Neither Flesh nor Fish at the 2020 City Food Lecture

The City Food Lecture is an annual, invitation-only fixture in the City of London and food industry calendars.

Date: 20th February 2020

Start time: 5:30pm

Venue: Guildhall, London

Professor Louise Fresco to give the 2020 City Food Lecture

Professor Fresco CFL 2020
Professor Louise Fresco gives the 2020 City Food lecture

Over the years the annual City Food Lecture has made a name for itself as an event not to be missed. The 2020 Lecture can only have added to the reputation of the event. Dutch scientist, academic and broadcaster, Professor Louise Fresco, brought her lucid and candid style to London’s Guildhall on February 20th 2020 and delivered a thoughtful, probing lecture, under the title Neither Flesh nor Fish, that didn’t pull any punches, or spare the blushes, of the 650 members of the audience.

Professor Fresco is a highly influential thinker and commentator on global food issues and is President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research, Europe’s leading academic agri-food organisation and research and development centre. In a 45 minute lecture, that she delivered without a single note, she challenged the great and the good of the food and farming industry assembled in the hall, to take responsibility for image and future of their sector and to start to address some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that, under pressure from a whole variety of special interest groups, have gained weight and credence over recent years.

You can watch the whole evening here

Whilst accepting that in future we probably won’t all be eating meat every day, she made a strong case for meat as a rational and necessary part of the global diet – pointing out for instance that grassland used for grazing is one of the most efficient methods of capturing carbon and that grazing animals often occupy areas of land and convert it into edible protein, where no other crop or enterprise would be able to do so.

The inclusion of meat into the diet in developing countries, she pointed out, is seen as a reward for progress and it is not something that we could or should stop the populations in these areas from aspiring to or achieving.

Having made a whole series of rational arguments for the continued inclusion of meat and fish protein in the global diet, albeit perhaps at lower levels, she went on to make perhaps her most interesting and challenging points. The fact that the industry has to recognise that the core driver behind many of the current food ‘fads’ and myths is an expression of identity. And that unless the industry recognises this emotional and almost sub-conscious ability of food and diet to allow people to flag their allegiance to a group ethic, we won’t be able to address the image and belief challenges the industry faces.

The key to changing the image of meat and fish protein in the modern world she said was to create the stories about meat and fish production that allow them to be incorporated into the expressions of identity rather than clashing with them.

To do that she suggested there were three key story elements – food grown sustainably, affordably and safely. With the final key element in the food and farming industries strategy being the need to educate. We cannot she said rely on anyone else to do this. If we in the food and farming industries want people to believe something different about how and what we produce – we will have to take on the task of educating everyone from an early age onwards and building our output into their sense of what is good not bad.

Science she said has a key role to play in helping provide the substance behind these stories and she described the Dutch Diamond a collaboration between the scientific, manufacturing, farming and Government communities that has she indicated been critical in making Holland one of the largest food exporting countries on the globe.

As usual at the City Food Lecture the keynote address was followed by a panel debate this year chaired by Chris White , Managing Director of Fruitnet Media and comprising - journalist, publisher and author Baroness Rosie Boycott, Regional Director EAME of Genus ABS, Andrew Thompson and Ian Wright the Chief Executive of the Food and Drinks Federation.

Panel CFL 2020

The debate was thoughtful and though provoking with questions from members of the audience both from the floor and via a new for this year mobile phone app.

The final part of the formal proceedings was another excellent summing up by Past master of the Farmers Company, HRH the Princess Royal.

The City Food Lecture is an annual, invitation-only fixture in the City of London and food industry calendars. Held at the prestigious Guildhall, the event is organised by the seven city livery companies whose roots are in the food industry – namely the Worshipful Companies of Bakers, Butchers, Cooks, Farmers, Fishmongers, Fruiterers and Poulters.

HRH the Princess Royal CFL 2020
HRH the Princess Royal chats to Professor Fresco after her lecture