomorrow’s food system, making sure that they’re still going when that tomorrow comes. 


3.      Our sensory connection with food has been delegated to the food industry – it’s time to wrestle it back

As Bee Wilson said, our thumbs evolved to test the ripeness of figs – sensory connection to food is literally built in to our bodies. This can feel like an alien concept in an era of plastic-filmed, best-before-dated food, where we’re taught to trust more in labels than in our own senses.

However, initiatives like TastEd (of which Bee Wilson is a founding member) are giving young people opportunities to rediscover food through the five senses, reminding us of our innate sensory abilities. In Lewes District, Grow Cook Eat network projects are also remaking these connections on the land and in the kitchen.


4.      Junk food advertising is hijacking our evolutionary hunger for food stories

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall took us back to the fireside where hunter-gatherers would congregate to share the food they had managed to bring back, along with the stories of how they came by it (after all, most of the excitement from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would have been food-focused).

Hugh’s hypothesis is that we have an in-built hunger for food stories as a legacy of our food-obsessed ancestors. The food industry seems to understand this very well, with more money than ever being poured into advertising by fast food, soft drinks, confectionary and other snack brands. Compared with the often bleak food narratives around environmental or public health concerns, the feel-good stories junk food companies feed us


As anyone involved in local community food movements in Lewes District and beyond will tell you, there are plenty of joyful food initiatives that nourish community and planetary health happening every day. We need to amplify good food stories – why should the junk food companies have all the fun?

Keep your eyes tuned on this blog for more local Good Food stories. 

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