Tim Lang: Inventor of Food Miles

Professor Tim Lang is the winner of this year's Observer Food Monthly Hall of Fame award. Although his name is unknown to the general public, Lang has been carrying out important work on food additives, obesity, diet and food policy long before it was fashionable. He coined the phrase "food miles" in the early 1990's to describe the distance our groceries have to travel to reach us. Now everyone uses the term, including the supermarkets. He began thinking about the food chain and how industrial societies were severing links with the land and founded a network of NGO's concerned with the health of our food supply. Then he moved on to set up a commission which did some of the first work on additives to food. Early on the group publicised the fact that many additives were for cosmetic purposes only—brown being added to kippers and green to peas. As a result they were removed. In the 1980's when the Conservative government decided that school, nursing home and hospital meals should be contracted-out to the private sector, his group raised the red flag. They saw local councils cutting their budgets and nutritional standards falling. Fifteen years later, Jamie Oliver's plea for better school lunches is still a reaction to that legacy. Lang acknowledges that the growth in local, artisanal farms and markets has been beneficial. However he warns that "My own view is that we're still sleepwalking into a shock. I think obesity is the health shock, healthcare costs because of obesity are the economic shock and climate change is the environmental shock. In the next few years the big issue will be food security, how we get what we need to eat. And I don't think we're paying anywhere near enough attention to that". Important warnings from an important man in the field. :: Observer

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